Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nineteen Years and Counting

At the end of December Curt and I celebrated 19 years of marriage which blows my mind just a wee bit.  I remember our wedding day so vividly that it can't possibly have been nineteen years ago, yet it also feels like there really wasn't ever Life Before Curt.
Squinty Selfie due to sunlight.  I forgot what it feels like to squint into the sun.
As most of you know, we are 2.5 years into a three year graduate program.  God willing, Curt will graduate with a doctorate of Education Leadership in June of this year.  Doctoral school is not for the faint of heart.  It has been an exhausting and intense 2.5 years.  In short, my husband is SuperMan and he sleeps very little. I'm in awe of how God has sustained him, giving Curt strength and clarity of thought, focus, and energy that doesn't add up given how little he's sleeping and how much of himself and his brain power he's giving away each day.  Thank you Jesus for being everything we need for each day.

For our anniversary we rallied our Village, asked for help with our kids, and headed out of town for three days and two nights.  I can't tell you how much we needed time together without an agenda.  And rest.  For the love... we were T-I-R-E-D!

We stayed at Skamania Lodge, located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.  It was a Bucket List location for me and it did not disappoint. The lodge was still decorated for Christmas and the giant fireplace in the lobby was crackling every time we walked through.  Outdoors was a sunny, snowy winter wonderland.

Trails around the resort 
Handsome Husband
After dinner the first night we "hiked" the trail system around the resort, but we were woefully unprepared.  Curt had packed a pair of work boots, but all I had was running shoes.  It was pitch black and we didn't have headlamps so we used the flashlight on Curt's iPhone.  He went first, picking his way across the snowy trail and I followed his footsteps.  On the slippery downhill parts, I held on to the back of his coat and skied down the trail.  We laughed our heads off and had so much fun.
Views from the trail during the daylight

Day Two was supposed to be an Outdoor Adventure day.  We ran the trail we hiked the night before then headed out. We planned to hike to Falls Creek Falls, a stunning waterfall in the Wind River Recreation Area about 30 minutes from the lodge.  But the closer we got to the trailhead, the more snow we encountered.  The Forest Service road that leads back to the trailhead was barricaded closed and covered with a deep blanket of snow. We tried to "hike" through the deep snow, but we kept postholing.  It was not fun.  After less than a mile we turned around and decided to go relax at the lodge.  It was a great choice because we stumbled upon some beautiful photo ops on the way back.
Can you find Curt on "the road?"

copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

Copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
The spa at the resort was beautiful and featured an outdoor hot tub overlooking the gorge and the mountains. We sat in the outside hot tub for a long time, just soaking in the view and the experience. We took our books to a cozy niche' by a Christmas tree and read.  Ate a lot of good food. Too much good food.  It took a week to work off that Food Baby, but it was worth it.

God gave us beautiful sunshine and blue skies the entire time we were there - such a gift in this ridiculously gray and rainy winter.

We had time to just BE.  Together.  Rest.  Reconnect. We talked about what we learned this past year.  How we grew.  The high's. The low's.  We discussed marriage, parenting and personal goals for the upcoming year.

On the way home we stopped at The Bridge of Gods and Multnomah Falls to grab a few photos. It was a great way to finish our getaway and start the transition back to home.
Multnomah Falls - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

Multnomah Falls - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

Bridge of the Gods and one tiny Curt - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

If you are married, may I encourage you to invest in your spouse?  Get away together. Talk to each other.  Romance each other.  You won't be sorry and it's the best gift you can give your kids.  They take comfort in a strong and stable marriage.

Thanks Babe for an awesome adventure.  I am so grateful God gave me you.

#marriage #anniversary #mightycreator #skamanialodge

Monday, February 27, 2017

If At First You Don't Succeed...

My favorite photo from last year's season
If you've been following this blog at all you know that Alli's main identity right now is that of an athlete.  If she could play ALL THE SPORTS she would, but she seems to have narrowed (note the sarcasm) it down to soccer, basketball, lacrosse and track and field. She wanted to keep playing water polo during the summer but we said, "No. You can't do all the things. Read a book or take a nap.  Those are good skills to learn."

