golden child

Does anyone still do golden birthdays these days? Are any of you old enough to know what that means? I was sitting here thinking back to when I turned 17 on that one fine (and I’m sure, cold) January 17th back in … eh, it doesn’t matter the year. Because I’m too old to remember. But doggoneit, we just had a golden day around here and it was for my one and only golden child.

I was so super proud of myself this year because at least three weeks in advance of Connor’s birthday I had a cake ordered, gold-colored candles, a gold-flanked 14th birthday banner and a shirt I’ve wanted to order for years from Amazon in-hand. I’ve not ordered it previously because it isn’t on Prime (which is so dumb!) but it made sense for the golden theme. I mean, you only turn 14 on the 14th one.time. It might be totally lame but I love it; it says, ‘February 2006 – Limited Edition – 14 Years of Being Awesome’. And yes, I made sure he wore that sucker to school. But my hunch is no one saw it because the child lives in a hoodie. It’s fine.

We also had our ducks in a row a couple weeks prior about our plans because Connor’s birthday happens to fall on the highly-anticipated love fest that is Valentine’s Day so instead of trying to do dinner out, he chose B.C. Pizza, cake and ice cream in with the fam bam. Honestly, it’s one of the many reasons I think the world of this child. He’s not terribly high-maintenance (maybe just thank God in general for boys) and he is ridiculously happy to eat gluten free bacon and cheese-laden bread. Also, a huge shout-out to Connie’s Cakes in Grand Rapids. They delivered what I heard was ‘the best cake I’ve ever eaten in my life.’ So, good job on that, too.

So, while it was a golden birthday, I really mean it when I say this child is golden. Maybe it’s supposed to be man child now. I don’t know when they make the official switch but I do know that we talk more about him being a man (ahem) than we talk about him being a child. And I’ve watched him change so much again just from a year go, deep voice aside.

I thought I’d put a quick list of ‘things I never want to forget about Connor at 14’ together so I can refer back when I’m much older, like 41.

  • This was the year Connor fell in love with golf. He spent much of his summer days at a few different courses with my parents and has decided he will probably be playing that instead of baseball (yes, I die) when he gets into high school. Side note that my parents are the greatest grandparents on the planet
  • This was the year Connor got sick. And it sucked and we’ve talked about it. But, it was also when he showed amazing resilience, courage and commitment when it came to his school work. He was nominated for Student of the Month when he missed the most school he’s ever missed (16 days).
  • Speaking of school, the kid is a straight-A student. And it’s effortless for him. That was never the case (still isn’t) for me, to be clear.
  • He is also super diligent about getting his homework done. That, or he is doing the gchat thing with a few ladies that make his little face grin in a way that frightens me. I’ve seen the grin. I know the grin.
  • We also likely know by now Connor is a sports fanatic (FAN-A-TIC). He has dreams of being a commentator of some kind and I have no doubt he can do it if he so desires. I hear there is a good school for that in Oregon. *wink*
  • … which means he is obsessed with football and basketball. Well, those are the two he is obsessed with anyway. And it also means that he plays on fantasy leagues. Not just one. Multiple. He played in a league with some guys from church and it was literally the sweetest thing ever because those adult (I mean, are they really though?) men welcomed him into their little clique and then gave him awards at the end of the season. More than that, they just loved on him and it always warms this mama’s heart to see it.
  • In the world of outdoor sports, Connor has shown crazy promise fishing as well as now, hunting. We went camping for a bit last summer and he spent H-O-U-R-S fishing. Sometimes, I had to beg him to come to the camper to eat dinner. That’s not like him. He also snagged his first deer this past gun season. I mean, it was his first time out. And, the second time (aside from sighting it in) that he shot his gun. I actually cried watching the whole scene. It might have been because he was gutting a poor, defenseless deer as well. I can’t be sure. But, it was a beautiful buck and I’ll be honest that I was actually crying because his brother-in-law (my hero) took him out and showed him all the ropes and celebrated alongside him. I’m serious. I’ve never felt more thankful and appreciative for the man my sister sucked into this chaos. It was also sweet because his dad came to see. We were both so excited for Connor.
  • He grew and he grew, too. CJ is now hovering just over 5’10” which is officially the height that makes it too hard to let go of him sometimes. He just needs a little more meat on his bones and then he’ll be my perfect snuggly companion.
  • Nearly everyone that I encounter who has spent time with CJ tells me what an amazing young man he is and how much they just love him. I pray that is always the case despite his age

