Thursday, March 26, 2020

Corona - Journal Style

This is so weird.

When I look around my home and focus on what is going on inside of it everything feels so normal. Eliza is in her Elsa dress, the kids are playing board games, there are couch pillows on the floor and snack wrappers all around the garbage can, my counters are somehow sparkling AND sticky, there are Oreos in my cupboard and berries in my fridge and pictures on my walls, Alexa plays music all day, the heater keeps us warm and the spring breeze keeps us cool, our closets are full of clothes, the laundry keeps on heaping, our dining room fills with food and family every evening, and our beds are warm and cozy at night.

So normal.

I'm trying to keep my head here in this normal because normal is comfortable but once I leave my house the facade of normality cracks. Driving through town feels eerily quiet, parking lots are empty, roads are clear. This morning I passed three signs in less than three minutes: GOLF COURSE CLOSED, SCHOOL CLOSED, LIBRARY CLOSED... the governor of Nevada has ordered it so, along with governors all across the country. All 'non-essential' businesses are to close, in fact, for at least 30 days. All rec centers, all gyms, all pools, all arenas, all theaters, all malls... everything. All extra-curricular activities and sports events are canceled, breaking hearts everywhere (including in this home as McKenzie's high school musical was canceled just two weeks before opening night (so many tears)). Restaurants are closed unless they can provide take-out or drive through options, grocery stores remain open but for reduced hours and they have posted signs reminding you in the lines to PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING with lines of tape on the floor to help you stay at least 6 feet away from the person in front of you. I had never even heard the term 'social distancing' before last week. The NBA was shut down 20 minutes before tip-off when a Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus, followed closely by the closures of college basketball and with it (tears from Miles) March madness. The Dow Jones has fallen 10,000 points (35%) in less than a month. Brian's practice has closed 3 of 5 clinics and has had to reduce its staff by 85% in an attempt to stay afloat. All the casinos on the strip are closed, churches and temples are closed, general conference will be held virtually with all the music pre-recorded, missionaries are being flown home to quarantine themselves by the thousands. The list of countries that have currently closed their borders either fully or partially is much too long for me to list here but includes Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, United States, Japan, Malaysia, Philippians, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and 26 countries in the European Union including Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Denmark, etc. People are hoarding groceries so there is not a bag of rice or flour or a piece of chicken to be found. And don't get me started on the toilet paper shortage. And we are being asked, begged even, to please, please, please stay in our homes unless absolutely necessary.

A new disease, COVID-19, is freaking people out. And maybe rightly so. According to the latest data, there are 81,946 cases in the USA and the number is growing exponentially (worldwide there are 525,300 cases). It is highly contagious and the mortality rate, which is hard to pin down, is causing much alarm.

And it all happened so fast.

Here are some of my own experiences and insights about what has been going on within my own walls and in my own mind:

Week 1: (March 8-14) - The Whiplash Week

On March 8th I was laughing at all the crazies out there who were overreacting to this flu-like disease. By March 14th I was bringing my children in, closing my doors, and crying with my kids over some of their favorite things being canceled.

I'll never forget going grocery shopping on March 10th and feeling the fear and quiet panic in the air of Smiths. Through news articles and social media posts I knew people had been reacting to the first cases of the virus hitting the United States but I still wasn't expecting what I saw, and it caught me off guard. I took the last remaining shopping cart from the corral, the handle literally black with sticky grime, and pushed it to the nearest garbage can with a look of disgust on my face to throw away the disposable plastic gloves that had been discarded into the basket. I then pushed it through the aisles of the store (it wasn't that crowded, where were all the carts?) and gathered my items. I passed people who were wearing masks and gloves, listened to hushed voices, watched people pile their baskets with toilet paper and canned goods, and for the first time I started to wonder if maybe I was missing something. I noted the absolutely ragged look of the grocery stockers and the cashiers and hypothesized that all the carts must be strewn around the parking lot, waiting for one of these exhausted employees to retrieve them.

At one point a young couple passed me, each wearing a black mask, gloves, and scrubs, and though they never made eye contact with me, I could still see the fear and panic in their faces as they walked by, and it struck me as so entirely odd that I found myself slowing my walk to a complete stop with my eyebrows drawn down and my eyes squinted in pure confusion. When I realized what I must look like standing there, I quickly relaxed my face and suddenly wished I'd had a camera following me around to capture my facial expressions through the whole shopping trip because I was all the sudden sure I'd been putting on quite the show. To be fair, I didn't like the sense of panic that was so thick around me and in the media (and I think it was that that I had been resistant to for the preceding days) but for the first time I started to wonder if there was possibly a measure of truth or sound reasoning that I had missed behind the panic.