This winter was Alli's third season playing basketball.  The first two seasons her team lost a lot.  And by "a lot" I mean they won ONE game last season. It was so frustrating for the players, the coaches and the parents. When all you do is lose, it is hard with a capital H to keep showing up to practice.  Keep working hard.  Keep giving 100% effort in the games.  It would have been easier to quit, but our girls are athletes.  They show up, even when it's rough. Seasons like last year developed our girls' character through suffering and perseverance.
6th Grade Basketball Team

When basketball season rolled around this year I readied myself for more of the same, but this year was different.  Alli's grade had an influx of new players and coaches worked into the mix of the regulars from the past two seasons.

Middle school girls are prone to drama - on the court and off the court.  Managing 14 of them is not for the faint of heart.  But Coach Alloway and his coaching staff immediately established clear ground rules.  They had high standards and expected the girls to meet the mark.

Practice was not social hour.  It was HARD work. If a player didn't follow the instructions, the whole team ran. The girls learned quickly to pay attention and work together.

Coach also had high standards for his players' behavior. "During basketball season we are a family on and off the court. We support each other. We work hard.  We encourage each other.  We don't put up with social media drama or any kind of negative talk toward each other."  And then he enforced it.

I think he deserves a Gold Star for holding these girls accountable to a higher standard of living on and off the court. Alli came to life under his leadership.  Coach saw Alli's potential on the basketball court and he didn't let her cut corners or do things halfway.  Alli submitted to his leadership and became a student of the game.  Her raw, undeveloped talent morphed into smooth ball handling, less turnovers, more steals, more assists, more rebounds, and less fouls.  She still missed a ton of shots, but she made a ton of baskets too, including her first three pointer.
My favorite action shot from this season.
Dribbling without turning it over all the time has been a huge improvement this season.
Going for the steal
She will take on any player, any size.  This kid is fearless. 
Defensive Trap without fouling
It wasn't just Alli coming alive.  Her teammates had similar stories.  Each game they got better, smoother, cleaner.  Less mistakes.  More confidence. The deeper into the season we got, the more these girls looked and played like a team. It was SO fun to watch.
This year's players and coaches - more of both genres!
And you guys...  THEY WERE WINNING! In our first weekend of game play, we tallied two victories in five games, doubling our wins from the season before. The girls ended up finishing 11 and 4 in league play, earning a first place seed to the league championship tournament. Winning isn't everything, but it sure is fun.

This weekend our girls played their hearts out in the league tournament.  They won their first game convincingly, but started slow in their second game and lost by 5 points.  Their only chance at the championship game was to win the following day.

We started that game slow too and went down 0-6 in the early minutes of the first quarter.  We couldn't buy a bucket.  But the girls didn't quit.  They believed in themselves and trusted their coaches.  They slowly clawed their way back into the game.  Tied it, then went up by eight.  The momentum shifted back and forth. Both teams were hungry for victory.  In the end our girls came out on top 27-22 to earn a spot in the coveted championship game.

Our opponent in the championship game was McMinnville (Mac) - the same team that defeated the girls the day before.  It was the perfect matchup against long time arch-rivals. Our girls charged to a 0-10 lead, but Mac refused to roll over and die.  They started scoring, shut down our offense, and were right back in the game.

The momentum shifted back and forth the entire game. When Mac would shut down a Newberg player that was on fire, we'd shift our offense to another player.  The points, rebounds, steals and assists were spread evenly between all the Newberg players.  Both teams played with grit and determination, but our girls pulled off the victory: 32-36!

They are your Three Rivers League Champions - Bronze Division! What a great way to finish a season that has developed their confidence and their character. When at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

The future of Newberg basketball is bright.  Well done girls.  Well done Coaches.  We are all so proud of you.

Tigers on three:  1-2-3 TIGERS!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Icy Silver Falls Adventure

Hey Hey... What's up.  Two posts in one month.  Can you believe it?  This is what happens when I set aside time to edit my own photos.  (All photos in this blog post are copyrighted by Jodi Stilp Photography LLC.)

One day on winter break 2016  the kids (plus two friends) and I went on an Adventure Day.  It's such a rare treat to have a full day with all four kids.  Even during breaks, the high schoolers have sports practices that get in the way of being able to just go off the grid for a day.  

