Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Knew That She Knowed

Paige is five now.  Her vocabulary is expanding daily and I will be so sad when she outgrows not saying her R's and making up words.  Today she made me giggle when she was telling me about school.  Apparently they made a map and were asked to point to Oregon.

Here's what she said:  Charlotte tricked us and said, "Where's Oregon?"  So I said, "It's right heaw (here without the r sound)."   And den she said it again and laughed cause she twicked (tricked) us.  But she only twicked me once.  I knew that she knowed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Back To Reality

Today was the first day back to school after a relatively uneventful spring break.  The events of today more than made up for any boring spells we may have experienced last week.

We had to wake all four of our kids up from a dead sleep to get up for school.
Only two of them had time to shower, but at least they all ate breakfast.
I heard the bus coming down the hill while Alli was putting on her shoes.  Grant and Katie were at the corner, halfway between our house and the bus stop, and started frantically yelling, “What do we do Mom?”  They bobble-headed back and forth between the stop and Alli, who was trying to cram her feet in her shoes as fast as possible.  I yelled, “Run to the bus and tell the driver Alli’s coming.” Threw her sweatshirt and her snack into her backpack while she crammed her feet into her sneakers and sprinted in the direction of the bus stop.  As she tore down the hill, I saw another kid running down the street, parenting trailing with school paraphernalia.  It made me feel so much better when his mom posted on FB that he still had peanut butter on his face and that the bus was two minutes early.
Went to the gym with Paige who was adamant that she did NOT want to go the gym.  She also was less than thrilled when I told her she could not bring her porcelain doll to the gym to get shattered by the other younger kids.
Survived the gym and went to Target because the bike we just bought four days ago for Alli’s birthday is now on sale for $13 less than what we paid.
Forced myself and Paige to go buy birthday presents for five of my nieces and nephews.  Of these five birthdays, two have already passed and one is in two days so my gift won’t arrive in time.  It is the thought that counts, right?
Went to REI to exchange some socks.  For the price paid, they should have lasted an eternity, but within three months, they had holes.  The staff at REI is very thorough and helpful and SLOW.  I was beginning to think flying back to Denver to return them myself would have been a faster process.
While I was in REI (which is 25 minutes without traffic from Alli’s school), I remembered that I needed to stop at the grocery store to buy cookies for the co-birthday party Alli was sharing with her friend at school at 2:30 p.m.  I made this mental discovery at 2:05 p.m.
The gas light in my van had been on all afternoon.  My plan had been to get gas after REI, which is about 15 miles from Alli’s school.  When I started the van at REI my gas light said, “16 miles to empty.”  We gambled.
Got stuck behind a big truck hauling hay and going ten miles per hour under the posted speed limit.  Distance to empty is dropping steadily and my palms are starting to sweat.
Made a grocery store pit stop to buy aforementioned cookies.  Got the chattiest cashier this side of the Mississippi who somehow missed the fact that we were in a hurry, but made it to school with enough time to feed the kids cookies and juice boxes before school got out. 
It was my day to drive for water polo car pool and I filled every seat belt in the van with a child.  Distance to empty was down to four miles.  The pool is one mile.  The church where Katie and Alli needed to go for Bible study was an additional mile.  The closest gas station was 1.5 miles farther.  We gambled.
Distance to empty changed to zero before I made it to the church, then flickered up to 2 miles, then back to zero.  We coasted into the gas station on fumes.  Thank you Jesus!
We had a fifteen-minute turnaround time from the end of Bible study and water polo to get Katie and Alli changed into softball clothes for their first day of practice and eat dinner.  I fed the kids PB&J in the car.
Softball was supposed to start with a skills clinic that had been rescheduled from spring break.  We were two minutes late to the clinic and my kids were covered in PB&J, but we were there.  However, no other 6-9 year olds were there because the clinic got cancelled at the last minute and we didn’t get that piece of information.  Two dejected little players.  One very irritated momma.
Found out through a follow-up conversation with the softball coach that practices are NOT at the time marketed in the brochure, but instead fall smack dab in the middle of water polo pickup and Bible study.  I still don’t know how everyone is going to get where they need to be at the proper time and still fulfill their obligations, but solving that mystery can wait until tomorrow.  
Started homework at 6:15 p.m.  Alli, who isn’t known to clean out her backpack very regularly, sheepishly brought me some folded construction paper.  Attached to it was a note detailing a very large and labor-intensive project that she was supposed to have worked on over spring break.  The fill-in-the-blank box at the bottom of the sheet said, “Alyssa’s project is due on March 28th and her oral presentation is on March 30th.”  A quick calendar check confirmed that today was indeed March 28th and Alli’s yet-to-be-started project was already late.  
We began at 6:30 and finished three hours later.  During this process, I lost my temper on more than one occasion and heard myself saying, “Alli, it was wrong of me to get angry and raise my voice at you.  Will you please forgive me?  Will you please PUT THAT DOWN!!!”  Repeat apology.    
Also found in Alli’s backpack was a reminder for the music program she participated in ten days ago and a 1st grade weekly update informing parents that one of her classmates was moving and his last day was the day of the music program.  Would have been nice to say goodbye.

