Monday, July 27, 2009


Every year, on our anniversary, Curt and I make it a point of escaping from normal life (and the kids) for at least 24 consecutive hours. It hasn't been easy wrangling people we trust to stay with our kids, but we know making our marriage a priority is a huge key to being successful parents. This year on our anniversary we were socked in with a snow storm, so we went out to dinner and waited for our getaway.

Our friend, "Aunt Kathy" Dillon, is visiting us from Chicago. She loves the kids and insisted that we go away for at least one night so we didn't say no. We took her to church with us on Sunday morning, came home and ate Chicago-style, Costco dogs, and then started packing. Curt decided a few weeks ago to be spontaneous and not make a reservation, but does pre-planned spontaneity qualify as being planned or spontaneous? We threw the tent in the Jeep just in case we couldn't find a room and enjoyed the beautiful drive across the Coastal Range.

The first place we stumbled upon was Whispering Winds Motel in Lincoln City. It was a tiny 1970's motel directly across the street from the ocean that had been carefully renovated with a wonderful combination of old-school charm, funky, modern, and beach cottage. From the colored glass in the doors, the white-picket porch, lantern, hand-painted cottage number and adorondak chairs just begging to be relaxed in, it was inviting on all levels. Choosing the first place was a little TOO spontaneous for Curt though, so we spent the next hour driving along the beach-front periodically stopping to check vacancy and price, but nothing compared to the Whispering Winds Motel. We giggled as we sheepishly circled back and claimed cottage number 15 as our own.

Cottage 15 was C-O-Z-Y! The interior was completely covered with wood - wood walls, wood ceilings and wood floors. The ceilings were 70's style low, which closed in the rooms and made them feel more warm and inviting. It had a full kitchen and sitting room and then two stairs that stepped down to the tiniest full bath and coziest little bedroom just wide enough to fit two end tables and a queen-sized bed. It was quiet, small and perfect for a romantic getaway. We loved every inch of it.

After we got unpacked, we headed into town and grabbed coffee and a pastry from the Cyber Garden Cafe' (which Curt incorrectly labeled the Gerber Garden Cafe'). It struck us both as high-larious and for the next 26 hours, laughter became the common thread. We laughed and laughed. Joked around. Teased. Flirted. Acted immature and cracked up over it. At one point Curt was actually crying because he was laughing so hard. It was wonderfully refreshing.

I wanted to take him on the Cascade Head Trail hike that I took the kids on in May because the view from the top was so beautiful. Without kids, we made it to the lower viewpoint in next to no time. We marveled at the strange weather. In Lincoln City, just a few miles from the trail, it was 59 degrees and socked in by a heavy cloud cover. At the bottom of the trail, it was mid-60's. By the lower viewpoint we were probably in the 70's and at the top of the mountain, we were dripping sweat with temps at least in the 80's. From the lower viewpoint we watched the clouds swirl up and over a miniature peak. We caught glimpses of Lincoln City through the clouds. Oohed and aahhed over the blue skies and the rugged Coastal Range that was not shrouded in clouds. Occasionally a brisk wind would pick up and send the clouds literally twirling in circles. They blew around and through us. We could have watched them for hours, but decided instead to hike all the way to the top of the upper viewpoint. We gained over 600 vertical feet in less than a mile and climbed above the clouds. It felt like we were flying in an airplane. Above the clouds to the right. Bright blue, cloudless skies to the left. STRANGE!

We didn't know that one of the oldest spruce groves in Oregon makes its home at the top of Cascade Head or that you can access the amazing view via a logging road and hike in on a much less strenuous and shorter trail from the top. We meandered into the spruce grove and it was like entering the enchanted forest from The Princess Bride. It was magical with the late afternoon sun filtering through the moss-covered trees. I half expected a woodland fairy to come flying past us.

We forced ourselves to head back down to the Jeep and pulled into Roadhouse 101 at 8 p.m. for dinner. You can eat dinner at 8 p.m. when you are child-free. Curt toasted to "life in Oregon" and we both agreed that our day was one of the most fun we'd had together in a long time.

The next morning was a repeat of the day before with heavy cloud cover and chilly temps. We went out to breakfast, which is one of my favorite things to do and something I do very infrequently. Came back to Cottage 15 and reveled in the uninterrupted silence and solitude as we spent time with the Lord. When we left Whispering Winds at 11 a..m., I forced myself to put shorts on because I knew it was hot in the valley and I didn't want to sweat too much in the car on the way home.

We left Lincoln City and drove up Highway 101. Found the logging trail that leads to the top of Cascade Head and joked about the uncanniness of how we ALWAYS seem to find a curvy, windy, gravel, one-lane road with steep drop offs every time we set off on an Oregon adventure. We hiked back to the same spot we'd visited the day before, but this time the trail ambled through the spruce grove. It was flat and easy and we'll bring the kids back.

We stopped in Neskowin with the intention of playing on the beach, but it was completely covered in clouds to the point that we could hear the ocean, but couldn't see it. We gambled on the weather being better in Pacific City and drove the handful of miles up the coast to Pacific City's Cape Kiwanda. Sure enough, the cape was just tall enough to drive the clouds up and over it, opening up the tiniest section of sunshine and warmer weather. EVERYONE visiting the coast was in that tiny patch of sunshine. Kids building sand castles and squealing in the cold water. Families exploring the tide pools. Adults laying out in the sun. Surfers catching big waves. Dory boat drivers doing what dory boat drivers do. The huge sand dune was covered with explorers, while the rugged cape was sparsely dotted with the few people brave enough to proceed past the sharp drop offs.

We climbed the sand dune and read the "Caution. Danger ahead. Steep drop offs. Proceed with caution" sign at the entrance to the Cape. Since we were child-free, we decided we could be adventurous. We spent the next hour and a half exploring the nooks and crannies of the cape, ending up at the farthest point way out in the ocean with huge waves crashing against the rocks below. One small slip, and we would be goners. The cliffs and drop offs made my heart race, but the view gained from peeking over the edge was amazing enough that we kept climbing. Kept peeking. Kept marveling at the magnificent beauty of God's creation. The ocean is mesmerizing. Dangerous. Exciting. Powerful. Untamable. Beautiful. In some respects, a lot like how I picture God the Father.

We finally forced ourselves to head home. Drove into the cloud cover of Pacific City and watched the temperature drop from mid-70's to 59 degrees. Bought a cappuccino and a loaf of warm bread at the Grateful Bread Bakery and shivered as we took our first bite. We weren't 2 miles out of town, when the temperature started sky-rocketing. 20 minutes into our drive, it was in the high 90's. The air-conditioning in the Jeep is broken, so we felt every degree in the temperature change. It got so hot that we pulled off to the side of the road and splashed around in the Little Nestucca River. By the time we arrived in Newberg, an hour and 15 minutes from when we left Pacific City, the temperature was 104! A 45 degree change in temperature. Talk about STRANGE!

While we were gone, Aunt Kathy spoiled the kids rotten, taking them to the movie theatre complete with popcorn and drinks. She gave them waffles with ice cream for breakfast and took them to McDonald's for lunch. They watched movies. Played games. Read books. Got new flip flops. On every level, she spoiled and loved them and I think they were a bit sad to see us come home.

Life doesn't slow down though. Poor Aunt Kathy got locked out of the house and Paige smacked her face on the play-land stairs. We jumped right back into parenting, chores, and laundry, but our getaway was wonderful! I can hardly wait for next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Holy Spirit Power

The kids and I have been talking a lot about Holy Spirit power lately to defeat the Evil Powers of Darkness led by their arch-enemy, Satan. I've been telling them (and I'm preaching to the choir here because I need the reminder too) that when we ask Jesus to forgive our sins and be the leader of our life, He promises to give us the Holy Spirit to live in us and guides us. So we go from being ordinary to extra-ordinary. We have Super Powers, just like Elasta-Girl and Mr. Incredible. The Holy Spirit give us power to defeat Satan by helping us be kind to each other, use nice words, be unselfish, patient, and want to serve each other instead of putting ourselves first. But we remain ordinary if we don't ask the Holy Spirit to use His power to help us make extra-ordinary, God-pleasing decisions. So we've been starting off our days asking the Holy Spirit to fill us up with His power to be more like Jesus in the way we think, act and speak.

