¡Cozumél!

Acabamos de regresar de Cozumél anoche. ¡Que buenissimo!

Our trip to Cozumél has to be one of the greatest highlights of our life together. We absolutely had a terrific time and we WILL be going back!

This is a long post–we apologize in advance!

The view from the second floor of our villa out over the water

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The boat picked us up each day at the end of the dock on the right side of the photo

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Front door service!

Here’s a typical neighborhood in Cozumél:

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We had the most incredible food while we were there. One of my favorites was “el Billy” who is an “asadero” (griller?!). They served piles of fresh grilled meats, espagetti, rice, and repollo (cabbage slaw), with house-made spicy sauces of course:

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Another favorite was Diego’s Tacos right by the airport; we went there on our way out of town yesterday:

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Diego’s serves the most awesome fish, shrimp, and meat tacos. And they have a cool board where you can write your name:

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My most favorite meal, though, was “Pollo Yucateo” (Yucatan Chicken) at El Moro. It was amazing! Achiote is a wonderful spice, which originated in the Yucatan I believe.

The diving was even better than I expected. We were a bit nervous on our first couple of dives the first day, but we became much more comfortable as time went along. We got better with buoyancy control and breathing, and by the end we did 60+ minute dives! Going deep was not a problem either; several of our dives were 70+ feet, with our max 79 feet.

We did 11 dives over four days (Three on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, a break Thursday, and two dives on Friday). Sherrie and I aren’t quite ready for taking videos underwater yet (that’s my next learning point), but we found a video that is a great representation of what we saw on our dives. We experienced essentially everything in this video:

Cozumél dive preview

Our favorite things to see were (in no particular order):

Turtles!

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Spotted Eagle Rays!

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The rays are amazing and majestic. They can be quite large–more than 6 feet across. They dig with their noses in the sand looking for conchs, and when they find them, crush them into bits to eat the snail part. Other fish follow along to get the scraps.

Splendid Toadfish!

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The toadfish is bashful and pretty rare. We only saw around five of them on all the dives together. Our divemaster Javier had a little lure that looked like a little squid that he would use to draw them out of their caves in the rocks. This little guy is rare and only found around Cozumél, so you have to go there to see him.

We also saw lots of eels–spotted and bigger green ones.

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One was particularly large–at least six feet long, as big around as a football, and very menacing.

Here are some more shots:

Getting ready to jump:

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Even though the water is 84 degrees (on the surface; 82 down deep), you still need a wetsuit or you’ll get cold after an hour:

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(I wore the shorty the first dive, but then decided it was too cold and went for a full wetsuit after that).

We dove with a dive company named “Dive with Cristina“. Cristina is a very experienced master diver, and has other master divers on her crew. One of them is her brother Chito, who made a fabulous lunch everyday (Chito is the one in the blue shirt on the ride side of this photo):

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which we ate after the second dive. They served fresh fruit and sandwiches with guacamole, but everybody’s favorite (well almost everybody; sorry Glen!) was the ceviche:

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Chito’s ceviche was very simple: raw white sea bass “cooked” in lime juice with cilantro. It was awesome!

After lunch, more diving!

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At one point, a member of our group gave Sherrie his GoPro to take some videos. It’s hard to communicate under water (read: impossible), so Sherrie thought she was using the camera to take some video of a sleeping turtle we saw under a rock ledge (at 60 feet), but instead she was taking video of herself–here’s a screenshot:IMG_1130

Sherrie is a fish! We couldn’t get her out of the water, either diving or the refreshing swim in the pool after the diving ended for the day. Witness her hand at the end of one day:6B69DADA-AAC7-4BEF-B67C-320FE3D8DC9A

I just learned why this happens: scientists now think it’s a nervous system reaction to help us handle things better when our hands our wet.

Our typical day was get up and eat breakfast and get out the door and get to the dock to get picked up at around 9 for diving. We stayed on the boat for three dives (with the requisite surface intervals), and then returned back to the dock around 4 in the afternoon. We spent some time refreshing ourselves in the pool and/or hot tub, then showered and went out on the town for dinner and a little shopping.