Back to life – back to reality.  And now I’ve got you humming…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Melinda's Story

I promise I won't re-post all the He Speaks in the Silence posts on my blog, but this one is dear to my heart...

I’d like to introduce you all to a very dear friend of mine.  We met at the awkward age of 14 in the Middle of Nowhere, British Columbia.  Well, technically there was a town (Houston) within driving distance of Rock Nest Ranch, the camp my youth group was working at, and Melinda grew up there. 

We bonded scrubbing outhouses and cleaning dishes and spent the next three school years writing long epistles to each other and sending them to each other via snail mail.  We lived for the summers when my youth group would traverse the 1,000 miles north into British Columbia to spend six weeks working at camp.  Melinda and a handful of Houston residents would come out to work at the camp too and we vowed to remain “friends forever.” 

“Forever” ended up being a year or two before we lost track of each other.  Seventeen years passed before we found each other on Facebook and we giggled as we exchanged long epistles, this time over email, catching each other up on our lives.  Melinda, like me, felt the big city calling her.  She fled from her small town and embraced life as a city girl.  Fancy coffee, shopping, and fine dining…  she was in heaven.  She swore there were three things she would never do: move back to Houston, get married, and have children. 

But God has a sense of humor and she fell in love with a high school classmate who makes his living logging the remote land surrounding Houston.  Love triumphed over city life and she found herself packing up, moving back to Houston, and marrying Ron.  Neither of them planned for children, but God gave them two sons in rapid-fire succession and they fell helplessly head-over-heels in love with Lucas (3 ½ years) and Ryan (1 ¾ years).  The lesson here is “Never say never.”

In July 2010 one of the deepest fears of every mother became a reality for Melinda.  She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  It brings tears to my eyes just to write this, but Melinda has accepted this diagnosis with more grace and dignity than I knew was possible.  She has used the cancer as a chance to count her blessings and in the past nine months has been intentional about finding God’s blessing in even the simplest things.

She wrote me today to tell me she’s been following the posts on He Speaks in the Silence and was inspired to join us on our quest to better health.  I’ll let her share her heart with you.

“So… I am horribly out of shape.  I haven’t run since I was 7 months along with my FIRST child and he’s 3 ½ years old now.  I have spondylitis, arthritis and my core is so out of whack that if I lay down on my tummy, I stay there for hours.  And now I have cancer.

But after reading your blog, I got out and started moving.  I haven’t been able to run a lot, but have speed walked/jogged slow 19km total this week and will have 13 more before the week is done.  I am going to run 10km by June 11th, the way you girls are, I’ll just be doing it up here with the bears and deer instead of people. 

I have lots of excuses. 
  • v  My husband is literally gone from 1 a.m. to 6 p.m. and when he is home, he wants to sleep.  I have very limited time without my kids to go out and run.  
  • v The snow is still above my knees here and the highest temp we’ve had so far has been 41°F, but I am so excited to get on this.
  • v I am going to be sick and in treatment for a good two weeks before June.
  • v I have never been an athlete.  I am as uncoordinated as it comes.

 Excuses schmexcuses…  

A number of years ago I discovered I can jog and that God uses jogging to keep my body healthy.  But it also keeps my mind and soul healthy and I need that now more than ever.  In four years I’ll be 40.  I told Ron last night that maybe I’ll aim for a marathon at 40.  Who knows? 

I am telling you, I WILL run 10 km on June 11th with you girls.  Will you pray for me if you think of it?  I don’t want excuses to stop me.”

