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!