We chose Silver Falls State Park, an Oregon rainforest gem just a little over an hour from our house, as our destination.  There's a 7.2 mile Trail of Ten Falls loop that takes hikers "above, behind and around 10 stunning waterfalls.  The moderate hike includes 800 feet of elevation gain on paved and unpaved trails."  We've hiked the entire trail before and it is so fun, but no one felt like going on a big exercise excursion.  We all felt more like exploring and playing. The beauty of Silver Falls State Park is that you can see a lot of these waterfalls without hiking the entire loop as long as you have a car.  Our plan was to park in the different lots, hike to the easily accessible waterfalls, then drive to the next one to continue exploring.

The Willamette Valley has had unusually wintery weather so far this year. Going into this hike we'd already had two snow days due to snow/ice. Cold air was trapped in the valley floor creating much colder (than our usually moderate) winter temperatures and freezing any moisture into black ice on the roads. 

I put my blinker on to turn into the North Falls parking lot, hit a patch of black ice and drifted into the (thankfully) empty parking lot.  It was ICY - in the parking lot and in multiple spots on the trail.  We passed an older gentleman sitting on the stairs heading down to the North Falls.  He had slipped and fallen, but insisted that he wasn't injured and was just collecting himself to try to safely return to his car.  It was a good reminder to go slow and be careful.
the North Falls
We gingerly picked our way down the stairs and the trail to the beautiful North Falls, then hiked into the cave behind it.  It is pretty spectacular to be standing behind a waterfall - the roar of the rushing water filling your ears, mist from the spray getting you wet.  It was COLD, but so worth it.
behind North Falls

When we got back to the parking lot, the girls sat in the car to warm up and eat lunch while Grant and I took a quick detour to view the Upper North Falls. 
Upper North Falls 
We drove to the South Falls parking lot and started round two of exploring.  A blanket of fog hung over the forest, lingering above the mist of the waterfall.  It was cold and wintery and lovely, but then.. Out of nowhere, rays of light  started piercing the fog, illuminating the forest above the waterfall.  It was like nothing I have ever seen.  I can't believe God put on such a show for us AND that I had my real camera with me.  It was a photographer's dream.
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
Tiny hikers.
Hiking toward South Falls
The play between dark/shadows. Light and fog was spectacular.
Our hiking crew: my four plus Livy and Saige.
I am in love with Oregon's tall trees
Isn't this tree cool?
The fog/mist/sunlight was almost like smoke.
fog burning off
I love them. 
Paigey hiking into the sunshine.
We slid down the trail and behind the South Waterfall, but the wind was blowing the spray from the waterfall all over us and it was cold so we didn't linger long.  We tried to hike to the Lower South Falls but that staircase was also covered in ice.  It wasn't worth the risk to try to descend so we called it a day and headed back to the car.  

Grant and I had a snowball throwing contest before we all piled into the car, cranked the heat, and stopped at Dutch Bros. for warm drinks.  While we were at Dutch, Grant ran into the Dollar Tree to buy hair beads and rubber bands.  He's been bugging me for months to braid his hair like Lil' Yachty - a rapper.  Since we had the time, I said yes.  When we got home, we spent the next 2.5 hours braiding his hair so he could match Lil' Yachty.  He looked "pretty dope" and had a fun time shaking his head around so the beads would smack together.

These kids and their friends are the bomb.  I adore raising middle school and high schoolers.  Thank you Jesus for such a fun adventure day and for keeping us safe on the ice. I'm already looking forward to the next Adventure Day.

#silverfallsstatepark #hiking #hikingadventures #adventuredays 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

McNeil Point And Then Some

Well hey there.  Long time no talk.  The only excuse is life is full of such awesome things.

In September Curt and I had a Date Day and we tackled the McNeil Point hike.  We've attempted it together twice before with the kids, but both trips had way too much whining and not enough fun (adults included).  Since this is one of my all time favorite hikes, we attempted it a third time and were successful.
Self timer at the top of the ridge in Really High Country
DIFFICULTY: According to our trusty hiking book (60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald) this 9.2 mile hike is rated "Easy" to Bald Mountain and "Strenuous" to McNeil Point.  We agree. The trail definitely shreds your quads and calves with the steep climbing and descents, but is worth every sweat-inducing step.  For detailed specifics about this hike, buy the book or google it.  My "directions" will be vague.