Girls, will you commit to pray that Melinda will feel our fellowship as she runs her 10K in the rugged mountains of northern British Columbia while we run the rolling hills outside Portland?  Since you’re before the throne of the Almighty God, will you also ask Him to rid her body of cancer and restore her to perfect health? 

If Melinda can do it, so can you.  She’s extending her hand to you, from her couch to yours.  Won’t you grab it? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

He Speaks in the Silence

Diane Comer is the wife of one of our senior pastors at our church.  She lost her hearing in her twenties as a young mom to several children.  It was devastating to her, but God showed her through this trial that it is in her silence, that He speaks.  It is worth the time to listen to her tell you her story.

In February she launched a website to encourage the women of our church to know God more intimately, to offer help in raising the next generation of Jesus-following kiddos, and to have a forum to share what God is putting on her heart.  She is a beautiful writer and I have been blessed and challenged by her wisdom and her writing.

Two weeks ago, we launched a new facet of women's ministry called Not Your Own.  I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies."  We decided to put this truth into action and get the women of Solid Rock walking, jogging, and running to the finish line of a 10K and half-marathon on June 11th.

I get to do the majority of the writing for this ministry and I'm guessing my personal blog will fall into hiatus for a period while I shift my attention to this exciting ministry.  Feel free to follow along at  and if you're local, come join.  We are already having so much fun!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Time To Take It Up a Notch

Curt took four months off from triathlon training. And when I say "took off," I mean not a shred of exercise. I was starting to think he may never come back, but at the end of January he broke out his running shoes and forced himself back into the rigors of consistent exercise.

I haven't thought about my bike or swimming pretty much since September. When Curt got out his running shoes, I momentarily thought about swimming. I even went back to the pool and swam. Twice. In six weeks.

Earlier this week, we charted out our race schedule for the summer and gulped when we realized we're both slotted to compete in an Olympic-distance triathlon at the end of June. As of today, it's the middle of March. And our bikes are still hanging from the ceiling of the garage. And I don't know where my swim goggles are. Curt channeled his best George Castanza voice and shouted, "It's time to take it up a notch."

The next day he went swimming. He wondered if he'd see his nameless friend that he swam with every day all last year. How do you swim together every day, chat it up naked in the locker room, and never exchange names? Awkward. Anyway, he came home smiling. Sure enough, his buddy was at the pool and quipped, "Haven't seen you in a while," to which Curt replied, "Yeah. I took four months off. Pretty sure that's not in any of the triathlon training books."

My brother, who tends to lean a bit on the side of dry humor, laughed when Curt told him about his foray back into swimming and then said, "Yeah. Your swim buddy was probably thinking, 'He looks just like the guy I used to swim with four months ago, only fatter'."

I spent an hour on Sunday charting out swim time for every week from now until June. I even got three weeks into finding childcare for each visit to the pool. And be proud. I stuck to the schedule and swam twice this week. Today when I walked out on the pool deck to find the slow lane as soon as possible, the life guard's eyes lit up and he said with a welcoming tone and just a tiny little smirk, "Welcome back. Haven't seen you in a while." I couldn't help but think, "You look like the same girl who swam here four months ago, only fatter."

Time to take it up a notch!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

C'mon Before Mommy Forgets You

It was bound to happen. Maybe I should be glad it has taken 9 years and 11 months for it to happen. After all I do have four children. On Monday, I forgot to pick up my kid. As if that's not bad enough, I also forgot to pick up two of my friends' kids with him. I may never live it down.

Grant and two of his buddies, Dane and Raleigh, started water polo last week. Practices are Monday's and Wednesday's from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. which just might be the worst start time imaginable. School doesn't even get out until 3:10 p.m. each day. That gives all the parents who have a kid playing water polo exactly 20 minutes to sit in the car pool line at school, gather their kid, force a snack down their throat on the drive to the pool, and leave them with enough time to get changed and in the water by 3:30.

One day in the school pick-up line was enough for me to take the plunge into the car pooling world. Devising a car pool plan that splits four shifts between three moms was really complicated. You should have seen the three of us, huddled in a little group trying to develop the easiest and most memorable way to get our boys to and from water polo. The plan we settled on was Rose and I splitting the four shifts, flip-flopping between pick up and take home with Amy filling in the gaps that occur when one of the nine other children we have between the three of us had to be somewhere else at the same time. I entered each of my shifts into my iTouch, color-coded it orange for Grant, and even set it up to repeat each week. Pretty impressive, right?