Connor’s 14th made for a good sampling of who he is right now. He had a great day at school (which he said was easy), a dance after (to which he said he didn’t dance with anyone … can we just all pause and say a big ‘hallelujah’ about that?), a shower (in which he takes too freaking long), his favorite meal (that he can devour in three minutes-ish), gift-opening with the fam (where I had no choice but to get him a membership to the Dollar Shave Club – save me) and a basketball game that he forgot to tell me about until ten minutes before he wanted to leave (yep, that’s 14).

I love him. He is my hero. He makes me more proud than I ever could have imagined he would (even when he does act like a teenager, because he does!). And I just know that God has so much more for ahead for my golden man child.

new year, who dis?

Oh gosh. It’s official. I’ve reached that point in life where I’m no longer allowed to say the stuff the cool kids are. Or have I?

Regardless of your perspective, here we are at the onset of what many are considering the year of clarity. Or, at least better vision? It’s 2020, people! We shall see!

She’s going down quick, Jim.

Here’s what I can tell you with no lack of clarity (i’m not even sorry for that one). The new year is upon us as is the new decade as is … 40 years for me on this planet. Now, I know the math doesn’t add up because I’ve been holding steady at 28 for several years now but I’m just going to boldly proclaim that I. AM. 40. And I’m friggin’ excited about it! How many other people get to jump right from their 20’s – the decade of growth and change and sheer naïveté about life – into their 40’s – the new 30’s?! This girl. That’s who.

It may also be possible that I want to forget my 30’s. But let’s not talk about that. Cool? Cool.

What I’ve decided is to stop viewing this imaginary line that stares me in the face whispering, ‘hey, don’t you even think for one second about crossing,’ and instead boldly step into some life I’ve not yet lived. Because what else is this life for? Let’s do some living, shall we?

With that, I opted to go somewhere I hadn’t yet been for my birthday. Connor had a youth group retreat and I literally had these few questions for myself to answer:

  1. Where have I not yet been that I’d like to go?
  2. What could I feasibly see and appreciate in under 48 hours?
  3. Where does Grand Rapids fly direct?

And that settled it. I booked a flight to Phoenix in the hopes of setting my sights on the Grand Canyon.

Now I know that many would have picked a warmer destination in January but why get warm for less than 48 hours? It’s a tease. And I’m also lily white. It wouldn’t have made sense.

I also just really wanted to get my camera out to take photos of something other than people. Don’t get me wrong. I adore taking portraits but there’s just something about the way God’s painted this world that just speaks right into my soul. I’ll also note that before I share what I captured that I don’t feel like I did this scenery justice. Not even for one second. But I enjoyed almost every moment of this 48-hour adventure with every ounce of my being. And I hope that at least a little of what I can share will make you wonder about an adventure of your own. Just look up direct flights. It’ll do wonders.

Day 1

GRR > AZA

I actually woke up at 2:30 a.m. (because who actually can sleep before a flight? and because I won’t admit how close that is to standard wake-up.) and the boyfriend (it’s my truck) and I headed out to jump on to our 6:30 a.m. flight. What’s cool about heading out west is that you get there just two hours after you leave home even though the flight is four hours long. Praise GOD for window seats and my level of exhaustion that let me doze the good majority of the flight.

When we landed, we deplaned outside (which is awesome in January, am I right?) and i headed off to Hertz to pick up my ride. Well, happy birthday to me because I was upgraded to a small Cadillac SUV (and yes, the boyfriend was jealous). But seriously? Can we just talk about all the nonsensical gadgets on new vehicles? I miss my key. And my turn dial radio. #oldladystatus

Anyway, the first stop that a good friend had referred me to was just over two hours north. So off we went … after I figured out how to put the car in drive.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I love detours. So, when I should have taken a right leaving the castle, I saw a sign for Fort Verde so I turned left instead. I was on a bit of a clock but it wasn’t far and well, it sounded neat. This detour would lead me to a sweet little historic park that cost me $7 to walk through for five minutes, HOWEVER, the nice park ranger people told me about the best spot to visit at the Grand Canyon and the best way to get up there so I now LOVE.THOSE.PEOPLE.

