Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It Still Seems Surreal

Our kids had the day off school last Friday, so we planned a weekend trip to Bend to visit my Dad and his wife, Marcy. We slept in on Friday morning and took our time loading up. It was sunny as we drove out of Newberg and the weather forecast promised temps in the 60's upon arrival in Bend. We took the Santiam Pass and soaked in the beautiful scenery that never grows old or less awe-inspiring.

Detroit Lake was our picnic spot. Every December, Detroit Lake is drained and as the mountains lose their snow in the spring, it melts and drains down into the lake, eventually filling it to its summer capacity. It was strange to picnic by a 3/4 empty lake - with dead tree stumps all around, docks that were sitting on dirt, and red buoys resting on muddy sand where a beach would eventually emerge. We were the only people in the entire park and we ate at a picnic table in the sun. Patches of unmelted snow lay in shaded areas, the sun reflected brightly off the water that was left in the lake, and the mountains were dressed in bright white.

We crested the summit and oohed and aahed at the scenery that is now becoming familiar. Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, the forest fire area, Suttle Lake, Black Butte and the quaint little town of Sisters with its adorable shops and restaurants. And you can't go to Bend without stopping at the infamous viewpoint between Sisters and Bend. Desert scrub fields with snow-capped peaks that seem to go on forever and ever in all directions.

We told the kids that we were going to stop at Grandpa's office first before heading to their house. As we drove into town, Katie spotted an Office Max. She innocently asked, "Does Grandpa Don work at Office Max?" For some reason, it struck us as funny and Curt was doubled over laughing so hard he could hardly drive. We collected Grandpa Don from his non-Office Max-job and headed to the house, where we got unpacked and convinced Grandma Marcy to wrap up her work day early and join us for some fun.

Next stop was Pilot Butte, a rather ugly, scrubby mound in the middle of Bend. In Illinois it would be called a mountain and would have a ski resort at the top, but in Bend, it's just a scrubby hill with steep, dirt switchback trails that lead to the top of the butte. It's a great workout and the views from the top on a clear day are well worth the effort it takes to get to the top. Grandpa and Grant took the lead and raced to the top with Grandma and Alli in close pursuit. Katie and I strolled leisurely, posing for pictures with snow-capped peaks over our shoulders. Curt got the hard job of pushing Paige up the hill.

At the top, the panoramic view was crazy gorgeous. The Geography Lovers (Curt and Grant) were in heaven studying all the maps with labels and the girls ran around in circles at the top. Paige decided to walk instead of ride down the hill. She grasped my hand and muttered, "I fink I can, I fink I can, I fink I can do it." She chattered on and on to herself about traversing "FOUR miles," but her determination wavered when she "had to go poop" and she wimped out and rode the rest of the way down.

When we were driving home, Grant saw a kid dressed up in a costume. He excitedly said, "Hey, I see a kid dressed up like Shrek." Then his tone shifted to disappointment and he said, "He looks more like a long-neck dinosaur." Another gut-busting moment for us. I think we were all slap-happy.

After the kids went to bed, the adults engaged in a fierce game of Mexican Train Dominos. I secured last place early on with a record-breaking 101 point, single round. There was quite a bit of table talk and trash talking that ensued, but Marcy silently snuck her way into a first place finish.

Saturday morning my Dad and I went out for breakfast, which is one of my favorite things to do. We immersed ourselves in great conversation and good food. It was the first time in years that we had each other all to ourselves to talk without interruption. Two hours later we reluctantly got out of his truck to head back into the house.

While we were gone, Grandma Marcy and Curt had put together quite a lunch spread. We ate "tea party" style, decked out in dress up garb, munching on triangular little sandwiches and trying to remember to eat with our pinkies up.

After lunch, we headed to Shevlin Park on the other side of town. It's a chunk of land that follows a little creek through the woods. A bad wind storm had recently blown through, falling some enormous trees. The kids had a blast exploring new terrain. They hid in a hole carved out by the roots of a large tree that had toppled in the storm. Grandpa used it as a teaching experience to remind them that when we are rooted in our faith in Jesus, the storms of life can't blow us over.

