Friday, August 22, 2014

Baseball in Minnesota: Stilp Family Vacation 2014 - Part Three of Who Knows How Many

One of the things that kills me about living hundreds (and in the case of Minnesota - thousands) of miles away from all my nieces and nephews is missing out on all their sporting events.

Almost all of them play sports, but we've never seen them play.  (Pass the Kleenex).

When we were in Minnesota, we got to see my nephew Tyler pitch a baseball game.  He's going to be a junior and he's a good baseball player.

It was a bit surreal to be at the field watching him pitch his team to a victory.  My brother-in-law Cory is one of the team coaches and it was fun to see him in action too.

The field Tyler's team played at happened to be in a super cool neighborhood in Minneapolis and very close to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.  Big planes came and went directly overhead through the entire game, making for an added element of fun.
Tyler with our family
Stilp Boys (minus a few that weren't at the game)
After Tyler's game we grabbed dinner at Chili's - one of our favorite restaurants but hard to come by in Oregon.
Self-timer on the iPhone.
We missed seeing Tyler's siblings, but were glad to see him!
Thanks Tyler for letting us come cheer you on.  I hope we didn't embarrass you too much with all our cheering!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock Hike

This spring my friend Lauren and I set aside a day to go hiking while our kids were in school.  

Lauren was one of my first friends in Newberg.  We met because our kids were taking swim lessons together.  Jack and Alli were pre-school aged at the time and super mischievous.  I loved their family instantly!

The Columbia River Gorge is a great for spring hikes because it only takes an hour to get to the mouth of the gorge from Newberg and the wildflowers are incredible in the spring.  Last year I missed the entire spring hiking season with a broken foot, so I really wanted to squeeze in some spring hikes this season. (Stay tuned for more hike reviews if I ever have time).

Lauren and I decided to tackle two hikes in one day since the trailheads were 1/2 mile apart and one of the hikes was short. We thought we'd have plenty of time, but ended up not getting home until dinner time.  Thankfully our kids are old enough to babysit themselves, and we know better for next time.  If you decide to tackle both hikes in one day, plan to be gone for a good eight hours.  

Lauren is one incredible woman.  I am constantly in awe of the friends God has put in my life.  Strong, lovely women with big hearts, depth of character, and tons of personality.  We hadn't seen each other in almost a year so we were both crying before we ever hit the trail.  Empathizing with struggles we've walked through and celebrating how Jesus has been guiding us through some tough stuff into a spacious place on the other side.  It was shaping up to be an awesome day.

Our first hike was Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Gorge.  I proudly hung my Oregon State Parks Pass in Lauren's window just as the Washington State Park Ranger drove through the parking lot.  She stopped to talk to us.

Ranger:  "Hi.  I noticed you've got your Oregon parks pass on display."
Me:  "Yep."
Ranger:  TOTAL SILENCE (giving me a "my you're stupid" look and a sympathetic smile).
Me:  "Why?  Does it not work at this park?"
Ranger:  "Well you are in Washington..."
Me:  Oops...

We took down the Oregon parks pass, bought a Washington State park pass, put it in the windshield and headed out on our hike.

Beacon Rock hike is short and sweet, but requires some effort to get to the top.  Rated moderate in my trusty hiking book, it's 1.6 miles round trip and gains 600 vertical feet in less than a mile.

Lauren and I at the summit of Beacon Rock.  (I should have brought my tripod).
What's cool about Beacon Rock is that you hike around a giant rock on the edge of the Columbia River. To quote my hiking book, "If heights bother you, don't look down.  It's virtually all rails and bridges and platforms until you're just below the summit...  Keep an eye out for rock climbers and don't throw anything from the top."  This system of rails and bridges was engineered and built in 1918.  Pretty impressive!
Some of the rail work on the Beacon Rock hike
View was from the Beacon Rock hike too.  
I would totally bring my kids on this hike.  Even though there were portions with heights, it felt safe and manageable.  Even little kids can do this hike if you take your time.  Slow and steady to the top.

After we finished Beacon Rock, we drove up the road about 1/2 mile to the Hamilton Mountain trailhead.  We ate our lunch in a darling picnic area.  This awesome building is a picnic shelter!  Isn't it cute?
picnic shelter at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead
The Hamilton Mountain hike is a doozy.  Seven miles, all of them rated Strenuous.  I didn't want to tell Lauren this information because I thought she would:

  1. Tell herself she couldn't do it. (She totally could).
  2. Tell me we didn't have enough time.  (We didn't).
  3. Second guess her ability and want to quit.  (She did, but we didn't quit.  We kept going!)
I guided us past the trailhead sign quickly, hoping she wouldn't notice the overall distance.