On Sunday, we didn’t dive but went to church

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(The meeting was entirely in Spanish) and then went for a drive around the island with our new friend Miguel Moguel-Fuentes, the taxista:

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Miguel was great to us all week. He came to get us when we needed to go somewhere, and helped us navigate around the town.

We stopped by the side of the road to buy some piñas:

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(That’s about $1 each; and they were excellent!)

On the other side of the island (the windward side) we got the full experience of trade-wind-blown salt spray in the face and on the glasses!

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The other side of the island does not have electricity, and is sparsely populated. There are a couple of restaurants and a small hotel. The southern tip has a beach/park with various attractions we hope to check out next time.

On Thursday, we decided to take a break from diving. The weather report predicted bad wind and rain and our dive masters were afraid the port might actually be closed.  (It turned out to be a great day for diving for those that went)  We were in on a secret that Glen, our friend who arranged the trip, didn’t know about.  His wife, Tracie (Sherrie’s amazing childhood friend) was coming to Cozumel to surprise him.  She doesn’t dive, so when the weather looked bad, we decided we would take that day off and spend it with Tracie (and we hoped, Glen, who never takes days off).  He ended up having some sinus troubles and decided before he knew Tracie was coming to take the day off as well.  It was a super fun surprise when she walked into our villa on Wednesday night!!   All but a few sat out that day and we all took the ferry over to Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun)–a 30-40 minute trip. We didn’t like Playa too much–it was very commercial and full of tourists.

Another thing we did on our day off was visit the Kaokao chocolate factory on Cozumél. They make chocolate using the original cacao bean (Criollo, not the Forastero developed in Europe and grown in Africa, or the Trinitario hybrid). As part of the tour, we got to make our own chocolate!

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This chocolate is to be used for drinking chocolate. During the tour, they made some for us in a traditional manner with corn flour, hot spices, honey from the special bees that pollinate vanilla plants, and of course the chocolate. It was yummy! We can’t wait to make some for whichever of our children are here for Christmas. We are turning into chocolate snobs like some of our kids!

We were so lucky to be invited and really enjoyed all of the folks in our group.  We totaled 13 divers plus Tracie for part of the week.  We were in two adjoining villas, and had so much fun going to dinner, exploring, and playing games together.  We hope to be invited back again!!

I’ve created a public folder on Dropbox

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wherein I’m going to put some photos and videos when we get them. There’s a link to a video of me and Sherrie and a couple of others jumping off the boat into the water and sinking into the depths. Some of the other divers took videos they are going to edit and post soon. Stay tuned!

Many adventures

We’ve had many adventures the last few weeks. Here’s a brief post with photos and stories.

On August 25, we went to Liberty Park in SLC to celebrate Sylvia’s first birthday. It was a nice day in the park and we all had a good time, except that Sylvia got stung on her lip by a wasp. Happy Birthday Sylvia!

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Those photos were probably taken after the wasp sting (?), which might explain her look of, shall we say, detachment?

On Labor Day, we hiked up to the Wind Caves in Logan canyon. Little Esther was amazing–she hiked up the entire trail all by herself. It’s nearly a two-mile route and climbs 1000 feet, so that’s no small feat (but her feet are small). On the way down, she took a ride in the backpack on Matt’s back, explaining that she was tired and needed a nap.

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(Esther holding court and explaining life during a short break)

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(The hiking gang, minus the photographer)

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(The holes in the wind cave look a lot like an ape skull from far away)

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September 13-15, we went to St. George to do some hiking in Zion and attend the play Matilda at Tuacahn. We went with our friends Scott and Marie. We played pickleball Thursday night, and Scott re-injured his calf muscle, so he and Marie were out for the hike in the Narrows on Friday.