I wanted to grab a thing of travel-sized hand sanitizer because of the black, grimy cart and because the masked faces were getting into my head, but the shelf stocker literally laughed when I asked him where I could find some as he pointed to their home aisle and said, "I doubt you'll find any, but you can check." He was right. Not only was there no hand sanitizer, there was no hand soap. No Lysol wipes, no Lysol spray, no bleach, and hanging from their empty shelves were printed pieces of paper explaining that all of their sanatizing supplies were out of stock and they did not know when more would be coming in.

Ruffled, I called my parents when I got back to the car to ask if people were just as crazy in Utah as they were here.  I think I was hoping for some reassurance that it wasn't me, it was all of them. And we did laugh, but, something shifted in me that night. Something had been disturbed.

The very next morning I got the first email (of 67 to date!) regarding changes to our normal life schedules. It came from the church to inform us that because of concerns regarding COVID-19, general conference would be held without a congregation, and that new missionaries would not be reporting to the MTC, but would start their missionary training online in their homes.

This seemed excessive with the little amount of knowledge that I had, so I dove into research. And the more I read the more I started to understand. Over the next couple of days as more and more emails rolled in and big things were canceled, I started to understand that the experts were not so much concerned about this virus spreading through our nation, but they were concerned about it spreading through our nation all at once, overwhelming our healthcare facilities and leading to thousands of preventable deaths. I learned about what it means to 'flatten the curve' and about the crucial importance of social distancing. By the time the end of the week rolled around and every single thing on our calendar had been crossed out, I understood. And I was ready to pull my family in and shut my doors to help do my part to flatten the curve.

Week 2: (March 15-21) - The fear and anxiety week.

I was excited at first, actually. School was canceled by Sunday afternoon and I love being with my children, I love the idea of homeschooling, I love the idea of burning the home fires and taking care of my own and swimming in all the folds of extra time.


What a gift, right?! I laughed at funny memes (the meme game is STRONG!) and played with my kids, but at the end of each day I found myself feeling more and more frustrated, stressed, anxious, than the day before.

I went to the grocery store and came away feeling anxiety over the scarcity.

Our pool was in the middle of plumbing and rock work, had been empty for a week, and each day the hours and the sun were bringing us closer to the dried-out plaster cracking (a $16,000 repair). We were already frustrated that they hadn't been working as efficiently as we felt they should have and then, when the chaos hit, things understandably started moving even slower. People weren't showing up to work, those in charge had mountains of personal situations to deal with, and so we tried to be understanding and compassionate - but that hefty price tag loomed stressfully over our heads. We pressed our project manager a little each day to move things at least to the point where we could put water back in the pool. Monday, he said, Monday.

But Monday passed... empty.
Tuesday passed... empty.

Brian's medical practice started imploding. He was put on a small committee to make hard decisions, and for hours and hours and hours he and I talked in circles about ethics and about what his stance should be. We debated the different risks between social health and social economics. Of course, it's easy for me to advise him to shut down the practice in an effort to protect the lives of those at higher risk (the elderly and those with some pre-existing medical conditions), but it's so much harder for him to then turn around and tell his healthy, low-risk employees to go home, without a paycheck, to put themselves at risk of losing their homes or of watching their own families go hungry.

He was on the phone for hours and hours with work after he got home from work, talking numbers, talking ethics, trying desperately to draw a line in the middle of a thick grey, throwing phrases to the financial guys like, "The American Board of Ophthalmology suggests we shut it down," "Are we really that cash-poor?" "Are you sure we can't survive like this longer than that?" "I'm just trying to figure out how to help our employees," "Well, how much could we give them?" And just hours after they'd finally drawn a bleak line, conditions would change and they'd have to draw it all over again, bleaker. One day Brian went into work and someone told him that the bags underneath his eyes had bags. When he told me that, I looked him deeply in the eyes and I saw that they weren't wrong. He looked so heartbreakingly haggard and I just wanted to scoop him up and take him away from all of it.

Wednesday... pool still empty.
Thursday... empty.