The woods in Oregon are magical.  And this trail was pretty steep.
We climbed steadily for about a mile to Hardy Falls.  The feeder trail to the viewpoint was kind of sketchy.  Just as I told Lauren to watch her step, she slipped.  And fell, toppling in an awkward angle toward the drop off.  Thankfully I was able to catch her and she was okay, minus some big bruises that came later.  Thank you Jesus for protecting my friend!
Hardy Falls
The next waterfall we saw was Rodney Falls, also know as the Pool of Winds.  My hiking book describes it well when it says it "almost explodes out of a bowl in the rock face." We stopped here for a brief rest period and let the wind whip the spray from the waterfall on us to cool us off.
The Pool of the Winds
Lauren at Rodney Falls
Me at Rodney Falls
The hard climbing started after Rodney Falls.  It was up, up, up and at a pretty steep grade.  Thankfully Lauren didn't see the junction sign for the balloon portion of the trip.  Our choices were "difficult" and "more difficult."  The more difficult route boasted incredible view points so we took that route for the way up when our legs were fresh. (I thought I had a picture, but I can't find it).
Do you see the face on this tree?  It looks scared.  That's how we felt about tackling this hike.
We gained more than 700 vertical feet in just over a mile to super incredible views of the gorge, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood.  There were several feeder trails off the main trail that led out to open vistas on rock faces.  The views were incredible, but it was dangerous.  One misstep would lead to a fall of several hundred feet and almost certain death.  

I would NOT take a gaggle of kids on this hike.  There is legitimate danger and risk involved with the feeder trails.

I MIGHT take my older kids - one by one - on this hike and give them the "Listen to me and obey immediately or you will die" talk before the hike.  Maybe.  It was sketchy.

me grabbing pictures from one of the danger spots
Lauren was content to sit on the edge of the trail and wait.
Once we reached the summit, we threw ourselves a little party.  Then busted our butts to get back down to the car.  We didn't have cell coverage and watched the clock tick closer and closer to when our kids would be home from school.

I HATE snakes.  But I know they live in Oregon.  Most of them in our section of the Gorge are harmless, although there are rattlesnakes the further east and south you go.   Every time I'm in the woods I tell myself, "The snakes are out here.  Just try not to freak out and make a fool of yourself when you see one."  Thankfully Lauren saw the snake first so I only jumped and screamed a little instead of a lot. I consider that a victory even though I grabbed Lauren and hid behind her.

The wildflowers did not disappoint.  Nor did the view.  See the dam in the background?

We were wiped out by the time we got back to Lauren's truck.  In a matter of a few hours we tackled 8.6 tough miles of hiking.  Hamilton Mountain is one of my new favorite hikes because the views to effort ratio was worth it.  This hike felt like an experience and had some awesome WOW factor to it.  I will definitely be taking Curt back to this trail, but most likely not my kids.  At least not all of them at one time.  And definitely not our dog.  Those drop offs were sharp and dangerous.

I thought Lauren might never want to go hiking with  me again, but we already have another hike scheduled for this fall once our kids go back to school.  I can hardly wait!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Montana or Bust - Stilp Family Vacation 2014: Part Two of Who Knows How Many

Our families at Debbie's ranch
The first big stop on our Stilp Family Vacation 2014 was to see my brother, Shane, and his family who live in Great Falls, Montana.

We left Newberg on a Friday night at 7 p.m. and drove to Spokane, Washington, checking into our hotel around 1:30 on Saturday morning! We were back on the road by 7:30 a.m., tired but with God-given energy, strength and mostly good attitudes for the drive ahead.

Instead of going to Great Falls we arranged to meet Shane, his wife Quenby, and two of his three daughters (Maggie and Sydney) at a gas station in Ulm, Montana. My cousin Jon, who lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, just happened to be in Montana visiting his wife Laurie's family and they joined us for 24 hours of our adventure.

Technically Ulm is not even a town.  According to Wikipedia, "Ulm is a census-designated place (CDP) in Cascade County, Montana.  It was originally a large ranch owned by Indiana-born cattleman William Ulm.  The population was 738 people at the 2010 census."  Ulm is basically a few houses and one gas station/restaurant/casino combo just off the Interstate, about twelve miles from Great Falls.

Shane roared into the station with his big, 'ol white Ford pickup followed closely by my cousin Jon in his city slicker mini van.  We landed squarely in the middle with our Sequoia and made quite the caravan heading out of the gas station.

