Friday, October 31, 2014

Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse - Stilp Family Vacation: Part Nine of Who Knows How Many

We had one full day to do tourist stuff in South Dakota.  I would have liked at least two: one for the Badlands and one for the Black Hills.

Since we had been driving so much we opted not to backtrack to the Badlands and to spend our tourist day in the Black Hills visiting Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Needles Highway.
Walking into the park 
Mt. Rushmore up close and personal
family shot 
Katie taking it in
Mt. Rushmore exceeded expectations.  I don't think any of us planned to spend a long time there, but we stayed for at least three or four hours.  We did it all.  The gift shops.  Bookstores.  Museum.  Movie of the carving.  Exhibition hall.  Hiking trail around the perimeter.  Picnic lunch and multiple bathroom stops.  Took pictures galore.  It was really, really impressive on all fronts.  You should go!
Different angle at the end of the hiking loop
Curt and I were drawn to the Native American history embedded in this part of the country.  There were post cards, enlargements and posters of actual photographs taken of the prominent Native American leaders in the late 1800's when General Custer tried to take over.  I was fascinated by the costumes and the detail in photographs taken with such old equipment.  We bought an assortment of the photographs in various sizes and when we got home framed them and hung them on the wall as a gallery.  It looks pretty sweet.

The Black Hills were pretty, but Oregon has spoiled us.  We all thought our mountain ranges were more beautiful and majestic, but still loved being out of farmland and back in the mountains again.  We learned the Black Hills are called "black" because the dark evergreen covering looks black at first glance.

Crazy Horse Memorial - a sculpture being carved into the side of the mountain honoring the Native American culture - was just a few miles from Mt. Rushmore so we drove down to see it.  We were exhausted from spending so much time at Mt. Rushmore so we didn't stay as long.  The museum is quite a ways from the sculpture since it's still under construction so it's hard to get a feel for the scale and grandness of the project.  It's not that impressive... YET.
rendering of the sculpture in the museum part.
Crazy Horse was commissioned in 1948 by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski.  Korczak has now died, leaving his  widow and crew of ten children to take over the project.  They are refusing federal assistance which means less funding and slower progress.  When (and if) they ever finish the sculpture it will be the world's largest sculpture and truly amazing.
What it looks like right now.
We took the Needles Highway through Custer State Park home.  It was one 15 mph curve after another and we didn't see any park wildlife except a deer, a turkey and a chipmunk.  And our children who were getting a little wild by that time in the day.  We all thought driving through the tunnels cut out of the rocks was cool.  Overall I think we would have enjoyed meandering down the Needles  Highway more if we weren't coming on the heels of a thirteen hour traveling day with another long driving day facing us.
on the Needles Highway
We saw a deer.  
It was a relief to finally make it back to our little cabin.  The kids played in the pool while Curt and I made dinner.  They came dripping wet from the pool, plopped down at the picnic table, and we ate dinner outside.  It was fun.
The laundromat is the white door.  Curt is standing by our door.
Grant and I capped off a sweet day with a walk around the nature trail by the resort.  I loved getting alone time with him two days in a row and hearing his take on all the cool historical sites we took in that day.
tired boy 
Another banner day in a vacation where every day was as unique and fun as the last.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Getting To South Dakota - Stilp Family Vacation: Part Eight of Who Knows How Many

Saying goodbye to Curt's family was rough.  We were emotionally and physically exhausted and had a thirteen hour drive ahead of us through mostly flat farmland to get to Rapid City, South Dakota.  We entered our day with trepidation, but the Lord sustained us and this day ended up being really awesome.  Who would have thought?
The kids about to leave North St. Paul.   Tired and sad... 
The kids were rock star travelers. They read.  Listened to music.  Played iPods.  Colored.  Made up games.  Deliberated over what to buy at the gas stations.  What they didn't do was fight.  Or sleep.  Can you believe that?  Almost 13 hours in the car and no one slept or bickered enough for it to be a major problem.  THAT is amazing!
South Dakota!
Highlights of our travel day were:

1.  Lunch at Perkins.  We don't have Perkins Restaurant in the Pacific Northwest so we stopped there for lunch with the kids.  We were all a little punchy and slap happy which made for a somewhat crazy and fun lunch break.

2.  Lewis and Clark Museum-Scenic View Point-Rest Area Stop.  One rest area about halfway through our day boasted a View Point and a Lewis and Clark Museum.  We were all desperate to get out of the car so we stopped.  Curt loves history - especially Lewis and Clark - and was so excited to explore this museum that he practically ran to the door,  only to stop dead in his tracks because it was closed.  It was wicked hot and humid.  We were tired and disappointed. A pity party sounded good.  Instead we collapsed in the lush green grass, shaded by the (closed) museum, and laid there heads together looking at the sky.  Strange that this is one of the moments that stands out to me the most from our vacation.
how we originally felt about the museum being closed
What we talked ourselves into choosing instead - JOY!
3.  Another Road Side Dance Party. We stopped at one more View Point just as the Badlands were starting.  The summer sun was moments away from setting as the kids ran down a dirt trail into the prairie. Grant cranked music on his phone and all the kids kicked up some dust with a dance party.  I will never tire of their spunky energy and zest for life.  What a gift they are!