Grant, Katie and Alli all prayed to ask Jesus to come and live in their lives some time around age 3 1/2 years. Each of their decisions were independent, sincere and not coerced by us. And it seemed to make a difference in their lives. They viewed their decisions differently and started owning their faith in Jesus Christ to the extent that a 3 year old can grasp what that looks like.

Last night, at bedtime, we were talking and getting ready for prayers. Holy Spirit power came up and Katie asked Paige, "Have you asked Jesus to come and live in your heart?" It spurred a great discussion about faith in Jesus, sin, our need for a Savior, and how cool having super-natural strength to make better decisions is. We asked Paige if she wanted to ask Jesus to be the Forgiver of her sins and the Leader of her life and she said yes. On her own she prayed, "Dear Jesus. Fank you for today and that we had SOOOOOOO much fun. Fank you dat you wuv me. Please come and live in my howt so dat I use nice words, don't hit people, and be a bobedient girl to Mommy and Daddy." Then with prompting from Katie and I, "I'm sorry for sinning. Please forgive me. Amen.

We threw a party and hooped and hollered and she ran and told Daddy and Grant and Alli about her big decision. And then put her to bed. Curt and I convened to talk some more. I practically grew up in the church, but sometimes putting faith into action is a stretch. We looked at each other and I couldn't help feeling a bit skeptical. How genuine can her decision be? After all, she's only 3, right? So we went to basis of all truth, God's Word, the Bible. What does God say is required to have Eternal Life? (all CAPS emphasis is mine).

I read John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." It doesn't specify an age. It says "whoever."

I read John 1:12, "Yet to ALL who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

II Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." The promise of new life in Christ extends to ANYONE.

I read Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, EVERY ONE OF YOU, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Our promise of forgiveness of sins and Holy Spirit power comes with no age, gender or race specifications.

I read similar accounts in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 where Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Jesus went out of his way to use the trust of a child as an example of what he wants grown-up faith to look like. Free. Trusting. Giving Him everything.

I thought about Paige's prayer and knew it was genuine. Even at age 3, she knows her life is broken by sin. She hits people. She doesn't share. She uses unkind words. She doesn't obey. And she knows it's not okay. Her desire is to be kind. To share. To use nice words. To be "bobedient." And she knows Jesus can help her reach those goals. Forgive her sins. Transform her into the little girl she desires to be but can't be on her own strength. She gave Jesus her broken life and when she said "Amen," she had a new life. A transformed life.

The Bible says (Revelation 12:15) that God keeps a book called the Book of Life. In it He records the name of every person who has put their faith and trust in Jesus to forgive their sins and lead their lives. The Bible also says that every time a person asks Jesus to be their Savior, the angels throw a party in heaven to celebrate. So today, the Stilp's and the angels are partying. I can almost see "Paige Elizabeth Stilp" written in the Book of Life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Bad. I am a B-A-D swimmer and in the words of Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that." Well, actually I have more...

Last night I made my first attempt at solo swimming, without an instructor and without being swarmed by 4-year-olds. My original plan was to swim at 8:45 p.m. In my La La Land of perfection it would be a great way to relax before bed. I GORGED myself on Chinese food from 6 to 6:25 p.m. when I realized I still had time 30 minutes of lap swim left and I might be able to squeeze my swim in before the pool opened for public swim at 7 p.m. Curt questioned, "Are you sure you want to swim on a full stomach?" Being the novice that I am, I replied, "Sure. Why not?" Ummm..... the swimming on a full stomach thing. Not a myth. It's a recipe (pun intended) for disaster. I couldn't have felt more gross and breathing in general, let alone underwater, was next to impossible. I floundered my way through 30 minutes of self-induced torture, never connecting a lap together with the next. Chalked it up to full stomach and learned a good lesson.

Today I hired the neighbor girl to come over and watch the kids so I could swim during the lunch hour. This time I ate a bowl of cereal 45 minutes before entering the water and hit the pool deck with a plan I devised with my super-studly cousin, Sonja. She thought I was up for 3 laps of front crawl, connected to a lap of back stroke to catch my breath, connected to a lap of breast stroke (supposedly a catching your breath stroke) to a lap with a kick board and then a break. Sounded great on the phone. Then I hit the water.

I saw the "Charlie Haley" look-alike life guard, same one I saw last night, and asked him where I should start. He pointed me to a slow lane (which, by the way, did you even know that lap pools are divided into slow, medium and fast lanes? It was news to me) and a medium lane. Both with swimmers in them, but not as crowded as last night. He said, "You can swim with Pink Hat or Purple Hat. Either would be a good choice." I opted to jump in with Pink Hat and a crowd of women walking, talking and doing some sort of something with water weights in the slow lane.

I set off to do my 3 laps of front crawl and found myself holding onto the wall, gasping after one measly lap. While I was busy hyperventilating, Pink Hat took it upon herself to indoctrinate me with the pool rules. "Excuse me. But did you know that when you're lap swimming you're supposed to follow the line on the bottom of the pool on the right in one direction and switch to the left side on the way back? In case you're ever wondering, the rules are posted on that wall right over there. And I think you should switch lanes. That crowd of ladies is taking up a lot of space and I don't think there's room for you in this lane." I opened my mouth to say I was a beginner swimmer (as if that wasn't painfully obvious) and she said, "I'm doing this for your own good you know. I'm a fast swimmer. The lady in the purple hat is not as fast and there are less people in her lane. You should switch to her lane. It's really for your own good." Before I could respond, she flags down Purple Hat, to tell her about the newly devised plan. Poor Purple Hat has ear plugs in and can't hear a thing Pink Hat is telling her, so Purple Hat starts gesturing and talking really loud, "I have ear plugs in. Can't hear you. I'm out of here in 3 minutes." With that, Pink Hat gets a big smile, points to the lap divider and says, "Swim there. I'm really doing this for your own good." And with that, I was officially bossed out of my lane and into the Medium lane with Purple Hat and a Man With No Outstanding Characteristics who was clearly NOT a beginner swimmer and was connecting multiple laps together with what appeared to be very little effort on his part.

The next 30 minutes were totally lame. I could not string two laps together if you paid me. My goggles kept fogging up and even leaked water once. I couldn't seem to get the hang of breathing cardiovascularly in the water. Exhaling underwater was fine, but I found myself mentally panicking every time I came up for air. Something about knowing I only have a split second to get a breath before I submerge my face underwater again wigs me out and so I spent the entire time mentally talking myself off the ledge of anxiety. I remembered an email that my Uncle Jeff sent me when I contemplated learning to swim a year ago. He said the key to good swimming is to relax in the water. To try to think of a baby swimming in amniotic fluid and the peaceful environment that we came from. Ummm... can't remember life in the womb and the Chehalem Park and Recs Aquatic Center Pool so far has not replicated that experience for me. I'm sure SOME day, when I'm 80 and I've been swimming for 45 years, I might be that comfy in the water, but today there was no relaxation happening.

When I did backstroke, I ran into the lap dividers and hit my head on the wall. My breast stroke, supposedly a catch your-breath stroke, is painfully slow and horrible in form. I tried the butterfly kick with the kick board and got so frustrated that I tossed it after half a lap. And after every lap, there I was, breathing heavily at the side of the pool while overweight senior citizens swam laps around me. Not that there's anything wrong with being overweight or a senior citizen. But for someone who can run 13 miles with very little effort, I found the depth and difficulty of learning to swim a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. Talk about frustrating!

I called Curt as soon as I hit the car and he laughed and laughed at my descriptions of how bad I am. Supposedly, he remembers feeling the same way when he learned to swim three years ago, which I find hard to believe now that he swims 35 laps CONSECUTIVELY twice a week and not break a sweat (STUD). But I'm not a quitter, so I'll keep trying. At least I'll give the life guards some entertainment and a chance to come up with nickname for me. Maybe Flounder? And now, that's really all I have to say about that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Recent Realizations

Here are some things I've realized over this past week.

1. Don't swim on a full stomach. It's not a myth. Swimming on a full stomach is a recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster. I decided to make my first attempt at lap swim within minutes of gorging myself on Chinese food. BAD idea. I don't think I could have a worse first attempt at swimming laps for exercise. Lesson learned. Tomorrow is bound to be better.

