Thursday, December 31, 2009

To Do in 2010

I'm not a huge resolution maker nor do I understand all the hoopla over starting a new year. Thankfully Curt feels the same way I do about New Year's Eve so we'll be a bunch of duds together tonight, trying to stay awake, and watching that awful countdown with Dick Clark (a tradition Curt won't swerve from). I do like to take the chance to reflect on the past year and ask God what changes He'd like to make in my life, family and friendships in the upcoming year. So in no specific order, here are some things I'm hoping to cross off my To Do list in 2010.
  1. Barring injury, run the Eugene marathon in May. Depending on how awful/fun that race is, I may or may not want to torture myself through the Portland marathon in October.
  2. Complete an Olympic-distance triathlon which means I have to actually get in a lake and try not to drown while hundreds of other athletes kick up a huge wake around me. (Gives me a pit in my gut just thinking about it). I'm thinking August 1st Blue Lake Tri will be my magic day.
  3. Kids. Wow. If there's a place God is asking me to focus, it's on my kids and my parenting. I'd like to interact with instead of co-exist with my kids. Since there are so many of them, they play together and I have to be intentional about spending time with them. I'll try to bring them into what I'm doing (cooking, cleaning, quiet time) and try to enter their worlds more often. I want to date them individually more consistently. I want to play more and work less. I need to be more respectful in the way I talk to and about my kids. Less nagging, anger and raising my voice. More praise, gentleness and soft tones. Sounds impossible, but thank God that with Him, all things are possible.
  4. Curt. What a gift he is to me. This year, I'd like to focus on blessing him. I want to be more intentional in thanking him for the things he does, for the man he is and tell him specifically how much I respect him and am blessed by him. I want to remember to ask him how he's doing, what he's studying in the Word, and how I can pray for him. I want to do things for him that speak his love language which means I'll be making the coffee and his lunches, taking the garbage cans to the curb and picking up a lot more dog poop than I did in 2o09.
  5. Reinstate date night, at least once a week, which means we'll be doing more "at home date nights" than we did this year. At home dates mean putting the kids to bed early or on time and ignoring them when they repeatedly come out of their rooms. It means talking (which eliminates TV or movies) about topics other than finances, the kids, work, or the daily grind. It doesn't qualify for date night if it doesn't involve (GASP) sex. I'm going to get on my soap box here and preach a bit (to myself as well): GIRLS - if you're blessed with a husband, whether you currently like him or not, he is a gift to you. And he needs sexual intimacy. YOU need sexual intimacy. And our needs grow and change so we need to TALK about what those needs are and how we can meet them for each other. This is such a small thing in light of the craziness of our lives raising kids, but I can't understate it's importance. I only wish someone had mentored me in this area earlier in my marriage. So go seduce your husband and watch him fall madly, deeply, head over heels in love with you! Okay, I'm stepping down now...
  6. I want to be more intentional about telling my friends and family specifically how and why I love them and how they bless my life.
  7. To work or not to work? I'm sure I'll have to give this question a bit more consideration and prayer this year as Paige starts pre-school in the fall. Can't believe we're so close to entering a phase that I was sure would NEVER come when we had four babies four years and younger at home.
  8. I read I Peter today in my quiet time and stumbled upon a loaded passage: I Peter 3:3-4: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment... Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." My goal is to work on the "gentle and quiet" spirit part. I'm much too excitable and loud and a little bit crazy. I want to be more gentle and quiet. And I want my beauty to come from the work God is doing in my life, radiating from the inside out.
  9. Remember number 3 about spending more time with my kids? Well, it's NY Eve and we're together as a family and I need to get off the computer and interact. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twelve years ago...

I intended to write this on our anniversary, but the best laid plans sometimes get obliterated... Better late than never, right?

December 27, 2009

Dear Curt,

Twelve years ago, I woke up for the last time as a single woman in the old, somewhat rundown, duplex we'd rented as our first home. I decided to impress my bridesmaids with my culinary skills and made caramel rolls for breakfast. Only problem is the caramel spilled over the top of the pan and burned all over the bottom of the oven, something we discovered when we returned from our honeymoon and tried to heat up reception leftovers for dinner. So much for being impressive.

Twelve years ago, I got up early, a minor miracle in and of itself, and was at the hair salon by 8:30 a.m. to get beautified and make-upped. As I got dressed, I donned what I thought was super hot lingerie. If only I knew then what I do know now... but on second thought, I'm glad I was blissfully naive. And what was I thinking when I chose ballet slippers and then white tennis shoes over sexy white heels? Must have been comfort.

Twelve years ago, I wept when I opened the door to a tiny chapel and saw you, alone and waiting for me, your bride. We dried each other's tears and did the happy dance once we'd curbed our emotions. We oohed and ahhed over each other and wondered how fast our day would go. Little did we know...

Twelve years ago, we got beautiful portraits taken in the St. Paul Conservatory, our attempt at "outdoor" photos in the middle of winter in Minnesota. We greeted our parents, our brothers, our sister-in-laws, our nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents and our friends as they all converged on St. Mark's Lutheran Church at 4:00 p.m.

Twelve years ago, I choked back happy tears as I walked, on my Dad's strong arm, down the aisle, to join you, my groom. Before our family and friends we vowed to love, respect, cherish and honor each other until death parts us. We prayed together, spilled red wax from the unity candle all over our hands and my dress, sang, rejoiced and finally made it to the ever elusive wedding kiss!

Twelve years ago, we thought it made sense to save a dollar per person for the dinner costs by forgoing china and choosing plastic plates. And we laugh about it still because there was not one thing on our oh-so-NOT-fancy tables that our guests could clink together to make us kiss. It was all plastic, even the silverware! And for the Baptist pastor who didn't dance, I chose the longest imaginable song for the Father/Daughter dance. So sorry to torture you for that long Dad but at least we had good conversation. Lessons that seem so clear in hindsight...

Twelve years ago, we thought we knew what love was because we were deeply, passionately and madly immersed in it. Little did we know we had only scraped the tip of the iceberg. There was no way we could anticipate how our love would mature, deepen and grow. I can only imagine how we'll feel in twelve more years.

Twelve years ago, I married my best friend. My lover. My soul mate. Happy anniversary with all my love.

I've Morphed Into My Mom

On Christmas Eve day as I was simultaneously interacting with my kids, baking goodies, cooking dinner, cleaning house and preparing to host thirty people later that evening, I had an epiphany. I’ve morphed into my mom. And it’s a good thing.

My mom has the gift of hospitality. Many of my childhood memories involve a house full of people, both family and friends, hovering around casual potluck meals on paper plates. My mom’s no-nonsense, casual, doesn’t have to be perfect approach to entertaining is one I’ve completely embraced. Not that I don’t appreciate all the wonderful talents of my crafty friends, but I don’t have the skill or patience to ever aspire to be like them. Even if I set a “fancy” table, it never has those… help me out?... name plate thingies at each place. This Christmas Eve I DID pre-label all thirty plastic Solo cups with a sharpie and stacked them on the counter so people could play a treasure hunt game to find their cup. Does that count as a name plate thingie?

In my house growing up, what we lacked in fanciness we made up for in warmth and love. Our door was always open and since we lived far from any extended family, our holidays frequently consisted of other orphans and friends coming together for fellowship and celebration. Our Christmas Eve tradition evolved into a meal of cheese soup and mini pizzas, often eaten cross-legged on a plastic tablecloth on our family room floor. My Dad would read out loud the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and we’d alternately laugh at the Wise Men bearing ham to the Jewish King and cry with Imogene as the miracle of Jesus’ birth washed over us all. We had candles and little paper holders to catch the wax and one of my parents would pass out candles to each person. One by one, we’d light each other’s candles and say something we were thankful for. As the circle of light grew, so did our thankfulness and when it was complete, we’d sing Silent Night acapella. It was a bit déjà vu as MY home filled with loudness and laughter and we dined pot-luck style on cheese soup and pizza and read the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It was almost magical when my Mom pulled out those SAME candles, twenty-some years later, and passed them around to my husband and four kids, her newly acquired blended family and our compilation of friends and orphans. Poor Jon got the shortest candle and I was convinced his fingers would be singed before we sang.