TRAIL ACCESS: This trailhead is remote, but not too rugged. You'll drive the typical narrow Forest Service road that is really one lane with steep drop offs on one side, but is supposedly wide enough for one car going each direction.  Thankfully all of it is paved save the last 1.2 miles and the potholes are minimal. The trail is under snow from October through June, so the window to go on this adventure is July through September.  Mark your calendar now and just do it!

The Bald Mountain viewpoint is only a mile from the trailhead and it is magnificent.  You hike through an old growth forest, go around a corner onto a ridge and BOOM!  There's Mt. Hood.  She takes your breath away.  The ridge the trail traverses is high in the air with a relatively steep drop off.  Don't bring dogs off a leash or kids that don't obey or they could roll off the edge to great peril. The ridge looks down into the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River.
Curt in the old growth forest before we came out onto the ridge.
Curt at the Bald Mountain Viewpoint.  McNeil Point is WAY up Mt. Hood on that ridge to the left.
The trail is narrow with some significant drop offs.  Be careful.
I love this viewpoint because it's a glimpse of where your final destination is. Squint and look way up on Mt. Hood.  Four more miles of hiking will take you WAY up the mountain to a "1930's era stone shelter" that marks McNeil Point.

Along the way, you'll finish traversing the ridge, hike back into old growth forest, ford a creek twice,  and pass wildflowers (if you're lucky enough to catch them in bloom). The mountain terrain changes the higher you hike with big boulder fields and mountain meadows with ponds.  Backpackers camp here and we saw several breaking camp on our way in.

We stopped at The Ponds for a snack, then continued the final stretch to the McNeil Point.  The narrow trail takes hikers across a "windswept ridge and eventually crosses a rockslide/snowfield."  This area is a little sketchy.  Go slow and be certain of each step you take.
The Ponds
Curt checking directions before we set out to finish our hike.
Getting closer to McNeil Point
Some of the Sketch Area.  The trail picks its way across these loose rocks that are often covered with snow.
It was in this area that Curt and I missed the right hand turn that leads down to McNeil Point.  We accidentally followed another trail to the left that meandered up the ridge instead of down.  When we reached the end of the ridge there was no where to go except into thin air.  It was amazing.  McNeil Point was below us by several hundred feet.  We set our lunch up on a rock and picnicked on top of the world.
Lunch Rock
That tiny turquoise speck directly in the lower middle of this image is a hiker.  The slightly bigger brown speck is the stone shelter.
The panoramic views were jaw-dropping.  Layers and layers upon layers of mountains and forest nestled together to form a backdrop for all the Cascade volcanoes.  Mt. Hood.  Mt. St. Helens. Mt. Rainer. Mt. Adams. They were all out to play and they were amazing.
Volcanoes in the distance.
The very steep, non-switchback trail up into Really High Country.
The trail we were on continued above us into "Really High Country.  It's not on any maps, but if you follow it you will soon run out of breath as you approach 7,000 feet in elevation with virtually no switchbacks and find yourself on a narrow, rocky ridge between the Sandy and Glisan Glaciers." You better believe we huffed and puffed our way to the top of that ridge.  It was slow going and H-A-R-D, but so worth it.

Hello Handsome.
I hiked all the way up to the point on that middle ridge, then came back.
We sat on a rock at the top of the ridge and listened to the glaciers pop and crack and slide down the mountainside.  It was an experience I would have paid a ton of money for, but it was free (minus the National Forest Pass required for parking our car).
We hiked down to the stone shelter on our way out.  It's pretty cool. 
#forreal #mightycreator #inoregonasitisinheaven
Our little side trip added 2.5 miles to an already long hike, giving us almost 12 miles of hiking by the time we made it back to our car. Since I hadn't run my mile yet for my run streak, I let Curt pack up the car and I ran down the mountain for two miles until he picked me up.  All exhaustion from the hike dissolved into the euphoria of running in the remote wilderness, fresh cool mountain air filling my lungs.  One day I will retire and live in the mountains.  They are my happy place.

So there you have it.  An overview of the McNeil Point hike.  And can I just add one thing?  If you're married, date your spouse.  The adventures Curt and I go on carry us through the mundane, nose-to-the-grindstone weeks and make us fall more in love.  Happy hiking.
Selfie game is strong.
#mcneilpoint #mthood #wiildnernessadventures #hikingadventures #dateyourspouse