2. I can't "sneak shop" with Katie any more. She and I went on a date to shop for clothes for her birthday. I wanted to get her Bedtime Stories for her birthday so I purposefully appeared to meander down the movie aisle. When I spotted it, I tried to divert her attention and sneak it in the cart behind my purse and she TOTALLY busted me. She didn't see the title though, so even though she saw me sneak SOMETHING, she didn't know what it was. As we checked out, I handed her the receipt to have the Costco checker draw a smiley face and within seconds, her face lit up and she started giggling. "Oh! So you bought me a miscellaneous DVD." Stinker. She knew to read the receipt.

3. Grant really knows how to swim. I have this unnatural fear of my children drowning and am a nervous wreck when they are near water. Grant and Alli are both so comfortable in the water and I swear they are half amphibian, but I never let them test their wings. Maybe it's because I'm such a bad swimmer, but that's changing too. At any rate, Grant was at a church function on a lake on Saturday and the lake was divided into a deep and shallow end. To swim in the deep end, you had to pass a swim test in front a certified life guard. He totally rocked it and earned the green wrist band to go in the deep end. I'm so proud of him! When I asked him what it was like swimming underwater in a lake vs. a pool, he said, "It was like swimming into a black hole of darkness."

4. God wants to "uppy me." Ever since Paige could talk, she seeks comfort in our arms. We often hear her say, "Uppy. Mommy, I want you to uppy me." Uppy brings comfort. Security. Peace. Warmth. She's still a pip-squeak, but even when she gets bigger and heavier, when she asks me to uppy her, I will drop what I'm doing to carry her. I was reading in Isaiah 46:4, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who sustains you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." When I read that God wants to carry me, sustain me and rescue me, I realized that He wants to uppy me. I'm never too old. Too big. Too heavy. He wants to uppy me.

5. Grant is going to be a night-owl, rock star type persona. The kid requires ZERO sleep, often doesn't fall asleep until we're heading to bed, and then wakes up before 7 a.m. (okay so the waking early is NOT a rock star). But he loves music and is always listening to various bands and telling us what he likes about them. He has an acoustic guitar that he can't play, but he'll spend hours sitting on the couch, holding it incorrectly, strumming away and humming to the melody in his head. Note to self: get the kid guitar lessons! He even drew a picture of his hypothetical band called Mini HSU (for Hyper Static Union - his current favorite band) with friends of his as band members and it's hanging on his wall. He said, "Mom. I'm serious. I really think I might want to be a rock star when I grow up. And I really want Crosby and Alden and Kate to be in my band." Hopefully some of them will actually be musically inclined.

6. Alli is realizing babies come in all different shapes and sizes, even if they are the same age. Two of my friends have baby boys that are similar in age and couldn't look more different. One is short and chubby with lots of dark hair. The other is bald, long and lean. This week she saw me holding another baby boy and she grilled me with questions. What's his name? How old is he? Are you friends with his mom? etc. She thought for a while and then said, "So he's the same age as Griffin? He and Griffin are both bald-headed and skinny. Not like baby Sammy at all." Watching the light bulb go on in her head was priceless.

7. Life is getting easier as the kids get older. I know our kids aren't old yet, but they also aren't babies any more. We hauled all our bikes to a state park 6 miles from our house on Sunday. Put Paige in the "baby seat" on my bike and we knocked out a 5ish mile (maybe longer) bike ride like it was nobody's business. Curt led, we copied Auntie Quenby's genius game of Leader Leapfrog for the spots in between, and Paigey and I took up the rear. The bike path reminded me so much of the trail that Curt proposed on and brought back some great memories of our first date and his proposal. It traversed through thick woods with sunshine drifting through the dense foliage and turning the woods varying shades of green. At points, we could see the Willamette River and other times we were deep in the woods. It was just lovely and even better, EASY. No one complained or got tired. We did it fairly quickly and it could almost count as exercise. Finished with a hastily packed picnic and we had a great afternoon as a family.

And I think that's all the introspection I have for now. I'm off to watch a movie with my sweet man. All the girls are sleeping. Grant is "in bed" with his radio blaring his current favorite band.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Our little girl, sweet Katie, turned seven today. She has always been a social butterfly with a big network of friends, but last year, for her 6th birthday, we had lived in Oregon for 3 weeks. She had not met one friend her age or gender and to top it off, Curt and I abandoned her all day to support my Dad while he had major surgery. My best friend from high school blessed me by coming up to our rental house with her family and being THE birthday for Katie. She made a cake for Katie, had her four kids play with Katie and even gave her a gift. We were so blessed by their acts of love and kindness for our daughter who they really didn't know. I know Katie had fun, but it certainly wasn't the birthday we dreamed of for her.

All year I prayed for friends for Katie. I just didn't seem to run into any moms with daughters her age. My heart broke for her as Grant, Alli and Paige found friends, but she was still searching. She met Elizabeth at Crater. A sweet, kind little girl who reminds me a lot of Katie. They became fast friends and Katie was in tears when she had to leave Elizabeth to start a new school at Mabel Rush.

The first day of school at Mabel Rush, Katie plopped down next to Emma. Her new teacher, who I had met one time, whispered to me, "Oh Katie made a good choice. Emma is such a nice girl." Her teacher was right and over the course of the school year, Emma and Katie became friends.

When we moved into our house the weather was just turning colder and people were starting to hibernate. We had one nice day where everyone came out and a friendly neighbor came down with her 6-year-old daughter, Macy, to meet Katie. She informed me that our neighborhood was full of nice, 1st grade girls that would love to meet Katie. But the weather got nasty and meeting all these sweet girls took more time than we thought. There's Macy. And Tori. And Audrey. And Haley. All within a two block radius. All great girls from great families. All who have become Katie's friends. And there's Lucy and Lauren from church. And Taylor who lives a whopping one mile away. Both their moms have also become good friends of mine which makes play dates twice as much fun.

All this to say that today was a special day. We ate plain pancakes for breakfast and ramen noodles for lunch (GAG) because that's what Katie requested. She wore her "I'm the Birthday Girl" pin to Vacation Bible School and they made a huge fuss over her. This afternoon was the crowning jewel. A birthday party that turned into a huge extravaganza. Nine girlfriends, two sisters, one brother plus two boy friends so he wouldn't be lonely, one college "helper" in Molly because Katie LOVES Molly and will jump at any excuse for Molly to come over, and a couple of moms who stayed to help manage the chaos.

We painted little wooden crosses. Played relay games outside even though it was 95 degrees. Came inside for the snacks which Katie chose. Cucumbers, because it's her favorite veggie. Fruit salad, because she would exist on fruit if we let her. Popcorn because it's another Katie favorite. And in lieu of birthday cake or cupcakes, sugar cookies. With sprinkles baked into them. Since I can't stand decorating cakes or cookies, we made the decorating part of the "craft." I frosted 7 cookies so we could light candles and sing "Happy Birthday" and then we dished up the food. Each kid got a plain cookie with a mound of purple and orange frosting on their plate. The toppings were on the table and they all decorated to their heart's content. When all the kids were full, we headed back outside. To the nail painting station. Or to the "Family Swim Center" pool that we buy every year for $30 bucks and it gives us hours of entertainment. Who knew a dozen kids could fit in a blow-up pool that size? They splashed and laughed. And giggled and played. After 45 minutes, they came in and since they are girls, took FOREVER to change from their wet clothes back into dry ones. Katie opened presents and I was so blessed by the thoughtfulness and generosity of her friends. I, of course, took a bazillion pictures. As each little girl left, I couldn't help but thank God for answering my prayers for Katie. He provided friends in abundance and in such a short time. And she chose her friends well. These little girls were so sweet, kind and polite and a real joy to have around.

While I cleaned up, Katie and Alli hit the pool again, and were surprised by a visit from Grandma Ru, Grandpa Terry and my Aunt Sandi and Uncle Paul who are visiting from Minnesota. They didn't stay long but it was so fun to see them.

We headed out as a family to Red Robin for dinner, again Katie's choice. We waited and waited and waited for a table big enough to seat 6 people to open up. And it was a painful wait. We couldn't figure out why all the kids were behaving so poorly until we got our food. Bless their sweet hearts. We were starving them. Every person in our ENTIRE family, including Paige who normally eats next to nothing, ate every single bite of their entire meal, big steak fries included. Grant was still looking around for more food when every morsel at the table was consumed. The Red Robin staff brought Katie an ice cream sundae and balloon ears, made her stand on her chair, announced to the restaurant that it was her birthday, and sang to her. She acted embarrassed, but I know she loved all the attention.