Katie wore her swim goggles, which she found in her back pack, and spent the majority of our hike resembling an over-grown mosquito. After all, you never know WHEN your swim goggles will come in handy. We found a fallen tree that was wider than Katie was tall and Grandpa showed the kids how to figure out the age of a tree by counting the rings. Grant uncovered an enormous stick with potential to be a spear. He spent the rest of his time being a mountain warrior - exploring, climbing, rescuing, and racing with his giant spear. We climbed huge rocks, lolly-gagged by the river, and took at least 1,000 pictures by the covered bridge.

On the way back, Grandpa invented a stroller game with Alli. She held on for dear life while he'd push as hard as could to see how far she could fly on her own. One large push happened to occur on a slight descent and I never knew my Dad could run so fast. Marcy and I stood laughing as he sprinted after the careening stroller with water bottles and debris flying as it left the paved trail and flew into the woods. He managed to grasp the handle right before Alli, who was shrieking with laughter, had a face-to-face encounter with a tree.

All four Stilp girls took a nap in the king-size, guest bed and I reveled in the beauty of having my three daughters nestled up against me, breathing rhythmically in the sweet surrender of deep sleep. While we slept, the boys did MAN stuff, stacking and hauling wood and quite possibly bumping chests, which thrilled Grant.

Katie and I snuck off to Old Navy and had some one-on-one girl time. We tried to hasten spring's arrival by buying new flip flops and some spring attire. We finished our date with Starbucks and headed home to help with supper.

Grandma and Grandpa threw an early birthday party for Alli (who won't be 5 until next week) complete with presents, balloons and chocolate cake. Alli was intently "reading" a book to herself when Grandma brought out the balloons, and a good two minutes went by before Alli noticed. She stopped mid-sentence, her whole face lit up, and she went dashing to the table. Grandma introduced us to a tradition from her childhood - taking a bite out of the cake before you cut it- and we all laughed at Alli's chocolate frosting face.

After the kids and grandparents retired, Curt and I stayed up and watched a sappy chick flick, which he endured and I loved.

The following morning, we woke to a steady rain in Bend which translates to snow in the pass. We hustled to pack up, said goodbye and piled into our mini-van armed with a picnic lunch and multiple water bottles courtesy of Grandma Marcy. We stopped to chain up at the Mt. Washington viewpoint, which was hysterical given the fact that the only view was swirling snow. Curt and Dad had practiced snow chain application in the garage before we left, but completing the task in the middle of a blizzard wearing a hoodie and tennis shoes proved to be a bit more challenging.

While Curt was wrangling the chains, all four kids suddenly had to go pee SO bad, even though we had only been traveling for a total of 40 minutes. Girls just aren't equipped to easily pee in public, but after some trial and error we devised a method where they could stand on the running board of the van, hold onto the handle behind the drivers seat, stick their booties into the blizzard and accomplish their task without getting too chapped from the snow and the wind. A box of wipes completed the action and I was quite pleased with my new invention.

Curt finished the chains, shivered into the drivers' seat, and we began our ascent, crawling up the mountain in white-out conditions at 15 mph. The plows hadn't been through yet so everything was white, white, white, forcing Curt to guess where our lane was supposed to be. The sharp, steep, drop off on the other side loomed as a constant reminder that there was little room for error. Curt white-knuckled us down the mountain and God guided us safely through the heart of the storm.

Eventually the snow shifted to a heavy, soaking rain. When we stopped to take off the chains, we got drenched and I got the added benefit of being covered in dirty slush from a big truck that flew by a little too close to the van. To top it all off, the 18 cups of coffee and 20 bottles of water I'd consumed in my nervous state, hit me all at once. With no civilized bathroom for miles, I was forced to use my pre-described potty method. (Note to self: next time I expose my bootie to a freezing rain and potential public viewing, warn hubby first.) Curt almost fell into a snow bank when he looked up and saw me in my potty predicament not to mention that anyone within a 10 mile radius heard him laugh!

I was convinced the entire state would be subjected to an all-day, soaking rain, when miraculously the rain just stopped. The sun came out, the temperature rose and when we pulled safely into our driveway it was 60 degrees and sunny, but really windy. We collected Dusty from the neighbors, unloaded the van, scarfed a bowl of cereal for "dinner" and headed out to church, where we worshipped our great God and caught up with new friends that are slowly becoming comfy, familiar friends.

It's been 8 1/2 months since we moved to Oregon and Curt and I are still in a state of disbelief that we actually really live here. From the climate to the scenery to being close to family to making new friendships and rekindling old ones, it still seems surreal. And we are so grateful.

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