St. Patricks Day came along in there somewhere with no preparation or forethought, Brian's birthday felt almost pretend.

Thursday mid-morning I found myself glancing out at the empty pool while I was cutting McKenzie's hair and I felt a deep, tight pain in my chest. It was unlike anything I'd felt before and before long I found myself feeling light-headed and nauseous as well. I finished cutting Kenzie's hair and wondered if, maybe, this was the beginning of an anxiety attack. So I sat down and breathed for a few minutes. When it didn't go away, I slowly and calmly walked to the piano and played the softest songs I knew and slowly started to feel better. I ate some food, cleared my mind of all the things that I wanted to get done that day and asked Kenzie if she wanted to sit on the couch with me to watch America's Got Talent. I soon felt better, but it was a wake-up call to me that I needed to take care of myself. We are dealing with some very real stress around here.

By Friday the governor of Nevada came down strong and said that every non-essential business must be closed, which narrowed the gray area for Brian and his team and the final line was drawn. Now 3 of their 5 clinics have locked their doors and they have sent 85% of their employees home. He is only working 1 or 2 days a week for 'essential' patients, and we are not sure when we'll see the next paycheck. Things feel better now that the decision has been made, still uncomfortable to be sure, but better, and he says his practice can maintain this for three to four months before they're in trouble.

I'm really not very savvy about economics, but this has really opened my eyes to how incredibly fast things can change. This week we'll start dipping into our emergency savings, whereas three weeks ago we felt stable enough to dig a giant pit in our backyard to start extending our pool. Bad timing. We're stressed, of course, but I feel grateful because I do see how much worse this would be if we didn't have that savings and truly felt the crushing weight of what it's like to be 'in trouble'. There are so many people in that place right now, so many of the employees in Brian's clinic that are now out of work, it makes my stomach feel So. Tight.

Friday... empty.
Saturday... empty.
Sunday... empty.

By the end of the week, I realized that another large piece of my stress was coming from my desire to do something helpful and productive through all this time I'd been gifted. There are so many wonderful things going up on social media. So many inspiring messages of hope. So many people sharing their talents, so much humor in videos and memes. So much good. So many stories of friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors, and I was doing none of that. People were relishing in all the extra time they had on their hands, and they were using it to spread good.

Where was I? Where was my platter of good to offer?

I had had such high hopes at the beginning of the week that this was going to be so much fun and that we were going to do all the home things, make movies and record songs and play every board game in our entire house, put together puzzles while having enlightening and stimulating conversations, but here at the end of the first week I felt I'd not only failed in my attempts to spread goodness... I'd been a little dark rain cloud of stress instead.

And I was so disappointed in myself.

Saturday night after we'd all watched a family movie, the rest of my family went upstairs to bed and I stayed downstairs. It wasn't long before the tears started, and they didn't stop for more than two hours. I cried and prayed and cried and prayed, for comfort, for peace, for clarity, and finally fell asleep.

Week 3: (March 22 - now) - The acceptance and understanding week.

Monday... pool finally being filled.

Since that night on my knees I've done a lot of thinking and a lot of trying to listen for the Spirit. I want to understand on a more conscious level why this has felt especially hard for me, and the most helpful realization came while I was moving around in circles from one child to the next to the next, helping with schoolwork and sibling fights and toddler potty times, making lunch for 7, answering texts, moving laundry, asking kids to please stop yelling...

And it hit. So much of what people are talking about right now focuses on this 'gift of time' that we've been given, and so much of what is going on, un-managed, in my own mind is this search for the extra time I feel I've been promised, this search for the 'slowing down' of life that everyone else is posting about. How lovely that sounds!

But what I realized early this week is that, for me (and I imagine for most moms in my situation), the opposite is actually what's true. Simply having a full range of children from toddlers to teens in my home at all times is bound to feel much more fast paced than our normal routines.

I thrive better as a one-on-one mom, and before now I never realized how much I have structured my life around that self-awareness. I drive kids to their lessons and practices alone, I take one kid to the grocery store at a time, my kids come home from school in phases, allowing me to take care of the ones needs before the others get home, etc, but now they're all around me all the time and my brain feels much more chaotic.

It felt amazing to actually see the paradox in my brain and to give myself permission to experience a different reality than what the rest of the world is posting online. I love to do puzzles, to learn a new song on the piano, to read that book I've always meant to read, to spend extra time with my kids, but honestly those things fit way better into my normal life than they do into this one. It was powerful for me to see that it's my 'normal' life that feels full of time, slower-paced, and full of meaningful interactions with my kids. And that's so beautiful to me!