We stopped at Target where she spent her birthday gift card from Molly on new jammies and came home to go through the bed time routine. We listened to Katie tell us about her favorite parts of the day, and most of them weren't present-related. She liked being with family and with friends. Being the one in the spotlight. Feeling special. We kissed our tired, new-jammie-wearing, 7-year-old princess good night, wished her sweet dreams and collapsed on the loft by the computer.

I can't believe what a difference a year can make. Thank you God for giving our sweet Katie Joy friends and for helping her choose wisely. She is such a gift! Sweet dreams my dear Kaitlin Joy.

How Dirty Can You Get?

Last Friday, Curt took the day off work. He accompanied the kids and I to their swimming lessons and we sat in the bleachers and watched them show off all they were learning. Each one tried to out-do the other and Alli kept catapulting herself above the pool wall and waving frantically at Curt. They got their report cards for the week and were thrilled to learn they all made improvements from the start of the week.

We came home and started the process of loading the van to go camping. Piles and piles of stuff sat in the garage. Sleeping bags. Camp chairs. Grill. Tent. Hammock. Sleeping mats. Backpacks with clothes. Coolers with food. Card table to hold miscellaneous stuff at the camp site. Dusty's bed, bowl, leash, food and chain. Big plastic bins with dry good foods and cooking equipment. Pillows. Stuffed animals. Beach towels. Enormous first aid kit. Fishing poles and tackle box. It was comical. Curt struggled for about 30 minutes and came upstairs defeated. "I don't think we can get it all in. I don't know what to do." I came down to survey the damage and had to concur. It looked like an impossible task.

We gave up the little window to see out the back and crammed beach towels in that spot. Wedged kid camp chairs behind the card table. Cut Dusty's corner of the van floor in half and put the tackle box there. Had the kids go potty and buckle up and then started piling stuff on and around them. We piled the empty spot between the captain's chairs and the sliding door with pillows, sleeping bags and back packs. When we had it filled to capacity, we'd quick slam the door shut. Curt got wedged between the way back seat and the captain's chairs and over much howling and laughter, the kids pushed him from the inside while I pulled from the outside. We managed to get him out, but only after he crushed Poogie, who was laughing and crying at the same time. As we slammed the last door, we high-fived each other. Mission accomplished.

Curt reserved camp site #44 at Gone Creek Campground on Timothy Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Gone Creek Campground was one of many on the large lake and promised outhouses and "potable" water, fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking. The forecast for the weekend was perfect: temps in the mid-80's and sunny.

We took our directions and headed out of town, of course on a curvy, back road highway. You would think we would learn our lesson by now, but maps are deceiving. What appears the most direct route on a map in Oregon is not always the quickest. We wound our way through Mollalla and Estacada and got stuck behind a semi-truck hauling a load of hay. The hay was flying all over our windshield and there was no passing lane so we crept up the hill with the truck. When we turned off on the second, winding highway, we managed to escape the hay truck and had an unobstructed view of the gorgeous terrain. We started winding along the Clackamas River that was hemmed in by tree-covered foothills and also some red, rocky cliffs. We followed the river into the Mt. Hood National Forest and eventually left the river to climb through the thick forest.

After two hours, we took our third winding road, this time a National Forestry road that marked Timothy Lake as 15 miles away. NF58 was narrow and steep and much curvier than the other two highways. Our pace slowed considerably and then we had a big surprise. ANOTHER gravel road! What's up with that? According to our odometer we had seven miles left before we arrived at one of the biggest lakes and camping spots in the Mt. Hood National Forest and here we are starting on a remote gravel road? It was laughable. The road was barely wide enough to fit two cars, had a fresh load of gravel dumped on it making spinning out a much greater possibility, and can you guess what side the steep drop off of at least 40 feet was on? Oh yes. The Stilp Family's side. My hands started sweating and my heart was racing. I couldn't even see the bottom of the steep ravine over the edge of the road. One little slip on the gravel and we were all going to meet Jesus. Finally, after five very long miles, like a mirage, the road changed from gravel-death-trap to nicely paved, two-lane, heavily traveled highway. And there was Timothy Lake.

Gone Creek was the fifth campground we came to. We pulled in slowly and found our campground almost immediately. At first glance, we thought we got the worst site in camp. It was located on the corner of a Y with "roads" on two sides. We drove through the entire campground three times, looking for an open spot, but the the whole campground was full so we resigned ourselves to site 44.

We pulled up, got out and started exploring. Within seconds we realized our first impression was way off. The roads were only traveled by campers so we didn't need to worry about traffic or safety. The campsite was incredibly deep and seemed to go back into the woods forever. And where the campsite ended, the forest began, with one of the many hiking trails no more than 50 yards behind it. The only negative was that the fire pit was at the front of the site and looked straight into our neighbor's fire pit. They had kids though and within minutes, our kids were playing together. We pitched our tent in the back corner, secluded from both roads and from our neighbors in the next site. The kids frogged around in the woods behind the tent while we set up camp.

Man on man, camping is a lot of work. Prepping beforehand. Making lists. Buying food. Packing food. Unpacking food. Setting up a portable home away from home in under an hour. Once we had our campsite looking homey, we went for a walk down to the lake. And there, looming like a king on his throne, was Mt. Hood, towering over the enormous lake. Campers were frollicking in the frigid water, boating, kayaking, and fishing. It was just lovely.

We settled into a nice routine over the next two days. Made huge meals over the open fire. Washed our plastic dishes in the ice cold "potable" water from the spigot two campsites down. Learned to not mind the outhouse that varied in nasty smell depending on the time of day. Made s'mores and pudgy pies for dessert over the campfire. Went fishing. Went swimming. Helped Dusty realize that all dogs swim and that she too, was a swimming dog. Took a hike as a family on one of the multiple trails around the 13-mile lake. Slept terrible the first night and collapsed in exhaustion into deep sleep the second night.

Above all, we got dirty and smelly. The campground was covered in this red, fine dirt that got kicked up easily and stuck to anything remotely wet. We'd go swim in the lake and by the time we got back to camp, be covered in red, gooey mud. The campfire smoke permeated our hair and our clothes and we just got grungy, which was fine because everyone else was grungy too.

On Sunday morning, after another huge breakfast cooked on the campfire, we started the packing up process. Rolling up the sleeping bags. Taking down the card table. Folding up the chairs. Repacking the coolers. Stuffing blankets in the much emptier plastic food bins. Corralling kids if they ventured too far into the woods. An hour and half later, we were in the same predicament from when we left, trying to cram everything into the van. We had the kids buckle into their seats and then started piling, cramming, jamming and stuffing. Slammed the van doors closed, high-fived each other, and loaded up. Curt turned the key in the ignition and it didn't turn over. Not even a little bit. We couldn't believe it. Of all the places to break down.... We found someone who was willing to give us a jump but didn't have cables. We have cables, but they were BURIED in the bowels of the van. We unpiled, uncrammed, unstuffed and found the cables. Hooked them up and thankfully, the van started right up. Praise the Lord!

For the fourth time, we piled, crammed, stuffed, slammed the van door, high-fived, loaded up and finally headed home. This time we took the main highway. The one 98% of people going to Timothy Lake use. It added 20 miles to our overall drive and sliced off 30 minutes. We arrived safely and I think I did laundry non-stop for the next three days. A shower never felt so good! When I helped the girls get clean, I scrubbed their dirty feet three times each and it still looked like they were layered in dirt. We giggled and asked, "How dirty can you get?" And then, "When can we go again?"

Day Five - On My Own

Today was the last day of swim lessons, and much to my surprise, the water polo team was not practicing so the deep end was conspicuously empty. Miss Bug and I ventured down to the first lane in the deep end, and I was glad to have a chance to use the deep end with my instructor vs. a first experience on my own.

Keeping my eyes open underwater is just a strange experience. It opens up a whole new world. For example, swimming in a straight line. When I swim with my eyes closed, I veer all over the pool, running into people and opening my eyes in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be. With my eyes open, I can, wonder of all wonders, follow the painted line on the bottom of the pool and actually swim in a straight line. I knew there was a magic secret to all those Olympic swimmers! I could also watch the depth of the pool start with a manageable depth where I could touch on one end and drop sharply to a depth that was way over my head. It was a bit like riding a roller coaster. I can never decide which is the lesser of the two evils: riding the entire time with my eyes closed so I can't see all the petrifying parts and having my stomach drop out when we go upside down or riding with my eyes open, anticipating the ridiculously scary parts but having the safety net of knowing they are coming. But I digress...

