Friday, December 28, 2018

Connecting in 2019

Happy (almost) New Year!

2019 is sneaking up on me and Christmas vacation has gone fast - too fast. I made it a personal mission to jump-start my 2019 focus a bit early over break and CONNECT with my family and friends and celebrations of the season by disconnecting a bit from the rest of the world. This past week has been wonderful. Our Conkling Christmas Bucket List has pretty much been complete (perhaps a separate post on all that we did as a family of four later).

As I look back at how God worked in our lives and my life personally in 2018, I can't help but think the year is too much of a blur. I felt distracted during most of it, disconnected as my mind went back and forth like a ping-pong ball or - better yet - like a computer with about 20 different windows open and never being able to close them all.

Too often I felt frazzled. Hustling to and from. Much of this comes with our busy season of life as our kidlets are getting older and involved in various activities - and many of these activities include us coaching and/or helping in some capacity. We love it and it's a privilege to spend time with our kids and their friends in this short period of time in our lives.

What I don't love is how I spend my time during the in-betweens. How my supposed "quick" checks of office e-mail or answering questions and requests on social media quickly spiral into hours of checking my own social media accounts and consuming myself with too many others' lives and not my own.

Don't get me wrong. We're to check on others. To love them above ourselves. But I feel like a fake when I try to get as many hearts or likes/loves/sad emojis out of the Instagram and Facebook feed rather than taking extra time to drop a note in the mail, send a text, actually voice call someone (gasp!), or have a genuine face-to-face conversation over coffee.

I'm finding myself to be more and more disconnected in what the world screams is a more-than-ever-connected society. 

I'm taking a step back in 2019 to CONNECT to the people and world around me.

  • It doesn't mean some grandiose full-on detox from total social media, because in my line of work, I can't take a total detox of social media. But it does mean going on a social media diet of sorts (if you want to go along with word play). 
  • It means reading more books - I've got Tim Challies' 2019 reading challenge by my bedside and am excited to tackle a variety of books and get back to our local public library on a more-frequent basis.
  • It means reading the Bible in a different way. I've never read the Bible entirely through and get tired of starting over in hopes that this will be the year on Jan. 1. I'm experimenting with reading passages chronologically and stretching it out over two years so I can also dig into separate studies throughout the year, too. 
  • It means learning a new skill that interests me in my 35-year-old state of life (cross stitch! hand lettering!) or get back to an older skill (handwritten journaling! going beyond the beginning-level book in piano and Hannon scales!).
  • It means taking races and running miles as they come as I continue to coach in some sports and chase my kidlets around in others, plus their non-sport activities. (But let's be real - running and physical fitness keeps me sane, so that won't go away. I just won't always be training for something). 
  • It means going out of my super type-A comfort zone as we have a big year ahead of major home improvement projects, work opportunities, and more. 
I'm thankful for the triumphs and total flops in 2018. For the doors that God slammed shut, lightly closed, but also partially and widely opened. For the people He brought in and out of our lives again and again. For so many wonderful memories, opportunities, adventures that we had as a family of four. 

And ultimately, I'm thankful for His grace upon grace in every moment - and that I should not settle for comfort and complacency. 

Here's to 2019!

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Sunday, October 14, 2018

To Braxton Cade, As You Turn 7

My goodness, Braxton Cade,

What a memorable and action-packed sixth year you've had - and just like that, you turn 7. SEVEN years old! Mama isn't quite sure what to think of her baby being 7 years old. It happened in the blink of an eye.

How on earth will you top this past year? Only God knows and we are excited to see what He has in store for you these next 365 (oops - now 364!) days this coming year. 

This past year, you....

* Fell even more in love with Star Wars, and added MacGyver to the mix of must-watch shows.

* Had the most EPIC piece of mail EVER arrive on our doorstep, from your all-time favorite baseball player (and former Royal) Mike Moustakas himself. Kid, you know how awesome it is to have a signed bat from Moose, but just you wait - when you're all grown up, you're going to realize how even more incredible this gift was (and still is!). 