This week so far has been wonderful. I dropped all of my expectations of lifting the world and am focusing on my family. I am strengthening my trust in Heavenly Father that all will work out. I am happy to realize that this is a time of work for me, not rest, and I feel so grateful to have a house full of people to work for. And interlaced with the tantrums and eye-rolls and fights about screen time and school work, we are playing games, doing karaoke, having dance parties, and watching funny movies.

My family is my favorite.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Hawaii - 4 of 4

Thursday was r.e.l.a.x. day. I walked around for a little while taking pictures of all the things that struck me as beautiful while Brian finished his morning in the conference.

And when he had finished, we decided to drive out to a nameless (to us) beach we had passed on our way out to somewhere. The sand was hard and packed as we turned off the paved road, but as we got closer to the shoreline the sand became softer and deeper. A big part of me wanted to take the Jeep all the way out to the water and drive along in the sand like some of the other trucks were doing (it seemed adventurous), but it had only been two days since I'd seen a group of men working to dig a small pick-up out of a sand-rut, and the image of their frustration and hard work kept floating up to the top of my consciousness. We decided against pushing the Jeep any further and walked the rest of the way. We put our towels out on the sand and talked and read and talked and read and talked and read the afternoon away.

But I kept seeing trucks drive by us, tires handling the sand without any trouble at all, and after a couple hours of watching and thinking I decided to give it a try. If for nothing more than a fun picture. Brian was in, too, so I stayed out on the beach and set up my position so I could get a good shot while Brian went around the corner to get the Jeep. And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Until Brian ran back around the corner on foot, waving his arms in the air and shaking his head back and forth. Once he caught my eye, he put his hands down on his knees and I could tell from his dejected stance that the Jeep was stuck.

"It doesn't have 4 wheel drive, and I can't get it out!" he said to me.
"What? It doesn't have 4 wheel drive? That seems ridiculous!" I retorted. A Jeep without 4W drive was even a thing? I suddenly felt very misled by all the Jeep commercials I had seen in the past where Jeeps were scaling mountains and powering through streams. How could it not have 4W drive? And what was worse, I noted as I saw the pattern of the sand around the sunk tires, ours seemed to be only rear wheel drive.

So I started digging. And Brian followed. We dug and dug and dug and tried and tried again, but we were very stuck.  We attracted the help of a passer-by who pushed just as hard as Brian, but still the tires spun without progress. So I started tromping through the bushes to find some sticks or branches or rocks, or something that our tires could grab hold of (hadn't I seen that in the movies somewhere?), and started to build a little pathway of sticks for the back left tire. When the men saw me they started making one for the right tire, too.

That did the trick and we were eventually on our way with sand stuck underneath every single fingernail and dirty dust up to our knees and elbows. We didn't make it out onto the sandy beach for that picture, and I realized with regret as we drove away that I hadn't stopped to take even one picture through the whole ordeal. But I wanted something to remember our lame, rear-wheel drive Jeep so snapped this picture as we drove down the road.

Later the next day, I hopped into the drivers seat and noticed another lever situated underneath the steering wheel down and to the right and, upon further investigation, saw that it was clearly marked: 


I felt like the wife in that scene in Mrs. Doubtfire. "The whole time? The whole TIME? *through clenched teeth* THEWHOLETIME?" Turns out the Jeep wasn't lame after all, and it was probably laughing to itself while we were on our hands and knees digging it out of the sand.

After that adventure, we took a drive up Waimea canyon.

Man that thing is gorgeous. Grand Canyon meets green.

Up and up we climbed in the Jeep, higher and higher, and every time we got out to take in another scenic view the air on our skin would feel cooler and cooler and cooler.

Until we reached the end of the drive, 5100 ft higher than our starting point, and I fully wished I had brought a jacket. But not even the cool air could keep me away from climbing the last few feet up into the sky to take in the view.

It might not seem like much, but take another look. We are literally standing above clouds, staring straight into the dense mists that make this area one of the wettest places on earth. In front of us are sheer cliffs that drop almost back to sea level into the canyon, and seeing it filled with clouds was quite amazing and surreal. It felt like we were literally at the edge of the earth.