We started the lesson with a front crawl and I swam TWO laps consecutively without stopping or turning on my back to rest. So I'm now 2/9 of the way to my goal of a sprint distance tri. We followed that up with two laps of back stroke, then focused on the breast stroke. We did 1/2 a lap of breast stroke and I was starting to put it together, but still thinking too much. Miss Bug gave me a few pointers (chin against chest, stroke more quickly, breathe more quickly) and all of a sudden it clicked. The entire 1/2 lap to the other side of the pool was actually a breast stroke. A pretty bad one, but it at least entered the category of "breast stroke" and moved out of the "flailing wildly much to the entertainment of others" category. When we reached the other side, Miss Bug was ecstatic and encouraging. I think she never thought I'd figure it out. We did another full lap of breast stroke to cement it in my memory and I even got an "amazing improvement" comment. NICE!

We worked on the butterfly too. We did a lap on my back with flippers that were ten sizes too big to try to figure out the wavy, dolphin kick thing. It wasn't really connecting with my brain. So we flipped to the stomach with a kick board and flippers and did a lap like that. In that LONG and SLOW lap, I think I felt the required kick position three times but at least I recognized it when I did it correctly. If I actually practice it, I think I'll figure it out.

The deep end was empty and Miss Bug said I could stay and practice, but Katie's birthday party is in two hours and there is MUCH to be done still. I did one more lap of front crawl and called it a day. I didn't get a report card to show my mom like the kids did last week, but I definitely am coming away with a sense of empowerment from my week of lessons.

Next week I start physical therapy twice a week for my knee and I need to keep swimming. How I'll add those to love my husband, mother my kids, be a good friend, and maintain a good house remains to be seen, but we'll figure it out. I'm on my own now!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day Four - Making Progress

So feel free to skip this post if you don't care about swim lessons. I'm just doing this more for my own benefit...

Day four I made progress. My breast stroke, after multiple tries up and down and back again is finally starting to resemble a breast stroke on occasion. Teacher Bug still had to scrape to find a positive comment, but it was beginning to click in my brain enough that I may be able to put it together when I practice outside of lessons.

The Question Mark stroke from yesterday is actually the butterfly. Still impossible, but I am motivated to learn it as it's a good ab work out and I my abs desperately need to be worked out. We practiced a good part of this stroke submerged under water and I realized as we were working, that I actually felt RELAXED underwater. Is that crazy or what? No panicky feeling. Just a sense of calm. I was able to breathe under water and when I let my body relax, I was able to do part of the crazy kicking, pulling thing that I'm supposed to be learning. That was a huge victory for me.

We practiced front crawl since that's what I'll be doing the most of and I did the equivalent of one lap in an Olympic size pool without having to turn onto my back to rest. To do the shortest triathlon, a sprint distance, I will have to swim 9 laps. An Olympic distance is 35 laps. The sprint distance feels doable. Olympic feels, well, like an Olympic-sized goal. But having a goal is motivating for me and I am determined to get to 9 laps as quickly as I can.

For those of you who have a fear of the water and want to learn to swim: DO IT! Don't wait any longer. Go sign up for those lessons today. You will feel so empowered when you look your fear in the face and defeat it. And bonus: you get some exercise at the same time! Who knows. Swimming may just become your next passion. I feel it pulling me already.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day Three - Comical!

The best way to describe day three of swim lessons is comical. I don't know why I can't get over my humiliation of swimming with the little kids, but I find myself trying not to arrive even 30 seconds before 10 a.m. Today, horror of horrors, I arrived at 9:58 and found myself hiding in the locker room, watching the clock with dread and waiting until the kids from the 9:30 classes were showering before I ventured out to the pool deck. There's just something so embarrassing about seeing my peers, who I know from school, MOPS, etc. sitting in the bleachers and me swimming with their kids... I told our house church I was learning to swim and they wanted to know time and place so they could come for the show. I'm thinking a banner with a megaphone and coordinated, screen-printed "Team Jodi" t-shirts would be a nice touch.

Oh, and swimming attire is another laughable matter. I have three Mom-suits and one skimpy bikini that I never wear. I do NOT have a swim-suit, at least not yet. Today I chose my Mom-suit with a skirted bottom and when I went to pull myself out of the pool to watch Teacher Bug show me a move, I just about became the only swimmer in the pool who was missing her skirt. I think "swim-suit" will move up the shopping list in priority. Whew! Glad we avoided that crisis.

Guess who can open their eyes AND breathe under water? ME! That's right. Ladies and gentlemen, Jodi Stilp has mastered the art of both seeing and breathing under water. Dare I say it almost feels natural? Maybe not quite since I still instinctively shut my eyes the first time I tried to glue my contacts, but I am making so much headway in this area. The strokes I'm learning almost feel unnatural without my face in the water and I didn't feel panicky even one time today. What a HUGE relief.

There are still things to work on. Like figuring out how to keep my googles from fogging up. Maybe it would help if I didn't take them off every time Teacher Bug tried to tell me something... (just saying). And figuring out how to breathe to swim for exercise. I think I'm so excited that I'm not inhaling the pool that when I front crawl, I hold my breath way too long and then get winded.

We practiced the breast stroke several times back and forth. Now I know WHY I was never a dancer. I can not force the top and bottom of my body to do different things at the same time. We tried and tried and tried and I maybe got three of four strokes done the right way. Teacher Bug, who by the way is actually named Tiffany and is super nice, has clearly been trained to find something positive when her students attempt something new. Bless her heart, she was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something praise-worthy about my breast stroke.

Even worse was the ? stroke. Can't even remember what it's called, but you're basically supposed to do the worm in the water. RIGHT! I can't even do the worm out of the water. And it requires tons of ab strength to drop and pull up my legs, again something these poor abs are not trained to do. Teacher Bug and I were both out right laughing at how lame I was with that. If you can't laugh what can you do, right?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm actually really enjoying swimming and even find myself looking forward to my lesson each day. I just may get the hang of this even if it's comical in the learning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day Two

I survived Day Two of swim lessons.  Less panicky today, although I still had a few moments and was thankful we were still in the shallow end with the 4 year olds so I could put my feet down and deal with freaking out.

I front crawled a whopping 75 yards today.  Looks like working up to a mile swim for an Olympic triathlon might be something that takes me 25 years or so...

And good night Irene - do swimmers have good ab strength!  I was trying to learn the kick for a breast stroke by holding onto the side of the pool and I had to brace myself with one hand against the wall to keep my legs from sinking to the bottom of the pool.  Gotta work on that....

Thanks for all your support and encouragement from my first post.  I'm glad to finally be conquering this fear and embracing the humility of standing in line with the 4 year olds to go swimming!  Have a super day!

Monday, July 13, 2009

First Time For Everything

I just got back from my first swimming lesson.  Yes, me.  Not the kids.  I learned enough at swim lessons as a kid to flounder my way through the deep-end swim test with the life guard, tread water and not drown.  Given the fact that I've had contacts since I was 8, I never learned to breathe under water or put my face in the water.  Either my contacts would fall out or I'd swim without my glasses and not be able to see two feet in front of me. so I just stopped trying.

Taking lessons is an idea I've kicked around for a few years, but have never acted on.  People who swim claim it's great exercise, easy on the joints and clearly a good skill to have with four kids, but I really don't like swimming and if I'm honest, have a bit of a fear of the water, so I never followed through.  My recent knee injury and the doctor saying, "You should learn to swim," was the catalyst for me to finally sign up for lesson. 

So here I am.  Standing at the pool with about 2 billion other 4 and 5 year olds, waiting for my instructor to call my name.  I didn't realize how uncomfortable I am in the water until my instructor, named Miss Bug (not joking), told me to open my eyes with my contacts in, and stick my face in the water to "glue my contacts to my eyes."  I seriously thought she was joking, but no, she was dead serious.  I looked at her, looked at the water and felt a rush of terror flow over me.  I don't know how to breathe under water OR open my eyes under water.  Both are things I've never done before.   It was at that moment I realized it's one thing to sit on the sidelines and watch people do stuff.  It's a whole different view when you get in the game.