Monday was the first day of carpooling. I had a lot scheduled and woke up feeling efficient, so I double-checked with Rose that she was picking the boys up from school and confirmed that I was bringing them home. I launched into a really full day of stuff that engaged my brain. I dusted off the Working Woman cobwebs and had a phone meeting. The meeting created To-Do lists and even two deadlines. I can't remember the last time I had a deadline!

I was so busy using up brain cells for my new project with a deadline, that somewhere between 3:30 and 4 p.m. things switched in my brain. At 3:30 p.m. I told the girls, "Hurry and do your homework cause we have to go pick up all the boys from water polo." At 4:00 p.m., I told them, "Sure you can play outside. We'll all go out and enjoy the nice day until Grant gets home from water polo." And with that verbal faux pas I went from being Super Organized Responsible Mom to Irresponsible Airhead Mom.

The girls rode bikes while I twiddled my thumbs. We played and waited. Waited and played. I got impatient, checked my watch, and wondered what was taking Rose so long. Got bored and decided to pick up dog poop and mow the grass. Just about the time I was starting to get worried, the lightbulb went off in my head. DOH! Rose wasn't late. I was late. And not just a little bit either. Panic seized me and I didn't recognize my own voice as I hollered to the girls, "It's me. It's me. I'm the ride. I'm the ride. How could I mess that up? Run to the car!"

I dashed inside to get my keys and look up the number to the pool. My hands were shaking so bad, I could hardly turn the pages. The nice lady at the desk assured me that all three boys were still waiting and wondering where their ride was. She agreed to pass on the message that I was on my way on to them. I hung up and tore down the stairs to the van. Fortunately the girls were loaded in the van and as I squealed out of the driveway, I called Rose. By the time she answered, I was a wreck. Sobbing and shaking and apologizing all over myself. It takes a lot to rattle me and let me tell you, I was the definition of rattled.

Thankfully Dane and Raleigh are not first-born children and this is not the first time their parents have unknowingly accepted an airhead in the carpool driving schedule. Rose was so calm, forgiving, and gracious. While I sobbed and drove like a crazy woman, she calmly said, "It's no big deal. They're in a safe place and they're in a group. They'll be fine. I'll call Amy for you and let her know when to expect Raleigh."

By the time I got to the pool, water polo had been over for 45 minutes. I ran into the lobby, but it did NOT contain three, adorable 4th grade boys. The sweetest sound that day was Grant's voice hollering, "Mom! Mom! Over here." The boys had gotten bored waiting for me and went across the parking lot to play at the playground. They came running up to the van, completely hyper, excited that they got extra time to play at the park, and amused that I was so late. When I asked them why they didn't call me, Grant said, "Well I tried. We asked the lady at the desk to use the phone. I typed in our number and the call didn't go through so I hung up and we went back outside to play some more." He added, "We thought you were never coming so we were practicing our last goodbyes to everyone that was important" and then went on to list mostly the names of all the cute girls in their classes. My name was not on the list of "important" people.

Now that the horror of the evening is past, I can see the humor in it. Me, working myself into a tizzy, while the boys are playing at the park in the pouring rain, relishing unplanned hang out time. My friend Melanie pointed out that we'd all be better off if we lived more like a kid, shrugging off the unexpected and looking for a chance to play instead of panic.

Today is another water polo day and all four of my kids reminded me that it was my turn to pick them up from school. "Don't forget Mom" was the last thing Grant said as he got out of the car. Later today, I went to school to watch an intramural floor hockey playoff game and saw all three boys. Dane and Raleigh both asked, with tiny smirks on their faces, "Uh Mrs. Stilp? You'll remember to pick us up today right?" And Curt, in the whopping 36 hours it's been since The Incident, has remarked on more than one occasion, "Hurry up kids. C'mon before Mommy forgets you."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amazing Race Casting Call

Curt and I don't watch much TV, but two shows that we never miss are Survivor and Amazing Race. Curt loves Survivor and I watch it because he likes it so much. I love the Amazing Race and he watches it because I like it so much.