From Ulm, Shane took us a good hour (probably more) into the country.  The County Road we turned onto was a dirt road. There was a slight learning curve to following the vehicle in front of us.  Follow too close and you could see nothing but swirling dust.  Follow too far back and you lose sight of the car you're supposed to be following.  We quickly learned to follow the dust cloud, not the car, down the road.
follow the dust cloud
The land we were driving through was on the Rocky Mountain front.  No jagged mountain peaks but rolling hill after rolling hill melting into bigger and bigger mountains.  Vast blue skies with white clouds dotted the sky line.  Stress melted away the further into the wilderness we drove.
This was still on the County Road
The view from Debbie's homestead
Eventually we saw Debbie's homestead in the distance.  Shane became friends with Debbie years ago.  She and her husband own a giant (3,500 acres) ranch in this vast wilderness.  A few years ago Debbie's husband passed away and Shane stepped up to help Debbie with the never ending chores at the ranch.  She thanks Shane by letting him use her remote cabin on the outer edge of her property.

We stopped at Debbie's to say hi and use the bathroom.  Her home is filled with animal mounts, including several giant mountain lions, all killed on her property.  It was eye-opening to realize that lions, bears, elk, deer, rabbits, and who knows what else would be sharing the land around the cabin with us.

We piled nine children, two dogs, and tons of camping gear into the back of Shane's pickup truck, left Jon's mini-van in Debbie's driveway and caravanned to the cabin. The "road" from the ranch to the cabin requires four-wheel drive because we drove through a small creek, down a steep canyon, then out onto a vast plain where the cabin sits on a bluff above the Smith River.  It took us thirty minutes to drive three miles.

leaving Debbie's ranch
Parts of the road were unnerving.  Thankfully my brother is one of the best drivers I know.  At each dangerous part, he'd stop and holler at the kids, "You better hold on or you could die."  They know enough to listen.
down into the canyon
The cabin was unlike any place I have ever stayed.  Think "Middle of Nowhere" multiply it by a hundred and you might be close to where we were.  No running water.  No electricity.  An outhouse with an awe-inspiring view of the cliffs, canyon, and the Smith River.  (My sister-in-love even added moist wipes and air freshener to it to make it more homey).  Jon and Laurie's family stayed in the Bunkhouse.  Shane and Quenby's family slept in the cabin and on the deck.  Our family slept in a big teepee style tent.  Being a City Girl, I was initially skeptical, but it was awesome!

For the next 48 hours we soaked in what a Mighty Creator we serve.  Every direction boasted a view prettier than the next.  It was a total paradise. Shane is a bit sarcastic and often says after admiring the view, "It's like rubbing garbage in my eye."
Shane and Curt taking a walk with Shane's dogs
Shane and Q have a system down for the food/clean up/ and hydration.  We ate one awesome meal after another.  Everyone pitched in to cook and clean up, sharing the weight of the work and having fun in the process.
Quenby doing dishes
The first morning we were at the cabin Shane drove back to Debbie's to pick up his oldest daughter Kayla.  I ran behind him to the ranch and back.  It was the hardest six miles I've run in years.  The cabin sits at around 5,500 feet elevation and I was running on gravel up and out of a steep canyon.   The beauty was the return trip was mostly downhill and I loved that!  Six blissful miles in the wilderness on a private ranch on the edge of the Rocky Mountain front.  It was pretty incredible.

We split most of our day time between the swimming hole and tubing.

The swimming hole in front of the cabin is deep with a slight current but the water had warmed up nicely so it wasn't too cold.  A cave was on the other side of the river that the kids had a blast swimming over to and exploring. Shane and Curt hung a rope ladder from the top of the cliff for the kids to climb up and jump off the cliff into the water.

Grant jumping off the cliff
The Smith River is a destination place for vacationers from all over the country.  Rafting companies guide tourists through the river over the course of several days, camping along the way.  Debbie's cabin is on the rafting route and makes for some great tubing.

We accessed our Putting In Point via a similar "road" that junctioned off the field by the cabin.  It went up a mountain and down the other side on a single track with hairpin turns, steep drop offs, and big rocks mixed in with the gravel that we had to drive over.  There was no room for error and our kids were all in the back of Shane's pickup.  GAH!!!! It was the scariest road I've ever been on.