I tried to appear calm and told Miss Bug that I didn't know how to breathe under water.  She showed me how to blow bubbles out my nose and then showed me again how to glue my contacts to my eyes.  I forced myself to stick my face in the water, eyes open, and blow bubbles out my nose.  To my surprise, both methods worked.  My contacts stayed in place and the water didn't go up my nose.  I silently celebrated victory number one.

We practiced bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, breathe on the side of the pool.  Then with the kick board.  I swerved around several 4 year olds who no doubt wondered why Momma Stilp was in the pool in their space.   We practiced back stroke and Miss Bug taught me how to look at the ceiling to guide me to the wall.  Not sure how I'll know where I'm going when I'm in open water, but I'm taking baby steps...  She tried to teach me how to breast stroke and I laughed out loud when she tried to find something positive to say after my pathetic attempt.

Everything about swimming seems unnatural to me.  Who opens their eyes under water?  Okay, probably everyone but me, but that was a whole new concept to me and it felt kind of creepy.  And humans breathing under water?  That's just unnatural too.  I kept expecting the water to rush into my nose and was continually surprised that I wasn't inhaling half the pool.  Several times I felt a rush of unnatural nervousness wash over me when I put my face in the water and I had to mentally talk myself out of panicking.  I was surprised at how quickly I lost my breath and felt tired.  And I was equally surprised at how quickly the 30 minute lesson flew by.

I opted to not share a shower with the 4-year-olds, and hopped in the car, dripping wet with goggle rings around my eyes, to shower at home before picking up the kids from Vacation Bible School.  But one thing I did learn, is that swimming is a lot like life.  It's easy to watch someone do something with what appears to be a lot of ease and very little effort, but doing it yourself is a whole different experience.  Life can be scary.  Unnerving.  Uncomfortable and a little embarrassing.  But it's in the DOING that we find little victories and that we conquer those fears.  Move over 4 year olds and watch out Michael Phelps.  Momma Stilp is learning to swim.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pacific Crest 2009

So I've been trying to find the time to sit down and blog about Pacific Crest 2009 (from three weeks ago) and the Klippenes family reunion.  In my dreams it would have been well-crafted and themey, but I don't have the time, so here's the little run down of our awesome time in Sunriver.

We arrived in Sunriver on Thursday in time for dinner with my Dad (Don) and his wife Marcy, and Shane (my brother), his wife, Quenby, and their three girls: Kayla, Maggie and Sydney.  We all stayed in a rental house that rambled around an outdoor courtyard and we each had our own little wing.  Shane and Curt stayed up late watching Nacho Libre and laughing hysterically, which made me laugh out loud even though I was trying to get some sleep.  And my Dad, who despises shopping, took me grocery shopping to three different stores in Bend and didn't even complain one time.

Also in Sunriver, in a different rental house, were my Aunt Jacque and Uncle Jeff Klippenes, my cousin Becca, and my cousin Lindsey, her husband Nick and their little baby Cade.  It was our first time meeting Cade and he was so sweet!  He fell asleep in my arms one night after dinner and it was like a little slice of heaven. 

Friday was pick up race packets, get bikes ready, and get the kids set up for the kids triathlon later in the afternoon/evening.  Quenby and I took 6 of our 7 kids on a bike ride around some of the half marathon course.  My kids were fighting over who was going to be the leader and just about the time I was going to turn around and go home, Q used the divert and distract method of parenting and came up with a game of leader leapfrog.  All the kids forgot about wanting to be leader and embraced the fun game.  I sat at the back of the line in awe of her creativity and wishing I had more of it.

Friday evening was Splash, Pedal & Dash, the kids event that kicks off the whole sports weekend.  Each kid gets a race number for their helmet and bike, a bib for their shirt, and a timing chip.  They finish under the huge Red Bull finishers arch, complete with an announcer marking their arrival and where they're from.  It is such a great way to kick off a sports festival and everyone, athletes and spectators, really get into it.  We make our kids train for the race, so they were all really intent on doing their best, except Paige, who was simply thrilled to be old enough to participate.  The race starts in waves with the older kids going first and ending with the youngest ones.  

Kayla and Maggie raced in separate pools and without a race partner that they knew.  We cheered them on from the transition area where we were waiting with our kids to make it to the start.  Grant and Sydney, who are both 8, raced together for the third year in a row.  Grant bought it in the wading pool, much to Sydney's delight, and then they raced it out on the bike and the run.  Grant finished 54th of out all 561 contestants and was 8th out of 78 in his age bracket.

Katie surprised me the most.  We've always known she was athletic, but I haven't seen a real fire in her until this event.  She silently trained for this race, taking a few helatious wipe-outs during training, but she always got back up on her bike and tried again.  She and Alli fell into the same age category and I was a bit worried Alli would beat Katie's time.  But Katie was all concentration on race day.  She killed her race, finishing 155th out of 561 contestants and 3 out of 71 in her age division!!!!!  I think in a few years she and I will be running races together and it won't be much longer before she's leaving me in the dust.

Alli, who is usually fiercely competitive and a crazy kamakazee on her bike, was more laid back than I anticipated, which is probably a good thing.  She didn't run anyone off the road or cause any wipeouts on the bike route.  She competed tough, but also took some time to smile and wave to her fans, finishing with a 332 out of 561 overall finish and a 10th place out of 71 finish in her age group.

Paige was THRILLED to have a big kid number for her helmet and her bike that she can barely ride.  Her bib number took up her entire chest and she needed my help climbing into and out of the wading pools that the kids splash through.  It takes her a good 10 seconds for each pedal rotation and that's IF she's actually concentrating and trying really hard.  She was way too busy checking out all the people cheering her on and commenting on all the athletic skills of her competitors who were whizzing by her to actually concentrate.  At the rate she was pedaling, we would have been waiting all night to hear the announcer call her name, so I "helped" her along a bit, pushing her the entire mile of the bike ride.  She held on to the handle bars, occasionally pedaling and talking nonstop about the festivities around her.  She loved running past all the cheering fans, but tired out quickly and it took a lot of prodding and encouraging to get her to finish the 1/2 mile course.  She got a surge of energy at the end and sprinted across the finish line with a huge smile plastered on her face.  It was a moment forever seared in my memory.  Her finishing time was less than impressive with a 549th place out of 561 overall and 19 of 24 in her division.  We talked about how when you start at the bottom, you only have room to go up, but she could have cared less.  You couldn't wipe that smile off her face.

Saturday was the Half Iron Triathlon and the Half Marathon.  My cousin Becca and I both ran the Half Marathon, me with a knee injury and Becca with a chest cold.  Neither one of us had a race time that we were thrilled with, but we had family cheering us on the whole way and offering support on a scenic course and a beautiful day, and that made it more enjoyable.

Normally Nick does the half iron by himself and relays part of the Olympic tri the next day, but he was sick, so he had to cancel on both his events.  My brother Shane and my uncle Jeff relayed the half iron triathlon.  Uncle Jeff did the 1.2 mile swim and Shane did the 58 mile bike up and over the backside of Mt. Bachelor on a road bike he'd never ridden before and in his Keen sandals because he didn't have cycling shoes, and he still killed it in 3 hours and 4 minutes!  The 13.1 mile run afterward gave him some problems with nagging tendonitis, but he was able to finish and we were all so impressed with everyone overcoming adversity to finish their events.

Sunday was the 10K which Aunt Jacque and Marcy walked together.  Even though they were doing it as a social event, we all still cheered them on at the finish line!  It was also Curt's big race day - the Olympic triathlon.  He swam .9 miles, biked 28 miles in the mountains and ran 6.4 miles.  He said his swim felt good, but about 15 miles into the bike, he felt his legs losing strength.  Competing in elevation is something that you can't factor into your training and it caused him to cramp through parts of the bike and for most of the run.  We raced around Sunriver cheering him on at the transition points and he did an excellent job.  He finished strong, but slower than his goal.  

My Uncle Jeff and my Dad relayed the Olympic tri at the same time.  Uncle Jeff did the swim and the bike and my Dad, who wasn't feeling well earlier in the week, rocked the 10K run!  It was really great to have so many family members, all participating in events, and cheering each other on.  We developed a cell phone information line, relaying info about where people were on the course throughout the day so we could cheer for them and make sure we saw them finish.  It was a bit chaotic to try to keep track of all the athletes, but it was really fun and the kids enjoyed it too.  