We’ve started our own Christmas traditions too. After the chaos dies down on Christmas Eve and the last goodbyes have been said, Santa’s elves miraculously deliver wrapped jammies for each of our kids. This year they left some for Mommy and Daddy too! Christmas morning, the kids wake up to full stockings and presents under the tree and even though they know Santa isn’t real, you can’t miss the awe and wonder in their eyes as they see a family room transformed. We open presents slowly, taking breaks for coffee refills and a breakfast of caramel rolls, sausage and scrambled eggs. Christmas dinner is ham with all the fixings, just like I remembered as a child, and this year we shared that meal with my Mom and Terry and our good friends, Jon and Melanie. I had great intentions of having the table prepared with our china and silver, but got lost in the relaxed atmosphere of Christmas day. When our guests arrived the dining room table was still functioning as a runway for Lego planes! We did eventually dig the china and real silver out of the cupboard and the adults enjoyed a quiet, fancy meal while the kids played. My Mom and Mel provided the entire meal, except apple pie and cranberry relish, and it was such a blessing to not spend the afternoon cooking in the kitchen.

Our Christmas extravaganza ended on Saturday with a wing-it-as-you-go brunch with the Buchstaber’s. After the initial feast, we lounged around while the kids played and rummaged through the fridge for leftovers as we felt the need. It was a wonderful mixture of chaos and calm. Casual and fancy. Family and friends. And much like the Christmas’ my mom hosted years ago.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Life is Good

Last weekend, Curt had a work Christmas party and as a special treat, the kids had a sleepover with Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry. They threw a birthday party for Jesus complete with spaghetti, peppermint ice cream and angel food cake with fluffy white frosting (no doubt Jesus' favorite). The girls camped "under" the 2 foot Christmas tree (aka slept on the floor of the living room) while Grant opted for the comfort of a bed. The highlight of the sleepover? The kids first introduction to The Sound of Music. Apparently all four of the kids were enthralled for the entire THREE hours and when we picked them up at church the next day, they were yelling over each other, "Member when the kids sang "So Long, Farewell?" Member when the sisters stole the parts to the car? Member when they were hiding from the bad soldiers?" Since Curt has only been subjected to the movie once (by force, from me, when we were dating), I was left fielding all the questions and singing along to "Doe, a deer, a female deer." It was such a fun trip down memory lane that I decided to buy the movie when we were at Target yesterday finishing up last minute shopping. We spent our entire afternoon watching all three hours of The Sound of Music, singing and dancing and entertaining Alli who gets bored after 30 minutes of TV.

My Dad's wife Marcy traveled to Washington D.C. last week to attend her nephew's wedding and got stuck in the snow storm. She was supposed to travel home on Sunday but didn't catch a flight until yesterday. After traveling for hours on end and being gone three days longer than planned, my Dad finally picked her up in Portland. They stopped by our house for a rushed version of the Klippenes Christmas. We inhaled beef stew, crackers and dip, coffee and tea and then moved to the living room for present time. Grandma Marcy and I shopped together over Thanksgiving and so it was fun to see Paige's awestruck face when she opened the EXACT phone that couldn't live without when we were at the store. Katie has been asking for a Furberry since July and the look on her face was priceless when she, at long last, opened one. Another hit was a recordable microphone and I will never forgot the precious memory of my Dad and Alli singing "Away in a Manger" at the top of their lungs into the microphone and dissolving in laughter as they played it back.

When Grandma and Grandpa left, we snuggled into our favorite spots in the family room and watched The Polar Express by light of the Christmas tree, courtesy of one of the bazillion new channels we get on cable. We capped off a great day by reading chapter six of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and even though we hear it every year, we're all dying to read the last chapter tonight with our extended family. Life is so good.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rough Day at the Office

Alli woke up grouchy this morning and determined to make everyone else miserable with her. Our dog, Dusty, had a stomach ache and sprayed the dining room with dog poop. Paige decided that every time I said no was worthy of an Oscar winning tantrum. Katie was nearly perfect as was Grant, until he left his room a disaster and I about had a fit when I went to vacuum and the floor was covered with Legos. My designated time with God was erased when I had to scrub dog poop out of the carpet for an hour and I was definitely not choosing joy in the situation. Dusty is still on my naughty list, but at least I'm not ready to put her up for adoption anymore. Today was a rough day at "the office" but I know that it always gets better. At least my co-workers are edibly adorable...

Tonight I went for a pre-planned swim and the first two laps were so horrendous that I was seconds away from giving up (something I rarely do) and getting out of the pool. The day had been such a battle for my attitude that the last thing I wanted to do was fight off a panic attack in the water. Just as I was about to stop, I decided to swim another lap. The first five were awful but somehow I settled into a nice rhythm and found myself ALMOST comfortable in the water and ALMOST enjoying myself. And once I got comfortable, the boredom set in. It's hard to keep your mind busy for 45 minutes of monotony. My goal was 35 laps but I was in the zone, so when I hit 35, I just kept going and eventually stopped at 40. I figure if I can get comfortable swimming more than 35 laps, I should be okay for a triathlon even if I panic.

My swim improved my mood dramatically and when I got home, we took a walk around the neighborhood as a family in the newly chilled air and gawked at all the Christmas lights. When we were good and cold, we came in for hot chocolate and Christmas goodies that the neighbors delivered earlier. Capped the night off with reading chapter five of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, family snuggles and prayer. Thanks God for redeeming this day!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

Ten years ago one of my bosses asked me if had heard of a new show called Survivor - Outwit, Outlast, Outplay. She went on to describe how contestants willingly allowed themselves to be stranded on an island with a bunch of strangers, limited food and survival supplies. While there, they competed in intensely physical and mental games. Their fellow "tribe mates" would vote periodically to see who they wanted to kick off. When the castaway count got down to 2 or 3, the former tribe mates voted for a winner. The winner earned the title of "Sole Survivor" and a million dollars. It sounded intriguing and Curt and I tuned in for the last 30 minutes of the final episode of Season 1. We've never missed an episode since and last night we watched the finale to Season 19!

Some seasons are fairly predictable. Others more exciting. The one constant is that the contestants fall into one of two categories: heros or villains. Apparently we aren't the only ones who noticed this because the next season will consist of former Survivor players divided into these groups. The Heros are upstanding, likable citizens, kind, moral and full of integrity. They try to play the entire 39 day game without lying, cheating or stepping outside the moral compass with which they live life outside the game. Everyone loves them and they almost NEVER win. The Villains go into the game intent on lying, cheating, stealing, backstabbing or doing whatever it takes to win the game. Because they have no moral compass, they usually manage to deceive the majority of their tribe mates and in the process, win the game. Their end-of-game explanation is, "Well, it's outwit, outlast, outplay and wouldn't you agree I did all that?" Anyone who has ever watched Survivor has seen this play out so I'm constantly surprised when booted castaways bitterly complain about lack of integrity and being deceived. HELLO! Have you never watched the show?

This season, on the first night, a castaway named Russell wreaked havoc on his own camp, intentionally pouring out water bottles and burning socks. From the first second he let everyone know he was planning on winning the game and would do ANYTHING to win. He talked bad about his teammates, degraded women, was so full of pride that I thought his head might explode, and lied to everyone about everything. He was so awful you could hardly believe he was real. But as the show progressed, his cunning and manipulative ways started to pull in viewers. I felt my emotions switch from counting the minutes till he got voted off to actually rooting for him because he was so entertaining. (No doubt CBS was praying he'd keep conniving his way to another episode as well.) He found hidden idols without clues, manipulated his teammates and defied uncounted odds to make it to the final three. The guy was a genius at playing the game and to everyone watching from the comfort of their homes, there was no way he could lose. He thought so too and his boasting was enough to make you want to barf.

At the final tribal council, the booted castaways did their usual complaining about being deceived and for the first time, it appeared Russell really did have a heart. He got teary-eyed as he emphatically declared that the "Real-life Russell" valued honesty, integrity and loyalty above anything else and the "Survivor Russell" was just playing a game. It was a bit hard to swallow and apparently his tribe mates felt the same way. They SHOCKED America and gave the million dollars to a girl from the Hero category, who played with integrity and kindness, but had no recognizable strategy except to do what Russell said for 39 days.