* Fell in love with baseball, enjoyed another season of basketball, and competed in your first year of swim team and the Salty Pup Triathlon. It's fun to watch your interests develop and blossom. You're definitely one who can be found outdoors hitting and playing imaginary baseball games and seconds later, shooting baskets or kicking and throwing footballs, kicking soccer balls, and then moving to the backyard to jump on the trampoline. We love your active and committed spirit, buddy!

* Started first grade and didn't look back. You love reading, writing, math - really anything that has to do with school (and we can't forget chili day, pig-in-a-blanket - though you take the "blanket" off - and soccer at recess). 

Buddy, your daddy and I love you so much. As I mentioned before, you are committed to everything you do. You're kind, respectful, and compassionate wherever you go. We pray that this coming year, the Lord softens your heart and grows even more your desire to read His Word and ask questions. May you be curious as you dig in, my sweet little man of mine. 

Love you, love you, love you, Brax-man. Happy 7th Birthday!

- Mama

Sunday, August 12, 2018

To My Daughter...As You Turn 9

Our dear Mackenzie Claire,

Today is your last day as an 8-year-old. Tomorrow, you turn 9 years old. NINE! Goodness, gracious - how did that happen? 

My dear, 8 truly has been excellent. 

In the past 365 days, you have lived it to the fullest. You've played a variety of sports (highlights including: first year of volleyball; winning basketball and softball leagues; first "official" timed 5K; plus other running races, the Salty Pup Triathlon, and swim team). You also learned how to tap dance and moved up to the beginning ballet class and was on the cast of the Prairie Nutcracker production. And who can forget about piano? You've enjoyed learning how to play beyond "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and participated in your first piano recital. 

You're reading at a rapid pace, with books found everywhere - under pillows with flashlights, in the van, on the dinner table. You love being in the present. When you're at school, you love your time there. When you're at home, you love being here. I love how you adapt and find things to love, even when it's difficult or not as expected.

Little miss, we have loved seeing you grow this past year. We're overjoyed in God's softening of your heart. You have grown into a girl who loves the Lord. You take pleasure in reading your Bible and taking notes from the lessons and devotions you study. You ask questions - lots of questions - and we pray you keep asking questions and growing deeper and deeper in love with Jesus as you turn 9. 

We love you, Mackie Claire, and pray you use the adventurous spunk that you've been given to His glory. Continue being a light in a world of darkness. Keep being kind even when it's difficult and there's no kindness in return. Lift up your classmates, your friends, and rise above the messiness of this world. 

Here's to a new 365 days to celebrate the life you've been so sweetly given. Happy 9th Birthday, Mackenzie Claire!

Love you, love you, love you, my precious sweet pea. 

- Mama

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Our Zion Adventure - Part 2, The Trails

As stated in the previous Zion post, our family dedicated each day to hiking and biking throughout the park. A mudslide had swept through two weeks before we visited, causing a few of the hiking spots to close down (one spot in particular we were disappointed in missing, but you adjust!). 

Our family's favorite hike was The Watchman Trail, which took us about 3 hours total round-trip. It was our very first hike and experience in Zion and didn't disappoint! In fact, the kidlets loved it so much they chose to do The Watchman a second time on our last day in the park, when they had full pick of the day. 

The Watchman is known for its majestic views at the top, where you can get a great visual of the park's entrance. 

My favorite hike was the famous Narrows. There are various options for all skill levels - adults can do the 16-mile hike at the peak and work their way down to the Narrows, or you can do a smaller 8-mile hike. The family-friendly version is the "Bottom-Up" version, where you take the shuttle to the final park shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinewava, walk the mile-long paved path to the actual Narrows portion, and then go as far into the narrows as you desire. Due to the mudslide and recent rainfall, the 63-degree water ranged in depth from ankle-deep to knee-deep on me (standing at almost 6' tall), and waist-deep on Brax at times. The current was also a challenge - more challening than we had anticipated as that water was moving!

It's hard to estimate how far in to the Narrows we actually went, but Jack and I estimate between 3/4-1 mile in and then had to return. We knew with the kids that 3-3 1/2 hours round-trip was about all they could (and we wanted!) to handle, as we were hand-in-hand with them at all times and our free hand was using a walking stick for stability on the slippery rocks and sand (that weren't visible with the cloudy water).