We often joke about how much we'd love to run the Amazing Race. Not for the money, although it would be nice, but for the experience. How cool would it be to travel the world and share in all those crazy adventures together with your best friend?

Team Stilp has the ability to be competitive too. I'm Miss Impulsive. I love adventure and any kind of physical challenge, have a good sense of direction (but because I said that out loud it's a guarantee I'd get us horridly lost for being a Braggy Braggerson's), and can wing it without much stress. I am, however, terrible with attention to detail, don't have a mechanical bone in my body, and get claustrophobic in big crowds. If we made it to the Amazing Race, I'm certain I would make myself fodder for the water cooler at the office on more than one occasion.

Curt is Mr. Logical. He's methodical, thinks things through before acting, is mechanical, can fix just about anything, and is hilariously funny. He would definitely be the comedian and strategist on our team and the one reading the clue completely to avoid all the reckless mistakes I would make in my haste. He likes to know what's coming first, next and last which makes winging it difficult for him, is nervous around heights, and isn't driven by competition like I am, so there are aspects of the race that would be challenging for him. Pair our strengths and our weaknesses together and VIOLA! Team Stilp for the Amazing Race!

Two weeks ago a new season of Amazing Race premiered and scrolling across the bottom of the screen in a red box was a message that said, "Do you have what it takes to run The Amazing Race? Come to an open casting call at Sanford's in Lake Oswego on Saturday, February 26th." Before I could fall off the couch in excitement, my phone started ringing. My friends were watching too and they all thought we should go to the audition.

Curt and I kicked the idea around on several occasions and our conversations went a little bit like this...

Miss Impulsive: Oh Babe, let's do it. Wouldn't that be fun?
Mr. Logical: No way. I have a snow day planned with Bucky and all the kids. I'm not giving up guaranteed fun in the snow to stand around all day in a crowded restaurant only to be told they don't have time to interview us. And what about your girl day with Britta? Are you willing to give that up to stand around with a bunch of people you don't know who are all competing for the same thing you are?
Miss Impulsive: But Babe, it's the Amazing Race and it's open casting call. It's only twenty minutes from our house. The producers are practically coming over for dinner. How could we NOT go?
Mr. Logical: You don't even have a passport.
Miss Impulsive: I know. I know. It's on my list of things to do. I'll go apply for it tomorrow.
Mr. Logical: Well you wouldn't have it by Saturday. You know if we get an interview and you don't have a passport, they'll laugh us straight home.
Miss Impulsive: (trying to come up with a response...) But it's the Amazing Race. C'mon! We'd be such a good team.
Mr. Logical: And what about our four children? Who will take care of them while we go galavanting around the world for a month?
Miss Impulsive: (again trying to come up with a response) Ummm... I don't know. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it?
Mr. Logical: Will CBS pay for lost wages, our mortgage and all our bills while we're racing round the world?

And so it went throughout the week. Good-natured bantering, but we both knew Team Stilp would not be auditioning on Saturday.

My friend Melanie had a pre-planned writing retreat the same weekend of the casting call. Her hotel happened to be right next door to Sanford's. She called me in disbelief at 5 p.m. on Friday night. "You won't believe it Jodi, but there's already a line for the casting call tomorrow. People are setting up tents to camp all night and it's supposed to get down to 18 degrees tonight!" We laughed at the crazy people who wanted to be on TV that badly and I thanked God for being married to Mr. Logical.

Four hours later my phone rang. It was Melanie again and this time she was breathless. "You'll never believe what I'm holding in my hand. A purple ticket. Do you know what it's good for? A casting call audition tomorrow for the Amazing Race. The producers only have room for 200 auditions tomorrow and the line was so long that they decided to issue tickets. A ticket gets you in the door. Anyone without a ticket, gets turned away. I saw the commotion out my hotel window and rushed down to snag a ticket for you. Are you in?"

My hands got all clammy and my heart started racing as I envisioned Curt and I racing around the world, doing crazy stuff and having a blast. It was completely impractical, but Melanie held the golden (or in this case, purple) ticket in her hand. I glanced over at Mr. Logical, repeated what Melanie said, and asked, "Are we in?"