Curt and I couldn't believe it and were stunned and mad that Russell didn't win. Real-life Russell was visibly shaken and fought back angry tears for an entire hour on a live post-season reunion show. He even offered to buy the title of "Sole Survivor" for $10,000 from Natalie, the winner. Her iciness as she declined gave a clear, unspoken message that Russell's "game play" didn't come without leaving scars and I felt myself beginning to understand just a little bit why, in spite of his perfect game, Russell came up empty handed.

So why do you care? I was reading the Christmas story again today and found my mind settling on Herod, the Roman leader in charge of a Jewish territory when Jesus was born. He was power-hungry, prideful, manipulative, and murderously angry. He was so awful you could hardly believe he was real. When the Magi came asking where they could find the new Jewish king, Herod was blown away. He didn't even know a threat to his power existed, which made him feel a bit like an idiot, and the icing on the cake was a bunch of powerful leaders from a distant country, barging into his courts, not to stroke his ego, but to worship a new king! He was FURIOUS! He put his manipulative and deceptive powers into full swing and laid an elaborate trap that involved the Magi doing the leg work of finding the precise location of the Jewish King and then reporting back to Herod where he was. He told the Magi that he too wanted to worship the King, but was in fact plotting to murder him as soon as possible. Fortunately, the Magi were warned in a dream by God to not fall for Herod's scheme. Instead of reporting back to Herod, they gave him a taste of his own medicine by keeping Jesus' location a secret and sneaking out of the country to safety. Matthew 2:16 says, "When Herod realized that he had been OUTWITTED by the Magi, he was FURIOUS."

Given what I saw last night, I couldn't help but think of Russell. He got outwitted at his own game and was so furious that he cried like a baby on national television for an HOUR! I'm so thankful that the Magi outwitted, outlasted and outplayed Herod and as a result of their obedience to God, gave Jesus a chance to grow up and save the world. And I have to shout out to Russell for giving me a visual picture of King Herod. From here on out in my mind, King Herod will be short with a chubby belly, piercing blue angry eyes, and a fedora perched on his round, bald head.

Giving is Fun Chore Chart

A few of you have asked for more detailed information on the chore chart we set up for our kids and I'm happy to share it. I will give this caveat though: I'm a bit of a Nazi Mom when it comes to chores. If it's not done correctly and thoroughly, the kids don't get paid. And since I feel like our kids are well provided for, the amount alloted to each chore is minimal, but fair. I assigned a higher monetary value to the chores that I despise the most so structure your chart accordingly.

  1. Helping with Dishes - $.25 To qualify, they need to clear plates, load dishwasher, and wipe off table and counters, but the full job can be split up between all the kids. Each kid who helps until it's finished, gets a quarter.
  2. Feeding the Dog - $.25 Since this is a no-brainer easy one and since it happens twice a day, I rotate who gets the first option to do it.
  3. Vacuuming - $.25 per room
  4. Clean Room - $.25 per day I'm a stickler about this. It has to be done in the morning before they leave for school to qualify. I define a "clean room" as bed made, blinds open, noise maker turned off, and nothing on their floor. I let the closets slide for the daily quota, but open drawers and open closets doors can tip the scales toward a negative depending on my mood. (See what I mean about the Nazi part.. I can't stand clutter!)
  5. Folding Clothes - $.50
  6. Mopping - $1.00 This is a chore that I really don't like so I pay well for it, but to get the full dollar they are required to help from start (with sweeping and moving rugs) to finish (putting all the stools and rugs back). If they bale out early, the price goes down.
  7. Bathrooms - $.50 per bathroom, and they have to do toilet, counter tops, shower/tub and mirrors to consider it "clean."
  8. Garbage - $.25
  9. Poop Patrol - $.50. Even with the higher price tag, no one will every pick up dog poop but me and I don't get paid...
  10. Dusting - $.25
  11. Wiping down Baseboards - $1.00 (I DESPISE this task which is why it never gets done. Don't look too closely...)
Hope that's helpful.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Giving is Fun

Shortly after school started this fall, we instituted a chore chart at our house. We listed out all the household chores and assigned each one a monetary value based on the level of difficulty. Each child had their own chart and they started working around the house to earn tally marks for their sheet. Last week we totaled up their tally marks, went to the bank, and cashed out their earnings, but didn't distribute it until this morning. Over pancakes and bacon, we talked about how everything we have is and gift from God and that the Bible instructs us to give back to God a minimum of the first 10% (a tithe) of what we earn. It's a way for us to say thank you and recognize God's faithful provision to us. We also talked about the practical and Biblical principle of saving money and told the kids we expected them to save a minimum of 10% of everything they earned, which leaves them with 80% to spend as they pleased. After the little lesson we broke out their piles of dollar bills, practiced some math, and calculated out how much they needed to set aside to bring to church, how much they needed to put in their banks and how much they could spend. There was a slight undertone of grumbling about not having access to spend their entire amount, but overall they handled it maturely and we laughed as they all scoured their rooms for three banks or containing devices in which to store their wealth.

After breakfast, I took each kid on a separate date to the Dollar Tree (I know - big spenders) to do their Christmas shopping. They used the money they'd earned to buy presents for each member of our family, even our dog Dusty. By the time I was done with four individual dates to the same store, the staff at the store was ready to invite me to their Christmas party.

I got such a kick out of watching them shop. Katie went first and her method was deliberate and thoughtful. She previewed the store first, taking mental notes of what she might want to purchase and I thought we might be there all day. But once she scoped everything out and made her decisions mentally, she loaded her basket in no time and was heading for the checkout lane before I could say boo. She proudly counted out all the money and handed it to the cashier. When we got home, she locked herself in our bedroom and wrapped each gift by herself.

Paigey went next. She was fast and decisive. She'd see something she liked and with no hesitation, choose a family member to give it to and put it in her basket. Once an item found it's way into her basket, it didn't come out again until it was time to pay. She proudly held up the trinket she was choosing to give to me and said, "Wook Mommy. Dis one is for you. But don't look in my bag. It's a surprise." And when we got home, she ran up to Alli and said, "Alli, I buyed you a dog. But it's a surprise."

Alli was next in line. In her excitement to have her turn, she grabbed her savings bank with $1.25 in it, and neither of us noticed until we were unloading at the Dollar Tree. So we had to give up our prime parking spot and head home to swap banks before we could shop. She shops like I do, putting almost anything she likes in her basket and then abandoning it when she finds something she likes better. Like Kaitlin, she had to puruse the ENTIRE store before settling on her final purchases and she was very intent on me not sneaking peaks in her basket to see my present that apparently I am going to "LOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVEEEEEEE!"

I dropped Alli off and picked up Grant. I thought he'd take the longest at the store and by that time, I was getting a little tired of the Dollar Tree. But he surprised me and finished quickly, choosing gifts carefully, but selecting ones that surprised me. He was pleased with his purchases and excited to wrap them as soon as possible.

None of the kids asked to buy gifts for themselves or grumbled about spending the money they'd worked so hard to earn on someone else. They put such careful thought and attention into each gift they chose and all were excited to wrap their gifts themselves when they got home. Watching them give to each other has been one of the highlights of my Christmas season so far and I can't wait to see the eagerness on their faces when it comes time for them to pass out their gifts on Christmas Day. Giving is oh so fun!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Putting Down Roots - Christmas Letter 2009

Putting Down Roots 2009

2009 has been a year of the Stilp Six putting down roots. Newberg is nestled in the heart of Oregon’s picturesque wine country. Our neighbor went to a local vineyard and repurposed some pruned vines from the garbage pile. To the naked eye they looked dead, but she dug deep holes in the soil by her fence (apparently grape vines grow down before growing up), shoved those sticks in the ground, and VIOLA! By the end of the summer, she had flourishing vines, complete with baby grape clusters, climbing her fence.