While we were waiting for Curt to transition from the bike to the run, we decided to let the kids ride the bumper cars.  Shane, a kid at heart, decided to ride with them, and Q and I giggled and giggled while we watched the kids and Shane ramming into each other and laughing hysterically.  It was so much fun, that Shane paid for Q and I to do it again with him.  I have to say it was the highlight of my trip.  I can't remember the last time I have laughed so hard or long.  I could hardly drive my car because I was doubled over laughing the entire time.  Something about just being a kid again and letting it all go resonated with me and I couldn't stop laughing!

We took the kids to the pool, caught up in conversation over delicious meals that each family took turns preparing, watched the cousins play non-stop, stayed up late playing dominos and trash talking each other, and overall just had a great time.   Oh, and we took numerous staged family photos, all organized by our very efficient Marcy.  She is one of the only people I know who can coordinate a huge group of people using a self-timer and still get amazing photos!

From an athletic standpoint, none of had the race results that we desired going into the weekend, but in the end, no one really cared that much.  We just had fun.  And isn't that the point?  

Friday, July 10, 2009

Knee Updates

Thanks for praying for my knee.  We have answers and a treatment plan and knowing the plan makes me feel more at ease and ready to tackle the challenge at hand.

1.  I don't have a torn meniscus and don't need surgery.
2.  I won't have to give up running over the long-term and I'm thrilled about that.
3.  All my major ligaments and tendons are in-tact and in great, healthy shape.
4.  There was a laundry list of strange stuff wrong with my knee, but the main source of my injury was cracked cartilage in my knee cap.  Since I ignored it for 5 months, it never really healed.  My body subconsciously adjusted my running gait to protect the injury site, causing other muscles and tendons to work harder in ways they aren't supposed to work.  It just kept spiraling downward until my body kind of shut me out from running.
5.  Treatment is "intense PT for 6 weeks at 2-3 times per week."  Then a follow-up visit and potentially more PT.  Doc thinks it will take "3+ months to reach a full recovery."  Good thing the Lord is teaching me how to meander.
6.  I can do any form of exercise while I'm rehabbing, including running, as long as it doesn't hurt.  Doc over-emphasized this point and said multiple times, "For every step you take that hurts, you set yourself back 3 days in rehab."  So essentially, don't be an idiot and keep ignoring pain.  He suggested learning to swim which is something I've been contemplating for a few years now, so I put my name on the list for adult swimming lessons at the local pool.  Never really learned to swim for exercise - just to not drown.   Maybe I'll be the next female Michael Phelps.  HA!

So that's the scoop.  I'm at peace with where things are at and know that taking time to get healthy will be the smartest thing for my long-term health.  Thanks for praying with me through this.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Last week I ran my fifth half marathon and completed it with my third fastest time. As I limped across the finish line, sweat dried and breathing easy, my overwhelming emotion was one of frustration.  Certainly not the fairy tale ending I hoped for when I was training. 

Two hours and 20 minutes earlier, I waited for the race to start knowing I had an undiagnosed problem in my right knee.  When the all-too-familiar pain shot through my knee with my first step, I knew finishing the 13.1 mile course would be challenging, but I was determined to give it my best effort.

 The entire race is run on a bike path through a destination resort called Sunriver.  The first eight miles wind through the heavily wooded, relatively hilly, residential portion.  The course then flattens out and over the last five miles athletes run alongside and past breath-taking views of snow-capped mountain peaks, the Deschutes River, the perimeter of a nature preserve, a private airport, horse stables, and a scenic desert golf course. 

 The first year I ran this race, I let myself embrace the beauty of God’s creation, relished the challenge of keeping my brain and body active, and celebrated joyously at the finish line with little regard to the time it took me to finish.  And it was my worst finishing time ever.

 My goal for the race this year was to run a personal best time and in spite of continually increasing pain and tightness in my knee, I was on par to shatter my previous personal best.  I was in the zone, passing people on the hills and focused only on the task at hand.  When I stopped for water at the Mile Eight water station my knee literally gave out.  I simply could not run another step.  I thought I might have to drop out, but when I tried walking I realized I could walk with a slight limp and manageable pain.  Whether I could do it for the remaining five miles was an open-ended question, but I was determined to uncover the answer. 

 As I limped around the next corner, the Deschutes River came into view with Mt. Bachelor looming in the distance.  I tried to adjust my mental focus and embrace the beauty and extravagance of God’s creation, but every time I’d start to get a grip on my attitude another herd of runners I’d already passed would fly by me.  It was a bitter reminder of the pace that got away and for the next FIVE miles, I limped along throwing myself a pretty sweet pity party.  I griped and groaned.  Mumbled and complained.  Normally an enthusiastic cheerleader at races, I let hoards of runners struggling to find the mental and physical stamina to finish the race pass me by without a word of encouragement.  I even found myself inwardly gloating as I limped by a Team in Training athlete who was clearly competing as a tribute to someone she loved who had cancer and not because she was physically fit enough to finish a half-marathon without great sacrifice to herself.  What was wrong with me?

 I knew I should be grateful that God was allowing me to finish.  I knew I should be using my God-given gift of encouragement to runners on the course.  I knew I should be thankful for my family and friends who were praying for me as I competed.  But knowing and doing are often two different things and instead, I pouted.  All the way to the finish line and beyond.  It wasn’t until I stood up to walk home and realized I’d be dragging my leg behind me like a dead tree did I start to snap out of my funk and start to count my blessings.

My sister-in-law and I stole an hour later in the afternoon to bask in the desert sun and catch up.  Normally an active and busy home-schooling mom of three girls, coach, wife and church volunteer, she was recently sidelined by an auto-immune disease.  For two months she could do nothing but sit helplessly in a chair and watch her world swirl around her.  She shared that the main lesson in all her pain and life change was to slow down.  The word God gave her was “meander.” When I looked it up, it means “an aimless amble on a winding course; bend or curve as in a river.”

We talked about the craziness and ridiculous pace of life in modern-day America.  How we don’t take time to stop and smell the wild flowers.  Kick a little dirt, splash a puddle, laugh, or feel the breeze in our hair.  And then she said something that jolted me out of my self-pity and into reality.  She said, “When we run, we miss the view from the walk.”  I thought about the meandering river that accompanied me for part of my run and I knew I missed my opportunity to meander with it.  I also missed the view from the walk because I was too busy running.

I meet with a surgeon on Thursday to diagnose the source of my knee pain and it most likely will be a long road back before I run another half marathon.  But as I recover I plan to meander and soak in the view.    

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  When I took a shower this morning, I realized that one of my original diamonds from my newly refurbished wedding band had fallen out.  It had sentimental value and I'm grumpy about being forced to take another trip out to a mall that is nowhere close to my house.

My kids have been D-I-F-F-I-C-U-L-T.   Not all of them.  Only 1/2 of them.  Which leaves me grumpy on many levels.  For having to constantly be at 100% to deal with naughty behavior.  Resentful for the lack of attention the obedient children get because I'm forced to deal with the naughty ones.  Grumpy about the drain on me and how I so often feel like a failure.  I told God today, "I think you picked the wrong woman to mother these children.  I just don't know if I can be the mom You want me to be.  I'm failing them.  If this is the new normal, then please restore my joy in parenting because I'm having a hard time finding it lately."

We were late to swimming lessons and I left the van running, side door open in front of the aquatic center while all four Stilp kids race-walked through the pool, leaving a trail of clothes, shoes and towels behind them.

I got the results from the MRI on my knee.  Lots of things wrong with my knee, but not a torn meniscus, and now the plan to recovery is blurred in my mind.  I was hoping for a quick fix - cut it open, repair it and start running again.  Since running is the way I rejuvenate and I can't do it now, I feel trapped, without an outlet or form of release.

I'm tired.  Worn out.  Discouraged.  And grumpy.  

But God has given me decent perspective in spite of my circumstances.  I had a wonderful talk at the park with a dear friend who brought me a fresh, deli sandwich as a treat and I LOVE treats.  The jeweler is taking responsibility for the missing diamond and is covering all charges to replace and repair my ring.   I drug the kids on 3 errands after a long day of swimming lessons and a picnic in the park and no one flipped out or pitched a fit.  Got stuck in traffic, so I splurged and bought myself another treat: a triple shot cappuccino with a dash of cinnamon.  (Be prepared for me to be posting blogs until 3 a.m. tonight.)   And a dear friend who we haven't seen in over a month is coming to share dinner, that has yet to be made, with us and that is always a treat.