Brian kept staring over the edge of the cliff with his hands out to his sides saying, "Are you kidding me?" It was that good.

We almost couldn't even speak to each other because of how surreal the whole thing felt. If only you could get a sense of the thousands of feet of air that dropped off of that cliff and down into that cloud.

Friday was even more laid back. I watched the chickens and roosters strut along the resort pool area.

And then when Brian finished up with his conferences we decided to go for a walk along the beach. Brian hadn't been along the beach to the north of our resort, so we pointed our feet in that direction (him in his water shoes and me barefoot since the ocean carried off my water shoes a couple of days before). We found all sorts of treasure spots... giant fallen trees that had been carried through the ocean and pushed up onto the sand, slick with ocean water and covered in moss. Several fishermen with leather-tan skin setting up their poles in the sand, and one in snorkeling gear holding a spear in the water. Barriers of lava rock that we scaled and crossed. And this place:

It felt magical and I wished my bare feet would have allowed for me to follow him out there. But I'm glad I stayed behind to snap a couple of pictures instead.

We passed a resort area with a water just perfect for swimming, so we jumped into the ocean and watched the colorful fish swimming around our feet and we climbed up onto the lava rocks that held the open ocean away and felt the spray of the waves wash over our faces. We hadn't brought towels along our walk, but it was comfortable enough to air-dry as we continued on.

We hadn't planned for such a long walk, and eventually we got hungry and knew we needed to reapply some sunscreen. But it was a little tricky because we were almost 4 miles away from our resort by this time and Street Burger wouldn't feed me without shoes. So Brian happily ran an extra mile and a half round trip to buy some cheap flips (and sunscreen) at the nearest grocery store while I sat on the grass with the chickens waiting for his return.

The burgers were worth the extra hassle.

By Friday night we were both ready to go home. The beauty of Hawaii had filled me. We saw so much life, so much movement, felt so much adventure, and so much peace. I always love being a part of it. But it can't compare with our children, and we missed them.

But we'll be back. Maybe one of the most beautiful truths is that the beauty of the islands exist every day. So I will carry this full heart back and use it while I walk through my desert life, and then when it's all used up I'll hop back on a plane to fill it again. Every day, every hour, every minute, wave after wave breaks along the shoreline, rain falls in the forests, waterfalls drop down mountains, seagulls and pelicans dive for fish, whales spout, dolphins jump, and sand pulls out from under feet. Somehow just knowing that is comforting. It's always there, and always ready for me to visit and to fill my heart with it's magic again.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hawaii - 3 of 4

Wednesday was ATV day. After sitting and listening to several pages worth of instructions (including do NOT swerve off the road if a chicken or a wild pig runs in front of you because there are many of them and only one of you), we were all suited up and ready to ride.

We rode right through the center of Kauai and, man, was it beautiful.

After traveling along for a while (and eating everyone else's dust because we somehow got in the back of the line), we came to a tunnel that was, in fact, blasted through the rim of the volcano that formed Kauai. I mean, I know volcanoes are a thing, and I know they're real, but there was something about physically going through the rim of one and ending up on the inside of it that felt completely awesome. I can only imagine what it would have felt like if the island was still sitting on the hot spot. Maybe that wouldn't feel so awesome, actually. That might just feel scary.

Our tour guides snapped lots of pictures along our tour and sent them all to us - which was wonderful because they knew the best spots. So you'll see their stamp in the corners of their pictures. 

And once we were inside the rim, in the center of the volcano, the view was so inspiring. (They took this next picture, too, and I tried to take the stamp out of the corner because it distracted from the beauty of it, but I wasn't invested enough to do it right, if you're wondering what's up with the funny shadows over there, ha). 

And here we are, coming around that corner!

We stopped here and had a little trivia moment when our tour guides asked 'how many movies and television shows can you name that were filmed in this spot?' Out of 72 (SEVENTY TWO!) we were able to get about 11 as a collective group. I was not helpful in this game after the obvious Jurassic Park was named.

Our tour guides were funny and pulled out a little toy dinosaur to stick in the frame as they took this picture. That dinosaur is probably about 5 inches tall in real life, but they held it up to the camera super close and told us to look to the right and act scared.

Later we toured a bunker built right into the mountain side that was used in World War II. It was humbling to walk around in the dark and think about the many men that had to live inside that thing while they fought for us.

Further along the trail we came across this beautiful waterfall where we stopped and had snacks.