In the past year, our roots have pushed down in little ways like learning our neighbors’ last names, discovering the back road to Costco, and actually bumping into familiar faces at the library and the park. We’ve felt the impact of deeper growth as we developed friendships that passed the one-year mark, expanded our level of ministry at Solid Rock (our church), and settled into a second cycle of the same school and the same jobs. We survived the pruning of dramatic change and life is becoming less foreign and more familiar as our family begins to flourish, much like our neighbor’s vines.

Grant (8 ½ years) has matured so much this year. His style “preferences have changed” and he’s been developing his inner rock star with guitar lessons, skinny jeans, and Chuck Taylor Converse hi-tops, “the unofficial, most popular shoe” according to his first-day-of-school “informal survey.” The Lego designs he creates and constantly refines are intricately detailed and well beyond my level of comprehension. Grant is very responsible and structured in his daily routines, loves 3rd grade, and made his foray into creative writing when he had a story published in the local school newspaper. His description of swimming in a lake vs. a pool, “It’s like swimming into a black hole of darkness” and his brain block on a creative writing assignment, “My brain is out of idea toner,” were gut-busters for us. He takes calculated risks on his bike and skateboard, broke his wrist when he fell out of a tree, and along with his sisters, competed in a 5K and kids’ triathlon. Grant is learning how to practically apply God’s Word to his life and we love his honesty and desire to do what is right.

Katie (7 years) blesses our family with her sweetness, kindness and flair for the dramatic. She is a wonderful mix of girly girl and tough chick and she often impresses us with her high pain tolerance, as long as it’s not inflicted by one of her siblings. She rocked her races this summer, flies across the monkey bars, and looks forward to her weekly jazz jam dance class. Katie decided to go by her “fancy name” (Kaitlin) in her 2nd grade class this year and we were pleased to learn that she is a leader among her peers, a role she doesn’t often play among her siblings. She loves to read and emphatically declared, “I LOVE to read. I was born to read. Right Mom?” Katie also loves animals, particularly horses and dogs, and every year she asks for “five acres and a horse.” To date, we have been unable to grant her wish but she was thrilled with a birthday riding lesson from Grandma and Grandpa. Katie has a tender heart to things of God and shares her love for Jesus with those around her.

Alli (5 ½ years) is a fireball of determination, zest and compassion. No guesswork is involved in figuring out how she’s feeling at any given moment. She told her whiny sister to “zip it and throw away the key,” and on the first cold day of fall asked me to “turn on the hot air conditioning.” I laughed when I overheard her practicing a Bible verse she memorized, “Devote yourself to prayer being watchful and thankful. Fust John 3-2-1-Blastoff” and was touched by her summary on prayer, “If you pray and talk really quietly God can still hear you. He has REALLY good ears.” Alli is finally old enough to start Kindergarten, is on the cusp of learning to read and has intentionally chosen the path of good behavior at school because “it’s more fun to be good than to be naughty.” Alli lets nothing stand in her way, taught herself how to jump rope, tie her shoes and blow bubbles with the gum she’s always chewing, and is very organized and helpful. Our lives would be much duller without Alli around and we love how her infectious laugh so often fills our home.

It took Paige 3 ½ years to discover that she too can join the ranks of Very Naughty Children and we’re somewhat relieved to find she’s normal and not 100% angelic. Her attempts to shed her babyhood, develop her independence and personality, and cement her place in the sibling ranks have been really fun to watch. Her three-year-old phrases and labeling have kept us laughing all year. She wears her “raining boots,” says “shu-ah” (sure) as an affirmative answer to most questions, mixes up her pronouns, and came downstairs to inform me that “Someting broken in the play room. A drawer. I not broken it.” Paige learned to sit on her bike and pretend to pedal so she could “compete” (I use that term loosely) in her first Splash, Pedal and Dash and was thrilled to finish 19th out of 24 competitors in her age group. On July 21st, after some intense evangelistic efforts by Katie, she prayed and asked Jesus to forgive her sins and lead her life. To have all four of our children know and love Jesus is the best gift we could ever ask for and we rejoice as Paige wraps her mind around what walking with Jesus looks like. Her recent prayer, “Dear Jesus. Fank you that house church was so much fun. Help me not to call anyone stinky face. Amen,” shows she has some room to grow!

Curt is settling in nicely at OHSU and at Hope Orthopedics. In May he was commissioned as a house church leader at Solid Rock and has capably led our house church that meets twice monthly in our home from that point. He very methodically trained for and completed two Olympic-distance triathlons this summer and rejuvenates by fishing with a friend. Fall is his favorite time year. What’s not to love about a fresh chill in the air, playoff baseball, college football and hunting? This fall, Curt enjoyed a trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota where he shot ducks, caught up with family and friends, and took in the Brett Favre-led-Vikings vs. Packers game at the Dome. He hopes to make it an annual tradition.

The Lord has taught me a great deal this year about waiting on Him and trusting His timing. I lost my entire running season to a torn meniscus that I ignored for six months before coming up lame in a half-marathon in June. I had my knee repaired in August and have been learning to meander during the long recovery process. While recovering, I conquered my fear of being underwater and learned to swim. My Dad joined me on my first post-surgery outdoor run and I have my eye set on a May marathon if the surgeon gives me a green light to start training. I spent a girly and relaxing weekend in Colorado with my favorite “sister” Sonja and was really blessed by a book club I led and hosted for Solid Rock. To stay up-to-date with the Stilp Six, follow or subscribe to my blog (

Merry Christmas. We hope you have a blessed year putting down roots in your neck of the woods.

Much Love,

Curt, Jodi, Grant, Katie, Alli, and Paige

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Green Means GO!

Today I officially graduated from my surgeon's care and got a green light to do any kind of physical activity, except ski which has to wait another four weeks before I grace the slopes with my inherently awful skiing ability.

I ran down my list of Mother May I's with him: yoga? training for a marathon? biking? running hills? skiing? All got an affirmative. I am stoked and ready to get this party started. Thanks so much for all your prayers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It Was Magical

When I was a little girl a big part of my life centered around music and church, the traditional kind of church with pews, Sunday School, stained glass windows, organs, and hymnals. I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten and by third grade was actually playing songs people wanted to hear. I borrowed a hymnal so I could pretend church at home with my dollies and I'd line them up in rows, sit at the piano and sing hymns. On the rare Sunday nights when we had "open hymnal" at church and you could make a request for a hymn, I would get giddy with excitement. Since sitting still wasn't (and still isn't) my strong suit, I'd throw my hand up in the air and squirm and flail it around to get the pastor to call on me. If I was lucky and got chosen, I'd always request a Christmas carol. Didn't matter if it was July, I'd pick my favorite Christmas song and ask the congregation to sing it with me. By the time I was in junior high, I was old enough to be a church pianist and the 8 a.m. service (the one only a few brave souls would attend) was my baby. I'd bang out the hymns while the congregation sang and pick my best recital songs to play for the offeratory.

I also read a lot, and many of the books I chose were set in pioneer days where music was one of the only forms of entertainment. I read about families gathered around the piano singing carols at Christmas time, stringing popcorn and drinking hot cocoa. It sounded magical to me.

When I started high school, I was introduced to sports and it became my new love. I still sang in choir, played flute in the band and kept up with piano, but my passion was athletics. The more challenging, the better. Not much has changed in twenty years. I still love how music touches my soul in a way that no other art form can. And I love how, through music, I can be transported to the very throne room of God. But most of my free time goes to running or working out at the gym and my poor piano has been out of tune, covered with dust, and serving as a photo holder for years on end.

We're hosting a house church Christmas party tonight and we kicked around the idea of singing carols. This afternoon, Alli, Paige and I dusted off the lid of the piano (which Curt had to fix to get to open), dug out the same old hymnal which I have "borrowed" long enough to have officially stolen, found the Christmas section, and started singing and playing. The F key above middle C (a note that gets played all the time) sticks. It's so out of tune that when played correctly, the notes sound wrong. The keyboard cover is broken and the spring to hold the bench lid up is sitting inside the bench with music that hasn't seen the light of day in years.