And, the park had a couple of cool views, too.

On the way back towards where I should have headed, I caught a glimpse of Montezuma from the road. So I stopped. The good news is that there are multiple places to pull off and … that it was a rental. Curb checks in abundance (that’s for you, dad).

The route north took me through Flagstaff (so cute) and off of the main highway (read: speed. i am speed). I stumbled upon this most adorable chapel and of course the only human in the world it made me think of was my Grandpa Lowman. He would have adored that little chapel. It gave me a chance to pull over and put some layers on and also to try and break in. Which you can’t. But it was still worth it! And when I drove away I took a peek behind me and smiled so big at the mountains in the background. I also heard once that it wasn’t real if you don’t stand in the middle of the road and take a photo. So I did that, too.


I drove through Williams and then up into Grand Canyon National Park. It was about 4:00 p.m. so I knew I didn’t have a ton of time (hello, detours) but my entire goal was to catch the sunset. Now, the good people at Fort Verde told me that I’d have to Google the point before arriving because service is poor and it’s not well-marked. They were right. And I’m glad I listened. But first I turned on to the road headed towards my tiny parking area and saw it … the Grand Canyon. And holy crap. I lost my breath. And then I cried. It was the.best. birthday gift (to myself). But now was not the time to stop! I had a point to get to. And it’s name was Shoshone.

I arrived and parked and was so jacked that I grabbed my camera, my extra backpack and my phone. That meant I left my flashlight, my compass, my portable charger and pretty much all good sense in the car. I didn’t remember that until I reached the point though so … it’s all good. Right?

I can’t really talk about how I felt up there. I’ve never felt further from humanity than I did in that moment and at the same time, I’ve never felt less alone. There were moments I could hear the wind and maybe a rabid animal or two (mom, that was for you. and i’m kidding) but otherwise, it was absolutely silent. It definitely was cold but after the near mile hike up there, I was just fine. And honestly, I had to be on my game because being solo that close to the edge of a cliff will definitely keep you on your toes. And then when your phone dies? Yep, even more aware. So this is the part where I felt like my photos took a nose dive but there are reasons! Like I said, I couldn’t have done it justice if I tried but I also didn’t want to drop my camera or myself. Regardless, I sat up there for about 45 minutes. Knowing my phone was dead and there would literally be no way for anyone to find me should an animal eat me, I decided to head back before the sun formally set. I will never forget (surviving) Shoshone Point.

Since the sun hadn’t set all the way and I needed a Starbucks, I headed back towards the main entrance. At that point, the crowd of people had dissipated and it was just me and some obnoxious teenagers (there’s that old lady coming through!). At this point, it was noticeably cooler and darker but I knew this would be my last view of the Grand Canyon because I had a full Saturday planned. Was I there as long as I’d hoped? No way. Was it enough to be what I’d hoped for? Without a doubt.

I actually had another two-hour drive left to get to my Airbnb for the night, thus the Starbucks. The best part was the drive. I saw probably 25 cars (or whatever, you get me). I stopped once because it was so, so dark and I’ve heard that many parts of AZ are zero light pollution. I’m here to tell you that is a very real thing. The sky had more stars than I ever knew existed. And then I got scared because it was so dark and so quiet and I knew my mom would be mad. So I kept trekking. I arrived to my place at about 9:30 and headed for bed not long after because I had planned on a sunrise stop near there. Because why would I not punish my old and feeble body with an early wake-up?!

Day 2

Page, AZ > Sedona, AZ

And that was worth it, too. So here again I felt like I could not capture what I was seeing. Maybe I should buy that special and expensive lens I would have needed? Or maybe … I’ll just remember it in my mind and you can appreciate the cropped photos. That is a much more feasible option. Either way, it was awesome. And the local gal that was there as early as I was gave me the good idea to go outside the fence and in her words, ‘travel at my own risk.’ So I did just that. It wasn’t as frightening as Shoshone but I definitely paid attention to my steps (for my mom).