One of our tour guides ran up the waterfall and cannon balled right off of it into the pool below. The day was not what I would call hot, and the water was definitely what I would call freezing, so there wasn't a chance that I was getting in there.

We took another picture by the side of the falls and, thankfully, captured the fact that I was unknowingly sporting an absolutely fantastic unibrow on my dusty face.

Brian jumped in next. And then the peer pressure started to mount. You guys, you know how much I hate cold water, right? But I JUMPED IN!!!

I totally did. Up onto the rock I climbed with my GoPro in hand (to document such a momentous occasion for my posterity, of course), and then down into the water. No pictures, sadly, but the video is awesome.

After we dried off a bit, we put our dusty clothes back on and headed back the way we came.

And, thankfully, we didn't run over any chickens.

When we got back to our Jeep we decided we wanted to drive to my favorite beach, Polihale. It is majestic and beautiful with rough waters and gorgeous beaches right up next to the west side of the Napali Coast. But getting there is no small task and it is the sole reason we rented a Jeep for the week. It takes 30 minutes to travel a 5 mile, poorly maintained dirt road that dumps you onto this beach (and then takes 30 minutes to get back out again). It feels like you're on an amusement park ride the whole 30 minutes as your seat belt locks you into position with every lurch and bump. Each car we passed along that road held laughing people, and we were laughing, too, at the sheer craziness of driving along such a road. And it's part of the reason why I love this beach so much.

It offers incredible views of the sunset and our plan was to sit on our towels, read our books, and wait for the sun to go down. We couldn't bring ourselves to sit for the first long while, though. It was to amazing to stand close to the water and see the rough, tall waves. It doesn't look that impressive in this next photo, but if you count, you can see 5 rows of waves all coming in at once.

There was also some kind of crazy rip current about 20 yards out from the surf that moved through the water almost parallel to the beach and was only really detectable when a seemingly random 'chosen' wave would break and start rolling towards the shore, cross its path, and then we'd see a spray of water shoot up from the rolling wave on our right and zip across the ocean until it disappeared on our left. I've never seen anything like it. It was amazing. Also a little bit scary and I stayed far away from the breaking waves. Mostly, I guess... they were big and fairly unpredictable so I could stand with my feet completely dry and then have my thighs wet when the next wave rolled in. I only made that mistake a couple of times.

Eventually we pulled our eyes away from the water and sat on our towels to soak up the last few rays of the setting sun. We made sure to sit right at the base of the sand dunes (you can see how far away they were from the surf in the picture above) to make sure we were in the clear and pulled out our books. I took my water shoes off, set them at my side, rested on my backpack, and got lost in my book. 20 minutes later Brian yelled, "it's coming!" and I looked up to see the giant wave rushing right at us. I jumped up just as the wave crashed into us, turned around in time to see Brian's phone for the split second before the wave covered it, plunged both of my hands into the water (book still in hand) and b.a.r.e.l.y grabbed his phone as it was being pulled with force back down the steep hill towards the ocean.

Phone saved. Book and towels and clothes all soaked. Water shoes all the way gone forever.

I was a little big grumpy after that (I liked those water shoes and I like being warm and dry), but it's still my favorite beach.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hawaii - 2 of 4

Monday came along and Brian went to his conferences in the morning, which left me with a gorgeous beach, a great book, two strong legs, headphones, podcasts, scriptures, Marco Polos, a comfy sleep-in-till-9am bed and far too little time to do it all. Traveling along with Brian for his conferences is one of my very favorite things because I get the perfect balance of alone time and Brian time. And Hawaii does it right because they schedule all the meetings in the morning and then break right before lunch, leaving the whole rest of the day to play.

For lunch, we discovered Coconut's Fish Cafe which was so incredibly delicious and light that we ate there two more times through the week as well.

After Coconuts, we drove up to the Northern side of the island to hike down the the Queens Bath. This, I am not even exaggerating, is probably my very favorite place on the planet of all the places I've been. Everything from the muddy, root-filled, treacherous hike:

To the incredible power of the ocean waves smashing and engulfing and pulling at the rocks.

Honestly, to appreciate the picture above I really needed to get a reference picture that showed the other extreme when, seconds after this moment, the ocean level in between those rocks would drop 20 feet as all that water would be sucked out to join in the next crashing wave. Watching the ocean level rise and fall to that extreme was awe inspiring and made my stomach flip like I was riding a roller coaster every single time.