While Paige danced and twirled around the living room, Alli hovered by the piano and sang in her lopsided, out of tune, five year old voice and I hunched over the keys, eyes glued on the pages, making one mistake after the other on my creaky, beat up piano. Oh did we have fun! We sang one song after another until we'd thumbed through the entire Christmas section. Favorites we sang multiple times and I lost track of how many times we sang Silent Night. At one point, I glanced over at my daughter with her big blue eyes, one front tooth shorter than the other, singing at the top of her lungs with her movie star quality lips, and I thought I would melt with happiness. Just like the stories I read as a kid, it was magical.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Emmanuel - God With Us

My friend Juli used to be the chaplain at the county jail. With her "I still look 15 but really I'm in my 30's" beautiful face and her height, with heels, putting her in the low five foot range, she was an unsuspecting fireball and perfect for the job. She has a God-given ability to dismantle tough inmates and get them to share their struggles. She listens, truly listens, and offers Godly wisdom, humor and comfort. But don't be fooled. She can stare down the meanest and most intimidating person, cut through the garbage and speak the truth in love. I didn't realize just how much like Jesus she was until I started volunteering at our church's county jail campus. Nothing like traversing to the dark, interior depths of the jail and locking yourself in small room full of convicted murders, child molesters and drug abusers to get your heart racing and your palms sweating. The body odor alone was enough to make me want to turn and run!

Our "church" was a room not much larger than most people's closets. It was wide enough to contain one conference table with as many folding chairs inched around it as possible. A lone TV hung high on the wall and two doors, one on each side, served as armed guards. Max capacity with standing room may have been 12 people, shoulder to shoulder, except the inmates aren't allowed to touch each other, so I don't think we could actually fill it that full. Once we were officially locked into the room, the guard unlocked a door and the inmates shuffled in. While I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans and tried to breathe through my mouth without anyone noticing, I watched my friend be the hands and feet of Jesus to these woman. She loved each woman unconditionally, in their darkest time, whether they were repentant or not. She didn't judge them even though they were obviously guilty and had done horrific things. I left the jail that night, mind reeling, convicted to the core of my piousness and determined to find a way to start loving the unlovable in a more Christ-centered way.

I've been re-reading the Christmas story in my quiet times and asking God to see this story with fresh eyes. Isaiah the prophet, hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth via Mary's womb, predicted that Jesus would do just that. Isaiah 7:14 says, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel," meaning "God with us." Later, in chapter 9, he says, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

What an unfathomable idea. God, in His perfectness, intentionally chose to come to dark, sinful earth and live among us in our filth. I couldn't help but think of my friend who intentionally brings Jesus to the darkest place I could imagine. Day in and day out, living among those inmates with their body odor and extreme bagging, shedding Jesus' light in the land of the shadow of death. As I let the miracle of God's love wash over me, my iPod switched to a powerful song that captured exactly how I was feeling. I'll leave you with the lyrics, but you really should buy the disc!

Emmanuel - Hallowed Manger Ground
written by Chris Tomlin and Ed Cash

What hope we hold this starlight night
A King is born in Bethlehem.
Our journey long, we seek the light
That leads to the hallowed manger ground.

What fear we felt in the silent age
Four hundred years can He be found?
But broken by a baby's cry,
Rejoice in the hallowed manger ground.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel
God incarnate here to dwell.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Praise His name Emmanuel.

The Son of God, here, born to bleed,
A crown of thorns would pierce His brow.
And we beheld this offering,
Exalted now the King of Kings,
Praise God for the hallowed manger ground!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Showcase Splendor

All fall, Katie and Alli have been taking Jazz Jam after school and Grant has been taking Beginning Guitar. On Thursday night, they got to perform what they've been working on at a Showcase in the high school auditorium. They were giddy with excitement to show us what they've been working on and we invited Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry to join us for the special occasion. Little did we know what we were in for....

An hour and a half after the show started, it FINALLY wrapped up, much to the joy and relief of every parent and grandparent who was forced to attend. If there was an after-school class in Newberg, it was represented at the showcase. There was even an unabashed plug for a new class that would be starting winter session complete with a show of hands for people who MIGHT want to take the class. Kids talked about paintings, danced, acted, sang and "played" (I use that term loosely) guitar and ukele (who knew it's pronounced ookele?). For every high point there was an equally hilarious low point. About halfway through the show Curt leaned over and whispered, "Did we make our parents go to stuff like this?" I couldn't look at my mom cause I knew if I did, we'd dissolve into uncontrollable giggles and one of us would end up crying or wetting our pants or both. 3-year-old-Paige sat perfectly still through the entire performance completely enthralled with each participant which is more than I can say for myself.

So without further ado, I present to you, the mandatory video of our kids doing their thing, so you too, can get a taste of Christmas joy. Happy viewing.

Carousel and Charlotte's Web

Last Monday I chaperoned a field trip with Kaitlin's second grade class. The plan was to leave school at 9:30 a.m. and drive to the carousel on the waterfront in downtown Salem. The kids would each ride the carousel, eat a picnic lunch and play on the equipment in the adjoining park. After they got their wiggles out, we'd head a few blocks into the city to watch the play version of Charlotte's Web in a historic theatre. I arranged childcare for Alli and Paige and looked forward to a bonding day with just Katie.

Monday morning I squandered my extra time and found myself ditching Paige with Kelly at the gym and rushing to Mabel Rush to make sure the buses didn't leave without me. When I showed up at 9:29 and didn't see any buses out front, I had a sinking feeling that I had missed my ride. I envisioned Katie's disappointed face and possible tears and was feeling like a terrible mom as I dashed to the office to grab my volunteer tag and sign in. Turns out, the second grade teachers ordered three buses for the four classes and only one bus showed up. So there we sat in the cold front lobby of the school, all hundred something second graders and chaperones, bundled up against the uncharacteristic 20 degree weather and waiting for the buses to arrive. We waited. And waited. And waited for 50 minutes!

By the time we loaded onto the buses, we were way behind schedule, and I wondered how 125 second graders would have time to go on a carousel ride, eat lunch and play at a park in 30 minutes. Never mind the fact that it was really cold by Oregon standards and none of the adults relished the idea of "picnicking" outside in the frigid conditions.

Our bus was the last one in line and ended up with the fewest amount of people which thankfully made for a much quieter bus ride. My group consisted of Katie, her friend Lauren, and two boys from her class. Since the bus was so empty, Katie and Lauren sat in the seat in front of me and proceeded to ignore me the entire ride to Salem. They giggled and whispered and played rhyming clapping game. I periodically tried to engage them by poking my head over the seat, but finally gave up and dug my Bible out of my purse. I laughed to myself at how the day was not reflecting the vision I had in my mind on any level and decided to choose joy and just roll with it.

We arrived at the carousel that was graciously indoors and quickly took over the entire building. We assembly-lined the kids on the footprints painted on the ground and systematically loaded the carousel to max capacity while each child took a turn. It really was a beautiful carousel with all hand-carved animals and the smiles on the children's faces were so precious. We turned the building into a make-shift picnic area and all the kids grabbed their sack lunches from bins, plopped onto the cold cement floor and inhaled their lunches as fast as they could. We skipped the playground, piled back on the bus only to unpile two blocks later at the very old, very beautiful, castle-looking theatre in downtown. The theatre manager was kind enough to hold the start of the show until we found our seats, so we rush, rush, rushed the kids into the theatre for the hour-long show without a bathroom break. The show itself was marginal at best with lame costumes and really loud obnoxious acting, but the kids seemed to enjoy it which is really all that mattered. Once the show ended, we got a much needed bathroom break and then dashed back to the waiting, cold buses for the hour drive home. Katie and Lauren ignored me again, but I kept myself occupied by repeatedly asking the little boys in my group to stop yelling, wrestling and kicking my seat. We arrived back at Mabel Rush thirty minutes behind schedule, completely frozen and with enough time for the kids to rush outside for 20 minutes of recess.