My friend Kelly posted an exquisite photo on Facebook last night.  A brilliant pink flower surrounded by lilly pads in a million shades of green.  Camouflaged in the layers of lilly pads, a frog.  You couldn't have staged a photo that cool.  Another photo showed the location of all that beauty: a skunky little pond.  Had Kelly not taken the time to look closely and gain a new perspective, she would have missed the uniqueness and beauty sitting right in the middle of the grime.  I feel that way about today.  It may have been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but thankfully God is showing me beauty in the middle of the grime.  And as Anne of Green Gables would say, "Tomorrow is a new day.  With no mistakes in it.  Yet."

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Curt had the day off work today so we decided to kill it at the ocean.  We left Newberg around 10:30 a.m., van loaded with all the necessities to survive a day at the Oregon coast. 

We headed out of town on the main highway but quickly realized that traffic to the ocean was heavy on the Friday before a long weekend.  I double-checked to make sure we had our map and we made an impulse decision to navigate our way to the coast on the road less traveled.

While Curt was driving, I pointed to a lime green line on our map of Yamhill County.  He glanced briefly at the map as I explained that lucky for us it would drop us off in Carlton where we could pick up Meadow Lake Road to cut across the Coastal Range.  We both were a little confused when what appeared to be a main road on the map turned to gravel then dead-ended into a paved, but single lane "road."  We followed it up a long, steep hill and topped out in the circular driveway of a Mediterranean style, salmon-colored mansion with views of the vineyards and the coastal range.  

Confused, I re-checked the map.  Oops.  Upon closer examination I realized that the green "road" on the map was actually the zip code divider and not really a road at all.  Talk about feeling like an idiot in point 2 seconds!  We retraced our steps, found a real road that appeared to lead to Carlton, and verified my navigating skills by following the big blue road signs that said, "Carlton - 5 miles ->."

By the time we reached Carlton (a mere 12 miles from our house), Paige was already claiming a need to use the toilet, Alli was asking "how much longer," Curt was grumbling about how things never go according to the plan in his head, and Katie and Grant were fighting about the angle and positioning of Katie's reclining captain's chair.  

We questioned our decision to take the road less traveled but forged ahead when we saw the green street sign claiming ownership of Meadow Lake Road.  The two-lane, narrow road lacked shoulders of any kind and we quickly discovered that it's primary purpose was for logging.  As we began winding our way through wine country and into the base of the Coastal Mountain Range, I caught a whiff an all-too-familiar smell.  Dusty, our dog who was supposed to outgrow her car-sickness, had barfed all over the back of the van.  Since the road had no shoulder, we had to wait until we found the last remaining driveway in Yamhill County to pull over.  

While Curt cleaned up dog barf, I helped Katie and Paige attempt to pee on the side of the road.  Both experienced stage fright and were unable to complete their task which led to mounting frustration on my end.  When I went to check on the progress of the dog cleanup, I busted Curt "checking the air in the tire" and peeing on the side of the road.  At least he didn't let stage fright get the best of him.  We both started laughing and climbed back in the van, in better spirits, but not that much closer to our final destination.

Sweet Meadow Lake Road.  How it wanders.  And zigs.  And zags.  Through the deep forest.  Past clear cuts where loggers have been and past signs where they will eventually be.  The people who designed the road should be shot.  It switch-backed up the Coastal Range forever and ever amen, steep drop offs on my side of the van with very little room for error as Curt inched us up, down and around at the rapid speed of 20 mph.  About 10 miles up the pass, Grant, Alli and I started turning green and Dusty lay like a limp noodle where her barf had once been.  Paige complained alternately of being hungry and having to pee.  

We finally crested the summit and started heading down the other side, but the road never straightened out.  Curve after curve after curve after curve.  We stumbled upon the actual Meadow Lake in all it's breath-taking glory and stopped to get a picture.  Found the Nestucca River that meanders parallel to Meadow Lake Road.  Came across the spot in the road where we got stuck in January and giggled at the absurdity of the "main road" turning to gravel for a 3 mile chunk.

It normally takes an hour and 30 minutes MAX to get to the ocean from our house.  When that time had passed, it was noon and we were still wandering slowly down Meadow Lake Road.  We decided to stop and have our picnic at one of the four campgrounds that were touted on the map.  We pulled into the "parking lot" which was really just a part of the road that was wide enough to have a small shoulder and parked in front of one of the fallen logs that were being used as the separator from the parking lot to the campground.  The "campground" was actually a small clearing in the woods with the Nestucca River boxing it in on the other side.  A solitary uni-sex outhouse sat on the front part of the clearing.  Three picnic tables were cemented to the ground and the rest of the clearing was full to the brim with as many tents as you could possibly imagine squeezing into a confined space.  

As we walked down the dirt trail to the outhouse, all activity in the campground stopped.  People dropped what they were doing, turned and just stared.  I have never felt so unwelcome in all my life.  No one said a word to us.  They just glared at us and we tip-toed toward the outhouse.  The only noise in camp was the incessant bark of a small, yappy dog who started barking the second we began unloading from the van.  Curt finally mustered up the courage to loudly say, "It's okay.  We're just going to use the outhouse and grab a quick lunch."  The campground inhabitants breathed an audible sigh of relief and life resumed around camp.  

We all held our breath, plugged our noses, and dashed into the nasty outhouse to relieve ourselves  then climbed back up the path to the van.  We used the fallen logs as our picnic table and stood on the side of the road to eat our lunch.  That stupid dog barked the ENTIRE time we were there, determined to drive us away and let us know that we were not welcome in the bush league campground.

We piled back into the van and the road soon turned back to pavement.  We eventually got to Beaver, Oregon (yes, that's really the name of the town) and happily said buh-bye to Meadow Lake Road.  We drove through Cloverdale, "Oregon's best kept secret," and past The Dory where we ate last January.  The closer we got to Pacific City, the closer we got to the ginormous cloud that was covering the coastal towns.  

By the time we pulled into Bob Straub State Park, we'd been on the road for 3 hours.  Double the time it would have taken if we'd stayed on the main drag. We shivered at the 20 degree drop in temperature, but rejoiced in the fact that it wasn't windy so at leas the sand would stay put and not travel an extra five miles when the kids fling it everywhere.  The sky was gray and the whole beach was enveloped in the cloud that just would not dissipate. We loaded the stroller with all our gear, the kids grabbed their sand buckets, and we climbed the sand dune to access the beach.  

The next three hours flew by.  It was warm enough that the kids actually ventured into the frigid water but cool enough that I had an excuse to wear my new sweatshirt from Sunriver.  We watched the kids shriek and scream as the waves crept up and froze their toes and legs.   We laughed out loud as Dusty sprinted up and down the beach, stopping often to throw herself onto her back and roll around like a psycho dog in the sand.  It was as if she was trying to give herself a doggie massage and fur exfoliation.  Curt and I broke out our softball gloves that haven't seen the light of day in way too long.  We chucked the ball around on the beach and tried to avoid nailing any of our kids or the dog.  

Curt decided to make "the best sand castle ever.  A sand castle that would kick all the other sand castles' butts."  He worked feverishly for the next 30 minutes and begrudgingly accepted the kids' "help."  Grant and Katie unearthed a "literal crab heaven - like where they go when they die.  We must have uncovered enough crab body parts to re-create an entire crab colony."  They used their new found treasures to adorn Curt's sand castle and I assured them all that their sand castle was indeed the best sand castle on the beach.  

We headed back up to the dunes and confined the kids and Dusty to an area small enough that they could actually hear our voices on the wind and then camped out next to a piece of driftwood on our picnic blanket.  We listened to the sound of our children's voices floating on the wind, dug our toes in the warm sand and let the ocean waves lull us into the most peaceful state of relaxation.  We finally forced ourselves out of our quiet time and started the process of heading home. 

We pushed our way through the deep sand and up the dune to return to the van.  Stopped at the Grateful Bread Bakery for a cappuccino and some chocolate chunk cookies that were still warm from the oven.  This time, as we pulled onto the road that would lead us home, we chose the road more traveled and that has made all the difference.  An hour and 15 minutes later, we were home.