Shane's philosophy?   "Someone made this road which means they drive it.  If they drive it, I can too.  And I figure if I make a mistake and we go over the edge, we'll all die quick and happy."  So reassuring...
Looking down the road from the top of the mountain
Driving UP the road
The scary road was worth it though because the Smith River winds through stunning country.  The canyon walls and cliffs rise up from the river's edge for what seems like forever.  Everything is so vast and big that I felt itty bitty.  We put in and floated for about an hour down to Debbie's cabin. Shane's dogs ran along the bank of the river, swam alongside us, and sometimes hitched a ride with him in his tube.  It was pretty cute.

When we finished tubing we had to retrieve Shane's truck.  Shane and I ran-walked to the top of the mountain, ran down the other side, and drove his truck back to the cabin.  Thank you Jesus for protection!
I love my brother!
We all need rest.

Restorative, real rest where we let our bodies, minds and spirits slow down.

Breathe in. And out.

Open our eyes to look around us and actually see the beauty around us.

That's what this time in Montana did for our family.

We sat on the river's edge and watched our children play with their cousins.  Skip rocks.  Jump off cliffs into the water below.  Catch crayfish.  Chase butterflies.  Throw their heads back and belly laugh
chasing butterflies
We sat around the fire and watched in awe as the sun set the cliffs on fire before it melted into the horizon and the evening shadows took over.  Stayed up just long enough for the millions of stars to light the pitch black sky.  Slowly sipped coffee in the warmth of the morning sun.  Slept until our bodies woke rested.  Had quiet, meaningful conversations with family members that we love deeply and see too infrequently.
Late evening sun painting the cliffs
It was restorative.  Peaceful.  Fun.  Life-giving.  And a little bittersweet since 735 miles come between this time and the next.
Saying goodbye was rough.  Hugs.  More hugs.  Pictures.  Another round of hugs.  Family prayer time for safe travels.  More hugs. And finally tearful goodbyes as we drove off.
Thank you Shane, Quenby, Kayla, Maggie and Sydney for another amazing adventure.  We love you and can't wait for the next one.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stilp Family Vacation 2014 - Part One of Who Knows How Many

This summer our family went on Stilp Family Vacation 2014.  It was epic.

These two could be twins.
We are officially on the road.
We road tripped from our home in Newberg, Oregon, to the rural area outside of Great Falls, Montana.  Then on to Northern Minnesota.  The Twin Cities of Minnesota.  Rapid City, South Dakota, with Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands, and the Black Hills.  To Jackson, Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons.  And finally home again.

4,537.8 miles in 15 days.  (But who's counting?)

All six of us in our trusty Sequoia. Plus all our junk that grew exponentially and became harder and harder to contain the longer we were on the road.

Not only did we live to tell about it, we LOVED it.

Road trips are a mixed bag.  Usually they involve high highs and low lows.  We embark on a family road trip praying the high high's eventually outweigh the low low's making it worth all the effort and time in the end.  This was our perspective heading into this vacation.

But our kids were ROCK STARS!

Seriously.  ROCK STARS!

We've been home for a month and I still can't get over how amazing they were on this trip.

4,537.8 miles in 15 days is A LOT of time in the car.  For anyone. Especially me because I can't sit still to save my life and I get stir crazy and slap happy in the car.

4,537.8 miles times six strong willed, feisty human beings can be a recipe for disaster. But these kids of ours grabbed the opportunity and ran with it.  We've had trips to the grocery store that were worse than all 15 days combined.  Thank you Jesus!
First Rest Area Family photo of the trip.  Just into Montana from the Idaho panhandle.
The kids played on their electronic devices.  Listened to music.  Played creative make-believe games.  Read books.  Drew or colored.  Looked out the window as the beautiful United States of America unfolded before our eyes.  Talked.  Sang.  Car danced like a boss.  And had a blast.

When they got sick of each other, they grabbed all their junk and switched seats at the next stop.  By the end of the trip all four of them had sat in different seats and by each sibling.

They didn't sleep in the car either with three rare exceptions.  I couldn't believe it.  What kid doesn't sleep in the car?

Our kids adapted to changing time zones.  Different foods.  Constantly changing schedules.  New faces.  New environments.  New everything.  And they did it with very little complaining and a lot of joy.
Eastern North Dakota Scenic View Point
Curt and I fell in love all over again with each of them.  It was awesome!

The only big thing we did differently on this road trip was to give them spending money.

At the start of our trip we gave each kiddo $52 in cash.  $50 cause that was the amount we decided on.  And then Curt gave them each a $2 bill that he had saved from trips to see his grandma when he was a kid.  We told the kids they could spend the money any way they chose over the course of our trip but when it was gone, it was gone.