We stopped at Wall Drug - even though I disliked it as a kid - because it felt like a crime to just drive by.  It was as I remembered it.  Too big.  No windows.  Old.  Smelly. Claustrophobic.  Too many people.  Almost instantly I felt anxious and closed-in. Large crowds and chaos unnerve me - a relatively new realization about myself.  We bought the $.05 cups of (crappy) coffee.  Grant's face when he tasted it was hilarious!  We also bought the homemade doughnuts.  The Stilp Family Jury was split on the awesome to marginal ratings.  Overall none of the Stilp's were sad to leave Wall Drug (sorry South Dakota Tourism).

As we left Wall Drug we were treated to an awesome Midwestern summer thunder storm.  Dark clouds, thunder, lightening, huge rain drops coming down in sheets, stiff winds, and warm, hot air.  It was awesome!

We piled back in the car for the final push to Rapid City.  The skies turned black again and unleashed another torrent of rain.  It was a magnificent, awe-inspiring,  powerful storm in the heart of the Badlands. We pulled off to the side of the interstate and I had the privilege of photographing a double rainbow arching through dark storm clouds over the Badlands and a parked train!  I seriously thought I was going to wet my pants with excitement.  Or get carried away by the wind.  It was a BEAUTIFUL storm!

We rented a cabin in Rapid City for two nights and were thrilled to finally pull into our designated parking space at the resort.  Our "cabin" was hilarious.  It must have been 1,200 square feet of non-glamourous living space and was attached to the resort laundromat.  It was clean but felt dirty because everything was so old.

The kitchen was part mud room, part VFW hall, and part business conference room.  The only decoration in the entire cabin was a nice painting hung too high and off centered a wall that was too big for the painting.  The bathroom was split between two rooms that appeared to have been closets or storage areas at one time.  One of the bathrooms had a sink and a toilet.  The other had a sink and the world's tiniest shower.  Our cabin also had a back door with a picnic table, grill, and a short walk to the resort pool which wasn't much bigger than a bathtub.  Three basic bedrooms slept our entire family in two full size beds and two twin beds.
The bedrooms
The kitchen, dining, two bathrooms, and the front door 
Our back door, picnic table, and our cabin 
The best part about our cabin is that the kids LOVED it!  There was nothing fancy about it, but it was a roof over our heads and a place to be together and make memories.  The kids saw only the beauty of these things and chose not to see all the quirks.  It challenged me to rethink my priorities and focus on what is really important.  It's one of the perks of being a parent - my kids teach me so much about life and love.
How I love this Crew of Crazy!
The last treat of our long travel day was a late night grocery run with Grant. When we emerged from the store lightening was blowing up the sky and sheets of rain formed immediate puddles all over the parking lot.  Other customers hung out in the covered area waiting for the storm to blow over, but Grant and I ran right into it.  Drenched in seconds, Grant drove the cart all over the parking lot through deep puddles while I stood in the summer downpour and laughed.

It was a wonderful way to end a long, but fun day.  Getting to South Dakota turned out to be much better than I anticipated!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Day on the Homestead: Stilp Family Vacation 2014: Part Seven of Who Knows How Many

Curt grew up on a hobby farm on the outskirts of a small town in Minnesota, just west of the Minnesota/Wisconsin border.  His parents built the house they still live in when his Mom was pregnant with Curt.  Needless to say, a lifetime of memories reside out at Lake Ridge Farm.  It was really special to bring the kids out to the homestead and watch them revel in all the activities that Curt enjoyed growing up.

Curt's Dad, Mo, is quite the carpenter.  He helped build the house and then over the years added the garage, a beautiful barn, a chicken coop and a darling playhouse for the grandkids.
Curt and Grant with his brother Chad and his dad Mo
Bonus by the barn that Mo built 
view from the top of the windmill
Curt's Mom, Carole, is an animal lover and so gifted with them.  She always has chickens in the coop, a cat (or two), and at least two dogs.  Since I've known her, she's always had labs and she walks them every morning and night.  Carole loves horses and Morgan, the horse they had when Curt was growing up, died in 2009.  My niece Madison got a horse last year and now Bonus wanders around the pasture that Morgan ruled for years.
chickens make a farm
the pasture with Morgan's grave marker in the distance
Carole and her current dogs: Nellie and Bella
Our kids couldn't get enough of the chickens and they weren't scared of them.  They held them off and on all day.  Alli got pooped on and wasn't phased by it at all.  She changed into Grandma's clothes and kept playing.

her freckles are my favorite!

Madi took the girls on horse rides around the pasture - a first for Paige and a highlight for Katie who has always wished for "five acres and a horse."

I meandered the property, recalling all the memories made in the years we lived in Minnesota, and took a ton of photos.  I even climbed the windmill to take some shots of the property looking down.