His face peaked with momentary interest and then he gently said, "Babe. I love you, but I really don't want to run the Amazing Race with all that's going on in our lives. Do you really want to?" In that moment I realized that ten years ago, I would have taken that ticket and raced around the world with my husband and not thought twice about it. But I had four precious reasons to say no sleeping soundly upstairs. I smiled at Mr. Logical and heard myself telling Melanie, "Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, but it's just not practical for us to run the Amazing Race at this phase in our life. You can give the ticket to your neighbor instead."

I felt a small twinge of disappointment, but my overwhelming emotion was relief. If the Amazing Race is still going strong in ten years, then maybe Team Stilp will make an appearance at a casting call. Don't rule us out just yet!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hooray for Company!

Our guest room, which sits empty the majority of the year, finally got some use. Hooray for company! Over President's Day weekend our good friend Aunt Kathy flew out from Chicago to spend some time with us.

We met Kathy on Grant's first day of kindergarten. Kathy was his teacher and we felt instantly comfortable with her. Over the course of the school year I found myself lingering in the school lobby after pickup so that I could have face time with Kathy, not to talk about Grant, but just to be around her. The summer after kindergarten I threw caution to the wind and asked Kathy if she'd like to meet us for a picnic at a park. When I look back on it now, I really can't believe she said yes. What teacher wants to play with her students during her vacation, especially a student who comes with three younger siblings and a frazzled mom? But she said yes and a friendship was formed. I didn't realize how lonely I was for a mentor until I met Kathy. All of our parents lived hundreds and thousands of miles away making it tough to have a family representative at Grandparent's Day or a Mother's Day Tea. Kathy and her husband Rob filled that role and became surrogate family for us.

The last time we saw Aunt Kathy was July 2009 so we were thrilled when she booked her February visit. We counted down the weeks and the days until she arrived. The kids made "Welcome Aunt Kathy" signs and banners and hung them all over the house for her late arrival on Thursday night then stormed her bedroom on Friday morning. It was wonderful to hear her contagious laugh ringing through our house and to watch the kids clamoring for her attention.

On Friday, we took a "picnic" lunch to OHSU and had lunch with Curt in the conference room. He showed Kathy around his office, introduced us to his co-workers, and best of all, took us to ride the tram. Quick explanation to my non-Oregonian friends: OHSU is a big hospital, doctors office, and medical school complex that is built into the side of a huge, steep hill (it would be a ski resort in the midwest) a few miles from downtown Portland. As OHSU grew, it ran out of room to expand. The solution was to buy land at the bottom of the hill along the river and build a tram to connect the two medical complexes. The tram looks like an oversized silver bullet and operates like a gondola going up and down the hill on an overhead cable. Curt led us through the maze of hospital corridors to the tram and the kids thought it was great. The medical office at the bottom of the hill had revolving doors, something our kids haven't had much exposure to. Katie and Paige exited the doors as expected, but Grant and Alli got a mischievous gleam in their eye and the next thing we knew, they were pushing on the door and running in circles to get as many rotations in before we could yank them out. I wanted to melt with embarrassment but the fact that Curt was doubled over laughing only encouraged them to keep going faster. I wonder where they get it?!?!

We said goodbye to Curt and headed into downtown Portland to check out the newly opened H&M store. I don't like shopping, but our kids love to shop for clothes and H&M had an entire floor dedicated to children's clothes. Aunt Kathy and I stood in the middle, set some parameters and watched them go to town. They scurried around the store, examining items, trying things on and carefully choosing a few new treasures (thank you tax return).

Saturday's big event was a trip to Safari Sam's. It has a kiddie arcade, nine holes of mini golf under black lights, a bouncy house room, a pizza parlor and a two-story jungle gym. Aunt Kathy and I parked ourselves at a table by the jungle gym and watched the kids climb, bounce, and slide for almost two hours. They had a blast.

On Sunday we headed to the beach. The kids wanted to take Aunt Kathy to Pacific City and show her Cape Kiwanda, the big sand mountain, the tide pools, the surfers and the dory boats. On the drive to Pacific City, I remembered a short hike to Drift Creek Falls that we'd done last year. The trailhead is located in the thick of Cougar Mountain, one of the last foothills before the ocean. The wide trail meanders through thick forest, over quiet mountain streams, and culminates with a suspension bridge 120 feet above the creek. Drift Creek cascades over a cliff creating the 80-foot Drift Creek Falls and the only way to get a good view of the falls is to hike out onto the suspension bridge. It's definitely not an experience you can get in Chicago so we decided to squeeze in the hike before we went to Pacific City.