Gas station candy and pop?  Sure.

Souvenirs from the gift shops along the way?  Sure.

Toys and dolls?  Sure.

Yes.  Yes.  and Yes.

You spend your $52 however you want.  Whenever you want.

Man did that cut down on whining and badgering every time we stopped.  It also taught our kids money management, and it was so fun to observe how and when they chose to spend it.

Katie is a saver.  She came home with almost her entire wad of cash, spending only a few dollars over the course of the entire trip.

Paige - who has no source of income and NEVER has money to spend - was like a kid on Christmas morning.  She carefully selected candy and gatorade at every gas station along the way.  Bought books (her favorite hobby is reading) at Wall Drug and in the gift shop at Mt. Rushmore.  Ran out of money with four days left to go, but we all loved watching her spend it so much that we kept slipping her extra dollars so we could keep watching her spend it.  (A benefit of being the baby - everyone thinks you're irresistible!)

Grant spent all his money on junk food, except one poster that he bought at Mt. Rushmore.  He was down to a handful of coins by the time we rolled into our driveway.

Alli was a mix of Katie's saving and Paigey and Grant's spending.  She came home satisfied because she had saved a handful of money, bought a lot of candy along the way, and splurged on a journal in the Grand Tetons.

Watching them use their spending money was a highlight of the trip for me.

Here are some other Road Trip highlights.

Curt planned our trip to have a few really long traveling days so that once we reached our destination we could have several days in one spot.  It was genius planning but made for some really LONG days in the car.

The first monster day of driving we had was from Jordan, Montana, to Northern Minnesota - about 14 hours in the car.  When we crossed into North Dakota we all got a little stir crazy so Curt pulled over at a Scenic Viewpoint for us to stretch our legs.  When it was time to get back in the car, Grant gave Paige a piggyback ride back to the car.  We overheard him saying, "Delivering one Boopa," as he carefully deposited her back in the car.  It was so sweet.
"Delivering one Boopa."
But she didn't stay in the car long because Katie spontaneously started dancing on the side of the road.  And then all the kids joined her.  They shook it on the side of the interstate - with NO MUSIC - and we all laughed until we almost cried.  The sun was really bright and it cast really stark shadows making for some cool pictures too.  No one wanted to get back in the car.

all you gotta do is bust a move...

Days later we made a similar stop In the Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota.  We'd been driving for hours and hours and hours and hours through southeastern Minnesota and South Dakota farmland.  Mile after mile after mile of flat farmland all day long.  We were all mind-numbingly bored with a few hours still left to drive.  When we saw a sign for a Scenic Viewpoint we stopped.  What a treat.  This viewpoint was in the start of the Badlands.  Vast expanses of fields with plateaus in the distance. The kids busted a move in the fields with grasses dancing in the breeze and a summer storm moving in.  It was such a welcome break.

These images are straight out of the camera - I haven't had time to edit them yet.
Twenty minutes later, the storm came with full force.  Driving rains.  Winds so strong that we could feel them trying to move the Sequoia.  Awesome clouds.  Thunder.  Lightening.  And then the most amazing double rainbow.  Curt pulled off to the side of the road and I grabbed my camera.  Rain pelted my face.  Wind almost blew me over.  And I got to stand on the side of the interstate and take pictures of a double rainbow shining brightly over a parked train in the Badlands.  Someone pinch me!
WOW!  #mightycreatorgod
On the same South Dakota Driving Day we stopped at a rest area.  It had a giant museum filled with Lewis and Clark information and everything that makes Curt oh-so-excited.  It even had a map that he was looking for and couldn't wait to purchase.  And... it was closed.  He peered in all the windows.  Tried all the doors. Then collapsed on the grass in frustration.  We all joined him, laughing at our bad luck.  We decided we could whine and be sad, or enjoy the lush grass on our legs and the welcome relief from the sun that the shade provided.  We chose joy, and because it's 2014, we took a selfie.
How we originally felt
we choose joy.
On our last day we drove from Jackson, Wyoming, all the way to Newberg.  We came down Dead Man's Pass and eventually saw the mouth of the Columbia River.  The Gorge is our favorite and a sign that we were within hours of being home so we threw a little party.  Curt cranked the music and we all started car dancing.  Windows down.  Arms flailing.  Singing at the top of our lungs.  Another family drove by, honked, and waved.  It was fun to pass our joy on to someone else.

Stilp Family Vacation 2014 was pretty dang awesome.

Thank you Stilp Kids for choosing joy, even through some really long days.  You guys are awesome!