I'm not sure what the value was in me going along, but I'm sure it will dawn on me at some point. And if it never does, at least I got some good pictures.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Every year we buy a new Christmas album and start listening to it the day after Thanksgiving. This year I ordered Chris Tomlin's Glory in the Highest and while I was waiting for it to arrive, forgot that I ordered it and impulsively bought Making Merry when I was checking out at Starbucks. DUH! The two albums couldn't be more different and we've really enjoyed them both. Making Merry is a compilation of artists from all music genres, most of them from years past, singing original renditions of Christmas favorites. Glory in the Highest is all about worship. It was recorded live with some of Christian music's greatest artists coming alongside Chris who leads them in worship to classic Christmas hymns and a few new songs that most likely will make their way into the classics category over time. We've had the Chris Tomlin album playing on repeat in the car and it has been such a joy to listen to the kids learn the songs and start singing along.

Sweet Paige who is only 3, was sitting in her car seat singing at the top of her lungs with hands raised and eyes closed, "My soul, my soul, magnifies the Lord, my soul, magnifies the Loooooooorrrrrdddd. He has done great things for me." I was trying to drive and sneak peaks in the rearview mirror when she interrupted herself and asked, "Mommy, what does magnify mean?" On autopilot, I started to answer when I realized I've never actually thought about it before.

Magnify, according to, means to "increase in size, volume or significance." I grabbed my Bible and looked up Luke 1:46-55 where Mary, who is newly pregnant, prays a beautiful prayer to the Lord. She says in the first few verses, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is His name." As I pondered Mary's thoughts, I realized that her soul was "increasing in significance" the role of God in her situation. She didn't focus on the fact that she was not married and pregnant which left her open to social scorn, disgrace, and possible forced homelessness and prostitution. Instead she chose joy and praised God singing, "My soul magnifies the Lord for He has done great things for me. Holy is His name."

I now have a proper answer for Paige and a fresh perspective on evaluating my life. When times are difficult, do I still readily say, "My soul magnifies the Lord. He has done great things for me. Holy is His name?" Maybe not every time, but Lord, make that true in my life! Holy is Your name. You have done great things for me.

Who Would Have Thought?

Eight weeks post surgery, I was still limping significantly and convinced that if I did ever run again, it would be slow and painful. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think that in the following eight weeks I'd regain as much strength or speed as I have.

I just went for a run on a typical Oregon winter day (damp, somewhat cold, gray and dreary vs. the blue skies, sunshine and brisk cold we've had all week) and rocked out 4.64 miles in 37 minutes! How is that possible? I felt like I was flying and I had ZERO pain in spite of a fairly hilly course.

I am so grateful to the Lord for healing my knee and for saying "YES!" to running again. I know it's such a small thing in light of eternity, but to be able to participate again in something that I'm passionate about and that brings me such restoration is a true answer to prayer. THANK YOU LORD!!!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

35 Laps Baby!

The first time I saw an Olympic-distance swim (9/10 miles) marked out in a lake, it never even crossed my mind to want to swim that far. Instead, I immediately branded every athlete waiting to start the grueling journey as "certifiably crazy." Who in their right mind can swim that far? It's ridiculous. This summer, when I took swimming lessons with all the 4 year olds, I set a goal to "some day" complete an Olympic triathlon. I knew I could do the bike and the run pretty easily, but the swim truly seemed impossible given the fact that I could barely swim one lap without drowning and gasping for air.

35 consecutive laps. That's what I needed to swim to hit 9/10 of a mile. I was convinced it would take at least a year to attain that distance, but tonight I shattered my expectations and swam for 35 consecutive laps without stopping. Never mind the fact that it took me 40 long, grueling minutes to finish or that if it was a race I'd most likely be the last one out of the water or the fact that my "swimming" still feels and appears a lot more like floundering than swimming. I was just pumped that I did it. I can't tell if it was more exhausting mentally or physically, but I just kept telling myself, "You can do it. Don't quit. You ran a marathon for crying out loud. You can swim another lap." And so, much like Dory and Marlin, I just kept swimming. And swimming. And swimming until I touched the wall at 35 laps and did a happy dance in the water. Whoo HOO!!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Weight is Gone

This weekend, I saw glimpses of a real man of God developing in my son as I watched him handle a tough situation with character and integrity. I am so proud of him! Sweet Grant has always had a gift of honesty. He lied to us once when he was 3 and was so torn up by it that we know we never have to doubt his truthfulness. If he says it, we know it's true. Another great quality Grant has is a soft heart toward things of God. The Holy Spirit really moves in his life and when he recognizes sin, he is truly broken by it, full of remorse and repentance. I admire both of these qualities so much in him and pray often that God will continue to grow and develop these in his life and in mine as well.

Several weeks ago, my super competitive son made a bad choice and cheated in a game at school. No one, except him, would ever have found out about it. He carried his secret with him for weeks before remorse got the better of him. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he confessed his sin to Curt and I and to the Lord. We were so proud of him for coming clean and praised him for the courage and integrity it took to confess something that only he knew about. We talked about how the quiet nagging in his spirit was actually the Holy Spirit urging him to make it right and how much it pleased God and us as his parents that he listened and obeyed.

And then came the tough part as parents. Do we leave it at that or take it one step farther and ask him to make it right at school, because in this case, he'd have to talk to the principal. My heart ached because I wanted to protect him from pain, but I also knew that sitting in our lap was a great chance to teach a lesson on cheating that he would never forget. We told him our expectation and were surprised by the level of maturity with which he handled it. It was as if he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do and he expected for us to require this of him. We looked up Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go," and talked about how God never asks us to do something that He won't give us the strength to complete. He would go with Grant into his day and help him not be afraid.

Grant was one nervous 3rd grader when he boarded the bus on Monday morning and all day I prayed for strength and courage for my little boy who is not so little anymore. The Lord answered my prayer because Grant was BEAMING when he walked in the door later that day. He had made it right with the principal and not only was she forgiving, she was gracious, compassionate and encouraging. She came alongside us as parents and helped transform his wrong choice into something that was character building and positive in his life. He summed it up best when he said, "Mom, when I told Daddy what I did, I felt a weight was lifted from my shoulders. But when you said I had to talk to the principal too, a new weight went right back on. Now that I made it right, the whole weight is gone and I feel so relieved." Praise the Lord!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Didn't Think It Was Possible

Given my post on Friday at 1 p.m., I never would have thought it was possible to go to bed on Sunday night with the entire interior and exterior of our house thoroughly decorated for Christmas, but God was so good at answering that prayer!

Friday afternoon, the kids and I regrouped and we tackled the 3 foot kid tree on the landing and the 7 foot Mommy/Kid tree in the family room. All I did was unwrap ornaments and hand them to the kids who waited patiently to take their turn and managed to only break on ornament. I consider that a successful tree-decorating event.

Friday night I enjoyed a belated birthday evening with my good friend, Kelly. We hit the little shops in downtown Newberg, looked at the artwork on display and sampled the free goodies most shop owners had out. We stopped at The Sweetest Thing, a new cupcake-only bakery that just opened. It's located in an old Craftsman style home with beautiful decor and the cupcakes are to-die-for! If you haven't been yet, you MUST go! We finished our night with appetizers and a wine flight (a small sampling of four kinds of wine) at The Allison, a five-star, brand new hotel and spa in Newberg. We nestled into our overstuffed chairs, chatted, and listened to live jazz music and huge logs crackling on the expansive stone fireplace. It was so relaxing after such a tough day. While we partied, Curt babysat all six kids AND decorated his tree. The finished product is a masterpiece!

Saturday was a Stilpstaber day. Bucky and Curt took our boys fishing on the Willamette River and Britta, Lucy and Baby Griffin came to our house for a girls day (sorry Griff). Britta shared her creativity with me and helped me finish hanging artwork in the girls rooms. It was such a relief to be done with such a huge project and I let her cross "room swap" off my ridiculously long To Do list. We made cut out Christmas cookies with the girls, a chore I normally despise, but as the kids are getting older, I'm becoming less grinchy about it and learning to embrace the fun to be had. I must have swept an entire bottle of sprinkles up off the floor when all was said and done. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

By the time the boys got home, we had about two hours of daylight remaining. Curt got out his 25-foot extension ladder and he (all I did was hold the ladder) put up all the lights on the exterior of our home. They pale in comparison to the rest of our over-the-top neighborhood, but we were pleased with the finished product. A cold front moved in on Saturday making it feel more like winter and less like fall and we celebrated with hot chocolate adorned with whip cream and sprinkles. After dinner, we tackled the 90 feet of lighted garland that I scored on clearance at Target last year for 90% off! Curt used his extra fancy ribbon to wrap the pillars of our landings and stairwells and by 10 p.m. last night, our home was thoroughly Christmastized.