Paige played for hours in the play house, setting up tea parties, cooking meals, and dressing up.  She also tore it up on the swing set, that Grandpa also built.
the playhouse matches the big house

All the kids dug out Curt's old toys and played Little People, Legos, arcade games and cars.  Grant commandeered an old plastic Army hat and chased the rooster around until he finally caught it.
finally caught it!
We threw the ball for the dogs.

Ate a LOT!

And reminisced even more.
Lara was my friend before I met Curt.  We go WAY back!

It was lovely.
a lot of the Stilp Women
Thank you Mo and Carole for such a wonderful, memory making experience.  We can't wait to come back again.  And we love you dearly!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Memory Lane: Stilp Family Vacation - Part Six of Who Knows How Many

When we were in Minnesota this summer on vacation we took a walk down Memory Lane.

Minnesota is where Curt and I met, got engaged, got married, rented our first house, and lived our first 1.5 years of marriage. We wanted to show the kids where the Curt Stilp family got started.

Curt and I met on Field Three at the Lakewood Hills Park Softball Complex.  All summer I played on a women's softball team with Lara, Curt's sister-in-law.  I was instantly drawn to Lara, her husband Chad, and their darling 2-year-old daughter Alexa.  I even told my roommates that I wanted to get to know them better and spend some time with them off the field.  I had no idea that wish would come true times a thousand!

Our softball team kicked booty.  We were in the playoffs to go to the state championship tournament so our coach threw an after-game pizza party.  Curt showed up to watch our game, go to the party, and and "scope for chicks."

I was playing left field.  Joy Banning was up to bat.  That girl could send the ball all the way to the fence.  I backed way up but knew as soon as the ball came off the bat that she beat me...  AGAIN.  There was no way I was running that ball down so I chucked my glove at it to try to knock it out of the air.  I missed, but I caught Curt's attention.

We eyed each other up throughout the entire game and finally got an introduction at the pizza party after the game.  By the end of the party, Curt asked me for my number.  I wrote it down on a piece of paper (what we did before smart phones) and he told me he'd call.

He went home that night, slapped my number on the kitchen counter and told his mom, "I met my wife tonight."  

He called me the next day.  We went on our first date two days later.  For our date, we roller bladed on the Gateway Trail, a paved trail system with a dirt trail for horseback riding that parallels the paved trail in parts and splits off in other parts. Two hours wasn't nearly enough time to scratch the surface.  Curt's first deep get-to-know-you question was, "So how long have you been following Jesus?"  I knew this was the start of something special, called my Dad and said, "Start saving your money.  I'm going to marry this one."

Fifteen months later, Curt re-created that first date.  We roller bladed to a spot where the horseback riding trail split off from the paved trail.  A sign with my name on it was at the trail junction.  We followed more signs that collectively said, "Jodi.  I love you.  There's only one way to make it forever."  Curt dropped to his knee and asked me to be his wife.

Four months later we married at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

When we got back from our honeymoon we moved into a tiny duplex on McKnight Road in Maplewood.  In that slightly dumpy little duplex we learned what it meant to be husband and wife.  We learned to fight fair.  Love deeply.  Communicate without screaming at each other. We learned where to squeeze the toothpaste and how to hang the toilet paper roll.  In that little duplex we learned that you can't walk away when things get tough or uncomfortable.  We began the process of learning to press into each other instead of pushing away.  We grew up in that little house.

We wanted to show our kids where it all began.

So we took them to Field Three.  I stood in left field and Curt stood by the fence (with our FOUR children) where we first spotted each other.
I stood in left field and took this picture of Curt (and our kids) standing where he first caught my eye.
Our kids took blurry pictures of us posing in the spot where we talked to each other for the first time.

I set the camera up on the trash can and we took a family shot in the exact spot Curt was standing when our world's collided.
Be still my heart.  It all started here.
We drove to Gateway Trail and even though it was BLAZING hot and oh-so-humid, we all walked the mile or so down the trail to the spot where Curt proposed. Our kids took more sloppy pictures of us while Curt re-enacted his entire proposal.
the junction of the first sign

re-enacting Curt's proposal
We went to St. Mark's and the church was open.  Curt stood at the alter and I walked the aisle.  We shared a pretend "first kiss."  The girls thought it was romantic.  Grant was grossed out.  And they took crooked photos of the entire process.  (I LOVE the crooked factor).

Finally we took them to 3033 McKnight Road.  The place where our selfish individualism died and we became one flesh.  What a joy to stand in that driveway and look back at all the ways God has changed us.  Matured us.  Chipped away at the ugly spots and replaced them with refined beauty.  That home will always be sacred ground for Curt and I.
Our first home together
By the time we finished our walk down Memory Lane we were all sweaty and red-faced.  The heat and humidity of Minnesota summers is now foreign to our Pacific Northwest blood - yet another sign of how God has changed us.  But our hearts were filled to overflowing with gratitude and joy.
Poor Paige was melting in the heat and humidity.
Thank you Jesus for crossing our paths on that fateful night at Field Three.  I am forever grateful!