The bummer about my trip north was that the canyon I’d hoped to see that would be less people-y apparently started selling guided tours last year sometime and I missed that little nugget so that was my one adventure fail but my local friend also told me about visiting the dam just up the road. So, before I headed back south, I detoured up there. Honestly? The dam itself felt kind of ‘meh’ to me but the walk down was so cool. I felt like a real hiker person! And a girlfriend at work totally gave me her hiking shoes so I even looked official. And this time, I brought the right gear (just for you, mom).

I’d heard a lot about Sedona so that was going to be the last area of the grand 48-hour tour. The drive from Page to Sedona was ridiculous. Like, my favorite part of Arizona is that everyone drives a Toyota (#4runner4life) and super fast (almost always 75mph speed limit). These are my kind of people. There are also so many pop-up communities on the side of the highway (read: tiny houses in abundance). On the way, I had to make a couple of roadside stops and a quick hike around this wicked cool trail surrounded by lava, pines and trees shaped much like I feel … kinda bent and saggy.

When I got on the drive towards Sedona, I stopped at Slide Rock State Park. The river that runs through it was as cold as locals suggested and I actually saw some young (and I’d have to imagine very dumb) kids swimming. I’m kidding. They weren’t that young.

The AirBNB I booked near Sedona required me to meet the host in person. That was … different. I wondered when I booked it, honestly, if it was a fit for me but I knew again that my time there would be short and I really liked the bed in the photo. Hey, I’m not terribly difficult to please. She also had a wicked beautiful view out her front porch. She also may have been watching Jeopardy as I was trying to retire for the night, had a rule about flushing before 5 a.m. and a beeping sound that meant my early wake-up became about two hours earlier because I literally couldn’t sleep. But hey, the bed was everything I hoped it would be. So we met and she gave me some Lindor truffles and I took off again for the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout. That? Was incredible. And totally worth the $3 to the guy listening to 60’s rock far too loudly.

I’ll be honest. The hike at the lookout made me a bit late for the sunset I was craving but I headed towards the crossing I was planning to visit anyway. There were about 15 pregnant woman getting maternity photos taken so I found a quiet spot to snag a couple pics and then headed back towards Sedona because as I told Airbnb lady, all I wanted was a salad I could make myself. And man, did Whole Foods deliver! I’m seriously that high maintenance. It was honestly the first time I’d stopped for real food. Otherwise, I’d packed astronaut food in my bag so I didn’t have to plan for stops. Also, thank goodness I didn’t do restaurants because apparently it was MLK day weekend and literally everyone came to Arizona! I also love hiking because everyone else loves downtown Sedona. Birthday adventure win.

Day 3

Sedona, AZ > Phoenix, AZ > GRR

The only real bummer about the trip besides a lack of sleep and a hairdryer that second night was a delayed flight home. And finding out when I had been on the road for about 30 minutes which meant I was not about to turn around to head back and I’d have a lot more time at the airport. Apparently … Grand Rapids got all kinds of ‘weather’ and the plane was frozen to the ground. That’s at least what the counter agent shared when I cried, ‘whyyyyyyy?’ to her. Honestly, it was not a bad airport to wait around at. It’s about as big as Kalamazoo and they have outdoor seating. And it was nearing 60 degrees when I left. No worries, though. I landed (what felt like) twelve hours later and was thankful for the layers I took with me. See? This is why you do not find warm places for 48 hours lest you forget!

The very best part about the trip was coming home to a really happy kid who had just spent 48 hours with his youth group enjoying the arctic tundra of Big Rapids. He was good. I was good. Life. Was good.

Here’s to 40 (or whatever age you happen to find yourself this year). To stepping boldly over that imaginary line. Just don’t step over the edge. There’s no coming back from that.

And just for giggles, here’s a rough map reflecting my trip. I’m just thankful for unlimited mileage.

the breaking

Prior to this <airquotes>spring</airquotes>, I would have told you I lived in West Michigan. Lately, I’d have to say it’s up for debate as there is a bit of a Seattle-y feel; what with our consistently overcast skies and 20-90% chances for precipitation on any given day. And honestly? I’m not even complaining.

But the farmers are.

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