We loved the Narrows! Sherrie had been before but I hadn’t. We went up around 3-4 miles and then came back out. The weather was great–a bit on the warm side, which made it nice wading in the river. Here are some photos:

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We were glad to have our trekking poles–it made it a lot easier to hike through the brown water–you couldn’t see any of the boulders under the water! We saw a few people go down in the water when they slipped on unseen rocks.

After the hike, we attended Matilda that night. One of our friends had said that she didn’t like it, but we decided that was probably because she didn’t know what to expect from a Roald Dahl story–we loved it.

On our trip to St. George, we went to the Payson Temple and saw the active Pole Creek Fire on the other side of the mountain from Payson:

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A number of people were evacuated from the area in the hills south of Spanish Fork, but no dwellings were lost during the fire.

Finally, yesterday, we went to Esther’s four-year-old birthday party. It was a magical affair, complete with unicorns! There were a number of fun activities, and we all had fun. Becky and Matt did a great job organizing the party.

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Cougars!

A short blog post. A couple of weeks ago, we hiked up into Flat Bottom Canyon and placed my trailcam on a tree near one of the jeep trails. We hiked up there today (a hard hike: 4.5 miles round trip, and 1300 feet of climbing) and extracted the memory card from the trailcam. Much to our surprise/wonder/amazement/joy, we found several photos with cougars in them in the bunch, and made this animated gif:cougars2

These photos were taken LAST NIGHT (9/17) at nearly the same time (just after sunset) we were there tonight. Hmmm. I wonder if they were watching us …

UPDATE: Apparently, there is some confusion about how many cougars are actually in the GIF I posted above. Here’s a single picture showing the three cougars that passed through:

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La Jolla dive update

We got some videos and a photo from our divemaster Michael from our La Jolla dive.

Here’s a photo just after we descended on our second dive:

sherrie-michael-diving-la-jollaKelp bass just beneath Michael (on the right). Sherrie has the pretty blue fins.

Here’s the video of me and Sherrie in the cavern. We thought he was taking a picture, which explains our apparent cluelessness (I assure you it hasn’t nothing to do with our limited diving knowledge). Also, in that video (and the next I will link), you can see clear evidence of the surge. I get seasick just watching it.

Here’s a link to a video of a large lobster. The surge is quite evident in the sea grass.

Dive report: La Jolla Cove

(This post written by Michael. We took none of the pictures in this post–they all came from other places on the internet. I endeavored to find the best images that capture what we actually saw.)

Sherrie and I dived at La Jolla Cove today with divemaster Michael Timm of Dive California. It was an awesome experience! It was our first real-world dive in the ocean, and it was quite memorable. I think we are hooked on scuba diving.

We met Michael on the grass above the lifeguard station at the Cove. He patiently explained a lot about the dive, and how to put on and wear the wetsuit, gloves, and boots. I believe that he wasn’t super impressed with our training (e.g., he doesn’t think that we should have gotten “open water” certification by diving in the Homestead Crater), but he was patient and helped us a lot.

We wore 7mm wetsuits (very thick) because the water was cold. Except it wasn’t that cold: on our first dive the surface temperature was 70 degrees, and on the second dive, it had warmed up to about 75 degrees. I was worried that I would get cold and have cramps, but neither happened. The wetsuits kept us toasty warm, even though we were in the water for nearly an hour on each dive.

Since we were in salt water with big wetsuits, we had to wear a lot of weight. I was wearing 20 pounds, and Sherrie 18 I think. I’m not sure we needed that much, but it worked out well. Walking around on dry ground with that much weight (probably a total of 60+ pounds) was hard, as was wading into the ocean. The Cove doesn’t have real waves, but it has swell that comes in and out and can really push you around. I felt like a fish out of water trying to put my fins on at the beginning of the first dive!

We descended almost immediately off the beach in about 6-8 feet of water. I think Michael was worried about our buoyancy control, and didn’t want us to be too deep to start. Sherrie had a small issue once or twice where she popped up, but got back down quickly.  Adding ankle weights for the second dive seemed to solve the popping up problem.