I wish pictures did more justice, as the entire experience was breathtaking! Had it just been Jack and I, we would have gone in as far as possible, where the Narrows get so narrow (catchy, eh?!) that it almost closes entirely off.

The Narrows is a MUST-do - we're very thankful there were no flash flood warnings or threat of any rain that day. It was also great as it felt cool with the 105-degree predicted high temps of the day.

Another kid favorite was Weeping Rock - a very quick .5-mile hike (very steep incline the entire way up, but worth it!). The landing spot is under Weeping Rock, where the water trickles down and cools everyone off in the intense heat of the summer. We were disappointed we couldn't take on the Hidden Canyon Trail that branches off of this (due to the mudslide), but it's a must-do when we visit again. 

Perhaps the best part of Weeping Rock (besides making it to the top) was heading downhill to the river, where the kidlets loved skipping rocks, finding big walking sticks, and just splashing around.

While the mudslides shut down the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools trails, we were thankful the lower pools trail wasn't affected. It was the perfect afternoon hike distance, as it took about an hour or a little more round-trip. Brax was able to break out his binoculars and had some great views of the various canyons, as the pools really do open up and have a nice look of the river that flows through the park. 

Another highlight was biking throughout Zion. The family-friendly Pa'rus Trail was the designated 3.8-mile paved biking trail that was just enough incline (and decline!) for little legs. We also ventured outside the park and biked around Springdale, taking time to stop at the local coffee shop and pop in to some of the cute shopping places.  

Again, our daily "system" of a long hiking adventure in the morning and shorter distance in the afternoon worked perfectly for all of the ages in our family. The kidlets surprised us in that the longest and most difficult of the trails we did - The Watchman - was their favorite and one they wanted to conquer twice. 

While it was hot (average highs were 105-110 degrees each day!), it was a dry heat and we really didn't feel it until the noon-time hours (when we were in the pool) and our late afternoon hikes. It's a dry heat, so we Kansans who were used to triple digits with humidity felt great as the sweat evaporated off of us! Thanks to our friends, also, for letting us borrow their water packs. This was key in our comfort and staying hydrated in the Utah dry heat and elevation! 

More to come...

Our Zion Adventure - Part I: Why Zion?

We Conklings took on a new adventure for vacation this summer - our first-ever National Park! 

Jack and I had never been to a National Park. He rarely went on vacations growing up; I spent vacations usually traveling to sporting events for either myself or my brother, with a handful of bigger trips to Colorado and DC from time to time. 

We decided early on this year to give our kidlets a grand adventure that perfectly suited our active family (and enjoy some firsts along the way!).

After dear friends of ours successfully traveled to Zion last fall, we decided that was the National Park to start with. We kept it (somewhat) simple and did it the Conkling way (or mama way!) of finding a hotel right outside the park entrance so we could enjoy a comfortable bed and air conditioning at night, with a pool in the afternoons. 

Getting to Zion was also an adventure and filled with firsts. Brax enjoyed his first flight and Mackie enjoyed her first flight she could remember as we flew to Vegas and then drove the 2 1/2 hours to Zion. 

We stayed in Springdale, which is a mile outside Zion National Park. It was a quaint town (will share in future blog posts!) with no chain stores or restaurants. Springdale provided a town shuttle that stopped at nine different locations in the mile stretch, with the final stop taking you at the park's entrance. The park also had its own shuttle system for all of the hiking stops. We drove in on a Saturday night and didn't touch our rental car until we left on Thursday - it was great not having to worry about driving ourselves and very easy to navigate with kids in tow!

Our five nights and four full days of hiking and biking (plus two full days travel) were the perfect amount of time for our kidlets, ages 8 and 6. We found family-friendly hikes every day and learned quickly that our bigger outing was first thing in the morning (when park shuttle lines weren't so long and energy was high), took a mid-day break with a snacky lunch and pool time back at the hotel, and returned in the afternoon for a shorter hiking adventure, only to end our day with either more pool time or a relaxing dinner and UNO in the hotel lobby each night. 

More to come!