The road to the trailhead is a bit tricky to navigate. It's nine miles of steep switchbacks up the mountain with no guard rails and sharp drop-offs on the side of the road that doesn't hug the interior of the mountain. What I didn't remember was that about four miles into the trek the road narrows to a single lane. The only way for a car to pass another car coming from the opposite direction is turnouts. Located about every third or fourth switchback, the turnouts are a slight widening of the road on the drop-off side leaving little to no room for error. One mistake and we'd plunge off the edge and roll down the steep side of the mountain.

On a dry day the road is unnerving, but as we headed up the mountain and into the single-lane splendor, we drove into snow about three inches deep with clear tire tracks through the slippery mess. The van does not have four-wheel drive and Curt was on a quick business trip, so I was the lucky driver. I forged ahead fast enough to keep traction but slow enough to navigate the curves without spinning out. I would have turned around but the only safe place on this blasted road is the parking lot at the trail head. Grant was aware of our predicament his continual monolog about how much danger we were in and how he didn't want to die young made the remaining five miles at 10 mph seem like an eternity. We white-knuckled our way up the mountain, praying under our breath the entire time, and were relieved beyond words to see the snow-covered parking lot! Thank You Jesus for the little things in life.

We hiked to the falls and back, made it safely back down the mountain, and headed to Pacific City. Aunt Kathy grabbed a walk on the beach while the kids, Dusty and I tackled the sand mountain. Grant loves to climb up, get a running start, and then tumble down head over tea kettle. He defines this bone-breaking idea as "fun" and did it three times before he got bored and decided to jump in the ice-cold waves instead. The girls all scaled the mountain once and took time at the top to take a break and soak in the view from the top: blue skies, white puffy clouds, SUNSHINE, crashing waves, and mountain ranges. What's not to love?

I did not budget "death-defying drive" into our schedule for the day and we rushed to leave Pacific City with enough time to make it back for the evening service at church. The closer we got to home, the clearer our choices became: show up dirty, hungry and fifteen minutes late to church or stay home, eat and have a Stilp family church service. The first choice sounded like a train wreck, so we opted to stay home. The kids got in their jammies and we set up church in the family room. Grant led worship on his guitar. Katie and Alli took turns being "the singer girl." Paige brought her baby to church and sat in the over-stuffed chair reading my Bible upside down, content to let the big kids wrangle for the spotlight. After worship, Alli and Katie both took turns reading a Bible story. I think their favorite part was grilling us about the story and calling on people to answer their questions. Aunt Kathy shared a Bible passage that God has been teaching her to live out, and then it was my turn.

By now it was way past kid bedtime and church was beginning to spiral out of control. I just wanted it to end, and quickly, so I asked each person to share one thing they're working on and one thing they're thankful for. Paige said sweetly, "I'm thankful for my mommy and daddy" and then batted her eyelashes at me in a heart-warming way. (Shortly after that endearing act, she got kicked out of church for throwing a fit, but it was sweet while it lasted.) When it got to Alli, she ran down a laundry list of character building that she's working on. She moved onto her thankfulness and very confidently said, "I'm thankful that God created this amazing body for me," then struck a pose and flailed out her arms to display His handiwork. She was trying to be religious and impress us with her churchy-ness since one of the Bible stories was about creation, but Aunt Kathy hid behind her Bible shaking with silent laughter while I tried to think of something I could say with a straight face.

We ended our service with prayer. Alli started and very fervently and sincerely prayed for baby Kendall. Her prayer went something like, "Dear Lord, please reach Your hand down from heaven and touch baby Kendall. Heal her in Jesus' name and make her all better." She was really getting passionate when she said Amen. Katie's turn was next and she launched right into praying for Kendall. Midway through Kaitlin's petition for healing, Alli burst out in a very charismatic voice, "Yes Lord Jesus!" I THINK she was well intentioned, but of course we all dissolved into giggles. It's not like we watch TV preachers so I have no idea where she picked up the charismatic flair. Maybe it's just her personality. At any rate, I put on my stern-face and talked to the kids about being sincere and respectful during prayer. We gained our composure and Grant started praying. He wasn't two sentences into his prayer when Kaitlin and Alli blurted out, "Yes, Lord" and promptly got kicked out of church for being disrespectful. We started our church service with six and by the end, 50% had been evicted for unsportsmanlike conduct. However, there was some merit to the whole experiment and I think we may try it again for family devotions.