Today we worshipped at our wonderful church which is always such a blessing. I came home and went for a 3.75 mile run. It was a very blustery day (at times the wind was blowing me sideways) and it was cold by Oregon standards, but it felt like winter and I loved every minute of it. In spite of the wind and a few random hills, I finished my run at a little over an 8 minute mile pace and I loved being out in the cold, sweating in the winter sun.

Later this afternoon, Grant and I ran some errands and had some Mommy/Son time which is rare these days given how time-consuming school can be. I think we both really enjoyed ourselves and bonded in the Shawn White section of the boys department at Target. When we got home, I wrapped presents until my neck and shoulders ached from hunching over. I'm almost ready to start boxing stuff up to ship all over the country and I will be so happy to reclaim our bedroom.

I didn't think it was possible to accomplish so much is such a short time period, especially given the way Friday started out, and I'm so grateful that God cares about the little stuff, like me crossing things off my list, as well as the big things! Hope you had a great weekend too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Patient In Affliction

My house has been in a state of disarray since we came home from Bend a week ago. The dining room is loaded with unpacked boxes of Christmas decor and neither of our two trees are decorated. The exterior of our house is the only unadorned one left in our neighborhood that people, who come from all over, drive through to look at the lights. I've been running at 120 mph all week and still feel like I've accomplished next to nothing relative to how much remains to be done.

The kids don't have school today and in my mind's eye, I saw today filled with family, friends, fun and decorating the Christmas tree. So far, none of that has transpired. I've been fighting for my attitude all day and I MIGHT be (if I'm really generous) batting 300 in how I'm handling life at the Stilp house.

One of my kids is struggling with laziness, whining, arguing and obeying the first time and I was at my wits end before it was 9 a.m. Patting myself on the back for being proactive, I hired a babysitter to come at lunch time so I could go for a swim and get a fresh perspective. I was looking forward to coffee and catch up time with a friend I don't see often enough and in the one hour she visited, our sons knocked a closet door off the hinge, trashed Grant's room and accidentally smashed a Lego plane. Our daughters directly disobeyed and in the process knocked over our 10 foot, undecorated Christmas tree. I found myself standing in a sea of pine needles and yelling at them both, while my poor friend looked on embarrassed by her daughter's choice and mortified by my childish behavior. While they sat in time out for what I was convinced would be FOREVER, I started the clean up process and realized I was so angry that my hands were shaking. Not exactly behavior fit for the daughter of a King.

I grabbed my Bible, pulled them aside and we read what God says about kids obeying AND parents not exasperating their children. We talked about how none of us made good choices and we all apologized and forgave each other. I felt a little better as they left and our babysitter arrived, but I couldn't wait to take my aggression out on the pool.

Since I'm having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, it would follow suit that my swim was horrendous. I had to share a lane with Mr. Olympic Swimmer who lapped me every 10 seconds and left me floundering in his wake and sucking in half the pool. I couldn't find a good rhythm and I struggled for the stamina to finish each lap. Apparently my floundering was evident to Mr. Olympic Swimmer and on lap 21, he took it upon himself to verbally dismantle my stroke and tell me everything I was doing wrong and how to do it correctly. Although his intentions were nothing but kind, I felt my blood pressure rising with every word. I am not exactly at the point in my swimming career where I can work on perfecting my stroke. Right now, I'm just trying not to drown, but how was he to know that?

So here I sit. At the computer blogging when I should be working on Project #2006 on my list. I found a 3x5 card in my Bible where I had written in bold, permanent marker Romans 12:12: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." I laughed when I read it. On days like today when my imperfections are evident to everyone in a 20 mile radius and I feel like I throwing in the towel, the Lord always reminds me of His plan for me. The key to salvaging this day was sitting smack dab in the middle of my Bible, just waiting for me to open it.

At one point today, I called a good friend and wise woman of God and asked her to pray for me today. As she prayed, she reminded me that we pray FROM victory, not FOR victory. The battle is already won. I just need to claim it. So Lord, I thank You for victory over my attitude and Your ability to redeem this day. Help me to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. You are so good. And please help me to finish at least one task today so I can cross it off my list. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

We just returned from a weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with my Dad and his wife Marcy in beautiful Bend, Oregon. We opted to make the drive over on Thanksgiving morning, by the light of day vs. tackling the Santiam Pass in the dark. Our goal was to pretend it was a school morning and have the van loaded with gear, kids and parents by 8:05 a.m., the time the bus picks the kids up each morning. We missed our goal by 25 minutes but still left earlier than anticipated.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive. A typical fall morning in Oregon, the sky was laden with clouds and fog but we saw a glimmer of sun and by the time we reached the mouth of the Santiam Pass, the sun began to burn off the fog. It was breath-taking to see the mountains, bathed in sunlight at their peaks and dotted with unbroken-up fog patches at lower elevations. The skies were clear blue and the bright morning sun reflected off the river and the snow-covered, towering pines. We oohed and ahhed and thanked God for His creativity and awesome power to create such beauty for us to enjoy. What a great way to start a day centered around giving thanks.

We made it safely to my Dad and Marcy's cozy home in Bend. While the kids bounced off the walls, we unloaded the van and helped Marcy put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving meal. An hour or so later (and a good two hours later than we normally eat lunch), the feast was on the table and all four of the Stilp children were in the guest room serving time for misbehaving, two of them wailing loudly. I couldn't help but sneak a picture of their plight. Once we calmed everyone down and took the prerequisite pictures of the beautifully decorated table laden with food, we dug in. I have never seen my kids eat so much in one setting, EVER! They were so hungry and I thought they'd never stop eating. Grant the Carnivore, took the turkey leg and consumed almost the entire leg in one meal. Little Ladies, let me tell you, he's available and if his manners continue in the way he exhibited as he devoured that turkey leg, he'll be available for a VERY long time! After lunch, the kids ran around in the back yard and the adults lounged in chairs on the back deck in a triptophane induced state, enjoying the 40ish degree weather, clear skies and sunshine.

Friday morning Marcy and I tackled the Black Friday sales, but on the Lazy Jodi time table. I am not a morning person and am of the belief that getting out of bed any time before 7:00 a.m. is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I mapped out my plan of attack on our drive to Bend on Thursday, so I rose, at 7:01 a.m., pulled on my sweats and dashed to Wal-Mart (2 miles away) to tackle the first store on my list. Was home by 8:00 a.m. for a shower, coffee and breakfast, and then grabbed Marcy around 9 a.m. to finish our shopping. We methodically knocked out Macy's, Old Navy and Target and finished at TJ Maxx the following day. It was fun to get so much accomplished in a short time period and really enjoyable to have some girl time with Marcy.

While we were shopping, the boys and kids tackled another wood chopping project. Grant swings a mean axe and singlehandedly chopped an entire wheelbarrow load of kindling. He was out there swinging his axe and doing Man Stuff all day with my Dad and Curt. Curt's wood chopping didn't fare as well. He was about 4 logs into his project when one got stuck in my Dad's log splitter, came shooting out and severed a hose. OOPS! Hope they invite us back next year... The girls gathered pine cones and played with the dogs and fun was had by all.

Friday night we bundled up and headed to the cute downtown section of Bend, the part with the one-way streets, specialty shops with adorable store fronts, multiple coffee shops and a huge pine tree in the center of town. We joined several hundred people for the tree lighting ceremony. We watched dancers and a choir perform, sang carols with the local Baptist church choir and listened to Santa lecture kids about proper behavior to ensure themselves a spot on the GOOD list. One hour later, we counted backward from five and yelled, "Merry Christmas" and nothing happened. So they ad libbed, "That wasn't loud enough, let's try again," and for a second time, we all counted backward from five, yelled "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" even louder and VIOLA! The enormous tree was lit. We piled back into our vehicles and finished the night with hot cocoa and leftover pie before bed.