This sign at the base of the hike as we approached the ocean did not surprise me one bit. It shows 29 tally marks for Queens Bath drownings and is nailed to the rock to serve as a warning that the ocean in this area is not to be underestimated.

I stayed far away from any dangerous edges.

The little pool behind us in the picture up there is the Queens Bath itself, and last time we visited here two years ago we all jumped in and felt the occasional spray from the waves behind us. This time it looked far too dangerous. The wave spraying up over the rock behind Brian's head was just the beginning of that spray, and when the wave was finished hitting it would cover the entire area beneath us in a thick layer of foam.

It was incredible.

It was also rainy. But we didn't care and we sat on those lava rocks and watched the water for almost two hours with all sorts of exclamations of surprise and awe as wave after wave after wave astonished us with it's power.

Like I said before, it's my favorite place on the planet so far. I find it more beautiful and awe-inspiring than any other place I've ever seen.

And it's all so very natural. Which I love. Don't get me wrong, I have come to appreciate the art of landscaping and of creating my own beautiful spaces, but when a wild and untamed place is so beautiful that a human hand would only make it less so, well, that, in my opinion, is truly as beautiful as it gets.

That night as we were driving back to the resort, we stopped at this look out point to watch the sunset on top of our Jeep.

But the clouds blocked any real sunset or color. Still, I got to sit on top of a Jeep and that was fun.

The next day, Tuesday (after another morning of beautiful relaxation on my part), we rented bikes and biked all up and down the coastline.

Bikes are another one of my favorites. I wouldn't consider myself a fast or gifted cycler, but I do love it. I love the way the wind feels on my face, and I love how the muscles feel in my legs - they never feel stronger than they do when I'm on a bike. I've worn a bicycle necklace almost every day for more than two years - not because I consider myself a cyclist, but because my fingers just keep choosing it every morning, and often throughout a day I'll find myself holding that bicycle charm and sliding it back and forth on its chain, thinking of riding.

So riding along the beach? Yes please, please, please.

At the end of the paved bike path, we couldn't help but notice a narrow dirt trail that continued on through tall grasses. The urge to continue along that path was strong, even though it was pretty clear that the bikes we were on were not equipped for that kind of a trail. The trail itself was not more than 18 inches across (sometimes 12) and flanked on both sides by thick, dense grasses that rose 7 or 8 feet off the ground.

It was too tempting. We decided to do it, and we coaxed our bikes along the beaten path. We came across several rocks and even a small stream:

But we kept going... and going... and going... breaking through overgrown brush that scratched our legs and swatting away branches that brushed our faces and occasionally coming into a clearing that made us pause and wish to freeze time for a minute.

It was particularly challenging for me because I didn't have breaks that worked very well. The path was too narrow for me to walk alongside my bike, or to even put my feet down on either side of it (plus my seat was a little too tall for that). The back break was completely worthless, leaving the front brake as my only means of stopping or slowing down. I barely noticed the problem while we were on the flat, paved trail, but now that we were adventuring downhill into the forest it was a bit more challenging whenever I needed to stop suddenly (rock in the path! giant root in the path! wet leaves ahead!), and each time I was thrown from my seat I was sure I was sailing all the way over my handlebars. Luckily, I was never thrown quite that far, and I always managed to land on my feet. But I always knew I was one hard rock away from rolling down the rest of the mountain.

We had taken our books and a towel or two along with us on our journey and ended up finding a beautiful secluded beach with just enough sand, and lots and lots of lava rocks, and gentle waves, and after exploring for a few minutes we decided we'd like to rest and read and soak in some of the sunshine. But as we looked closer for a place to put down our towels we noticed that the beach was not quite as secluded as we thought it was... there were thousands and thousands of red ants swarming over the sand everywhere we looked. So we hopped back on our bikes and continued along our trail. Eventually the trail ended, so we stashed our bikes next to a big boulder and continued along on foot.

Right out to the ocean.

It was a tiny secluded patch of rock, also overrun by red ants (but they didn't seem to bite, so... *shrug*). We sat and talked all about favorite colors and pointed animatedly when they showed up in the breaking and crashing waves. It's amazing how many times the colors change in a wave as it progresses. We saw everything from the softest turquoise to the deepest navy and so many different levels of opacity.

Then we explored the oddest erosion patterns.

It was another great day!