Monday was the dreaded goodbye. As always time flew by way too quickly, but we loved every second. Thank you Aunt Kathy for taking the time to come and visit. Our guest room thanks you. We thank you. We love you!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

One Whole Hand

Sunday was a milestone in our house because Paige turned five. Paige really anticipated her birthday this year and helped me plan her birthday party, chose all the crafts and decorations herself, and even helped me make the party invitations. She wanted to "keep it simple" by inviting eight friends (not sure how eight is synonymous with simple) to come and play during the school day so there would be "no brothers or sisters, just friends." Each of her precious friends arrived decked out in their favorite party outfit. They labored diligently to decorate picture frames and the scrunched up, concentrated faces they made were so endearing. Paige chose sugar cookies in lieu of cupcakes and the gaudy plastic rings I decorated them with were a huge hit. The more bling, the better! After her friends left, I pulled Paige on my lap and we re-hashed the party. I played with her hair, smoothed her birthday dress and listened to her jabber on and on while I nursed the growing pains in my heart. I didn't have time to get all blubbery though because five-year-old girls are in high demand!

Paige quickly packed an overnight bag for a special Paige-only birthday sleepover with Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry. I buckled her into Grandpa's car and laughed out loud as I watched her vigorously wave and smile from the back seat of the car. She looked like she just might burst with excitement.

Saturday was a Stilpstaber day. Bucky and Curt took seven of our eight kids and our two dogs up to Mt. Hood to play in the snow. They picked Paige up from Grandpa and Grandma’s on the way, found an isolated campground, built a fire and played in the snow all day. Britta and I were left with the daunting task of caring for baby George. We survived by going shopping, lingering over a quiet lunch, and snuggling into plush couches, coffee in hand, to chat and catch up. It was a difficult job but someone had to do it.

The kids, dads and dogs arrived home rosy-cheeked, exhausted and full of stories. As we were beginning the bedtime process, our entire family made a big deal of telling Paige this was the last night she would ever be four. She got all giddy, held up her hand with all five fingers stretched out and said, "I can't believe I'm finally old enough to be one whole hand!"

Paige’s birthday request was not gift related. She only wanted to be celebrated and didn’t care what she got for a gift. It opened a window for us to brainwash her to ask for things she needed like a Bible, a bike and a beach towel. Doesn’t every five-year-old want a Bible for their birthday? As the brainwashing set in, she requested a “churtoise” (which we interpreted to mean turquoise) bike and a beach towel with her name on it from the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Her obvious delight at receiving this stuff made it worth the effort to track down a turquoise kid’s bike in the heart of winter.

She chose strawberry pancakes with bacon for breakfast and requested that we go out to eat at Red Robin for dinner because “you get to keep the cups and they sing to you, give you balloons and ice cream.” We have a brand-new stash of Red Robin cups to use at bedtime and Paige loved all the attention she got from the staff who sang to her.

We capped her day off with a wonderful evening at church. She got presents from two of her favorite people, told everyone it was her birthday then demonstrated how old she was by holding up “one whole hand,” and even got sung to by the kids in her Sunday school classroom. What more could a kid want? Oh, besides birthday cake at 9 p.m. on a school night AND another birthday celebration this week at pre-school.

Over the years Paige has watched each of her siblings celebrate their birthday at school. She watched in wide-eyed wonder when Alli celebrated her fifth birthday at pre-school and has been talking about how she can’t wait until it’s her turn to do the same thing. Today was her day of glory. She brought juice boxes and cookies to share with her class at school, got to decorate a birthday crown, choose a present from the treasure box, be the line leader, share a favorite toy during sharing time, and be the first one to leave since I was a “Parent Helper” today. It was glorious!

Paige went to the doctor for her well-child check and in one year she grew FIVE inches and three shoe sizes. I’m pretty sure she grew at least five inches of hair this year too. She also grew a little bit kinder, a little more helpful, and a lot more independent and feisty. It has been so fun to be part of the audience cheering her out of toddlerhood and into being an authentic big girl. Happy birthday sweet Paige. I can’t believe you’re already one whole hand.