Saturday morning, I went for my first outdoor run since having my knee repaired in August. I asked my Dad to run with me and off we went on the most beautiful morning imaginable. 21 degrees, crisp, clear, blue skies, bright sun and fantastic views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and all the other snow-capped peaks whose names are escaping my memory. We jogged and talked, enjoying the morning and each other, and finished three miles in no time flat. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate my first outdoor run than to share it with my Dad.

The rest of the day we mixed lots of lounging around with a trip to the park, more wood chopping, and jump rope twirling. Alli's new passion is jump roping and since it's not Christmas yet, her "jump rope" is a scarf. They jumped and chanted every jump roping chant known to man. What's up with wrapping up a baby in toliet paper and sending it down an elevator?

Today we enjoyed another gorgeous day for our drive home. Even though we've driven the pass multiple times, the view never loses it's wonder. The grandeur of the rugged white-capped peaks cast against the brilliant blue sky with painted horses frollicking on ranches in the scrubby desert brush. From every angle, another snow-capped peak, looming behind a house. A barn. A horse. It just takes your breath away.

When we were about 5 miles from Salem, we exited the Santiam Highway and headed to Tree Kings tree farm, a tree farm that came highly recommended. I have been to multiple tree farms in my life, but have NEVER seen such a huge operation. This is not your little Mom and Pop tree farm with free apple cider and a little barn filled with over-priced holiday knick knacks. As we pulled into the driveway, the roar of a helicopter deafened all noise and we giggled as we watched a helicopter driver flying around the fields with a huge cable and hook, grabbing pre-baled trees and piling them on the largest pile of trees I have ever seen. Apparently this tree farm sells over 300,000 trees each year and ships them all over the United States and Mexico! The high school boy manning the booth at the entrance/exit shouted directions over the noise, gave us a map and pointed us up the hill. Acres and acres and acres and acres of trees, varying in price depending on size and kind of tree. Mt. Hood and the Cascade Range that we'd just driven over provided a stunning back drop to the neatly lined rows of trees. We piled out of the van, the girls still in their church clothes, and laughed at how unlike Christmas the weather was. 55 degrees. Sunny. Blue skies. I was sweating in my sweater. We found the perfect tree immediately and Curt went to work chopping it down. It was well over 10 feet tall but had been mismarked as a 6-7 footer, so we took advantage of the pricing and got a screaming deal on our tree.

Our front living room now boasts a 10 foot noble fir, our entire home has the sweet fragrance of fresh cut pine, and hopefully by tomorrow we'll have the energy to start the decorating. Curt will adorn the perfect live tree with symmetry, grace and matching ornaments. The kids and I will tackle the 7 foot fake tree with multi-colored lights, mismatched ornaments and nothing resembling symmetry. And we'll all be happy. It will be the first thing we can be thankful for in this next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm Thankful For...

In 2009, I'm thankful for...

1. My Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Good Shepherd and Friend, Jesus Christ. Where would I be without You? Thanks for helping me fall head over heels in love with You again this fall.
2. My wonderful husband, Curt, because you "get" me. You make me laugh every day, you love me in ways that minister to me, and you're so darn handsome. And did I say how HIGHLARIOUS you are?
3. Grant Andrew - you have changed so much this year. Your "fashion preferences" make me smile. Who knew a boy could be so opinionated about things? But I love that you know what you like. You've become so responsible this year and regimented as you take on all the academia of 3rd grade. Your vocabulary makes me laugh, your singing and guitar playing are so fun to listen to, and your tenderness melts my heart. What a sweet boy you are.
4. Kaitlin Joy - sweet little princess. Your kindness, sweetness and dramatic flair add so much to our family. God did a marvelous job when He made you such a unique blend of girly girl and tough chick and I love you so much. What would I do without you twirling and whirling around the house?
5. Alyssa Claire - life would be much duller without you. I'm thankful for your feistiness (even on the days when you exhibit a lot of it) and your ability to show compassion will always melt my heart. You have matured so much in your behavior this year and I'm REALLY thankful for that!
6. Paige Elizabeth - oh the baby of the family... I'm thankful that you decided to abandon diapers and be a big girl so early in this year. I'm thankful we all survived the transition to no more nukie. Your three-year-old labeling and pronunciations have made me laugh so hard. I will miss you when you go to school next year, and I'm thankful to have alone time with you in the mornings.
7. Dr. Sewell for repairing my knee so capably and God for aiding in the healing process.
8. Learning to meander and slow down has been good for me. I'm thankful for my recovery time this year, the things I learned about myself, and the wonderful network of friends and family who ministered to me and our family during this time.
9. Old comfortable friendships with history and layers. Memories and comfortability. I love you all!
10. New friendships that are developing for me, Curt and the kids. Getting to know the layers and layers of amazing people right here in Newberg and at Solid Rock. I want to know you all RIGHT now, but am enjoying the "getting to know you" process too.
11. My Mom and Terry for how they pour into our kids and do such fun stuff with them.
12. My Dad and Marcy being close enough to visit regularly and all the fun that we have together, especially at Pacific Crest.
13. That Curt had the chance to spend some time with his family doing all the things he loves about the midwest.
14. My girls weekend with Sony. What a great "sister" you are!
15. Monday night play date dinner nights that Kelly and I set up for Grant and Alden, but in reality, I think we look forward to them more than the boys!
16. The creation of the Stilpstabers and all the fun we've had together this year. I'm sure we'll be making memories together for years to come.
17. Brothers and Sister-in-laws and the roles they play in my life. I'm so grateful for relational growth that occurred and excited to see how our relationships will continue to morph in the coming year.
18. Adding Hadlock's to the family roster this year. Ben and Kursti, Jon and Maggie, Rebekah and Michael and all your sweet kiddos, it's been so fun to get to know you this year.
19. Knowing we don't have to move again for a LONG time. It's so wonderful to be settled and not saving boxes.
20. Solid Rock, a Jesus Church. Wow! Such great teaching, amazing worship, wonderful people... God is moving here and I am thrilled to be a part of that movement.
21. Curt's jobs and how hard he works at them to provide for our family.
22. The Good 'Ol Gal, our Jeep. You may have cost us some money this year, but what a reliable vehicle. I'll be sad to see you go, whenever that time comes (and may it not be within in the next two years since we just spent so much money on you) She's a good ol gal!
23. My Mini-Van. Never wanted to be a mini-van driving mom, but now that I am, what I would do without remote controlled sliding doors and all that space? If only you were 4-wheel drive to get us safely over the pass and back without stopping to put on chains...
24. God's creation. Could Newberg be any more beautiful? I pinch myself every day that I get to live here.
25. The ocean. I love the storminess, the grayness, the rain. The waves pounding the shore. The wind whipping through my hair. I love the pleasant surprise of showing up to a sunny day at the coast and how stunning a blue sky and bright sunshine changes the appearance of the waves and the sand. I love watching the grass on the dunes dance in the wind. Hearing my kids' laughter traveling on the wind.
26. Laughter. We laugh so much at our house and it's one of my favorite things about our family.
27. Dusty. Even though I like to grumble about how much work having a dog is and how I am the ONLY one who ever picks up your poop, you are most likely the nicest, most well behaved dog on the planet and I love you (but don't tell anyone).
28. Nap time. It's such a sweet reprieve from the busyness of the morning and my time to spend with God. I look forward to it every day.
29. Health. I am so grateful for a healthy family and bodies that work the way they're supposed to.
30. Running. I'm doing it! I'm running again and it feels so good to be back.
31. Conquering my fear of being underwater. I still don't love swimming, but I'm getting more relaxed in the water and I feel so victorious for kicking that fear to the curb.
32. The majesty of being hemmed in by mountains on every side. I love that everywhere I drive, I see foothills, distant mountain ranges, and on a clear day, snow capped giant peaks. I love how the weather in the mountains changes so quickly. I love exploring Parrott Mountain on foot. I love basking in the glory of the views from the top, the sweat-inducing struggle to reach the summit, and the eye watering rapid descent back to reality. It's one of life's simple thrills.
33. The Dillons for all that you do and are to our family. I can't really put it into words.

I'm sure I'm thankful for so much more, but my quiet time (see number 28) is rapidly winding down. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!