The water at the Cove was not only warm, but it was pretty clear too. On the first dive, the visibility was at least 20 feet, if not 30. The underwater world at the Cove is amazing, and having good visibility made things really pop!

Perhaps my favorite thing of the day was that, once we got away from the Cove entrance, we went to an area just northwest of the Cove beach where a colony of sea lions dwell. They formed a “raft” (the collective noun for sea lions in the water) near us and swam all around us, coming with a foot or two on occasion. They were clearly as interested in us as we were in them.

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(This picture comes from the Dive California website)

At one point, one stopped very close to me and just looked me in the eyes. It was breathtaking! They are incredibly agile in the water; they looked like fighter aircraft circling in a dogfight.

Michael took us near big rocks and we looked under the ledges to see scores (no exaggeration) of lobsters just hanging out. We saw them all over the place on the dive; they are cool to look at because their yellow eyes look back at you (the yellow is actually “eye shadow”–the eyes are black). This will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

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Michael picked up an abalone off a rock and showed us the tender underneath part. On this first dive we also saw a shovel-nosed guitarfish

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and lots of kelp bass (we didn’t see kelp like this on our dives–it’s not deep enough in/near the cove for kelp to grow like this)

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and a sculpin/rockfish or two

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Of course, one reason you go to the Cove is to see Garibaldi–the California state fish. And they are everywhere in the Cove because they like the sea grass that grows on the bottom there. We saw mature adults

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and the babies that are orange and have blue spots

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They took no thought for us and swam very close to us. The Garibaldi are in the Cove because of all the sea grass that grows there–here’s an image that represents what we saw nearly continuously on our dives:

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Another fish we saw that I hadn’t anticipated was the California Sheephead. It’s got interesting colors and was cool to see under the water.

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We were in the water for a little over 50 minutes, then Michael guided us back to shore. He did amazing navigating us around–we had no idea where we were. Once back on land–actually, just before we surfaced–I started feeling seasick. One thing about diving in/around the cove is that it’s not that deep (20-25 feet) and you experience a lot of surge (water going back and forth). The surge upset my stomach, and I didn’t feel that well when we got out of the water. I ate a banana and a tasty cranberry scone that Michael brought for us, and drank a lot of water, and was feeling reasonably well by the time the second dive started.

The second dive was like the first, of course, but different too. The visibility wasn’t quite as good, but still clear enough to see things around us. We didn’t descend immediately off the beach, but rather did a lazy surface swim a couple hundred yards off the beach (this time to the northeast) and descended there in about 15 feet of water.

Michael took us to a “cavern” near the Cove. It wasn’t really a true underwater cave (we aren’t certified for that). Michael called it a cavern because it has air above the surface inside. It was inside a narrow opening in the rocks that leads to a nearly completely covered, very small, rocky beach. Here’s a photo of a diver underwater (not us) in what I am pretty sure is the cavern we went into:

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The water was 6-8 feet deep in the “cave” and we saw some kayakers in there. We said “Hi” as we surfaced there for a minute or two to see the rocks in the cave. Then we descended and went back out into the deeper water.

On the second dive, we saw a baby stingray. It was no bigger than a dinner plate, but something a bit unusual after seeing Garibaldi and kelp bass for the last hour or two.

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I felt pretty well the second dive until the end. As we got shallower and closer to the beach, the swell got more pronounced, and I started feeling quite ill. I managed to drag myself out of the water and over to the concrete steps leading up and out of the cove, and then I wretched all over the ground–twice. Just at that moment, a lady was walking down the stairs. Sherrie said to her, “You might not want to come down right now.” and she exclaimed “Oh my!” and ran back up the stairs. Fortunately, it was high tide, and the water took all my vomit out to sea very quickly. I felt better immediately after I wretched, but was still a bit queasy until after lunch.

Our first diving experience in the ocean was awesome. We saw some very cool stuff, got to practice our buoyancy control. got to experience a thermocline (I failed to mention this–on the first dive, in about 10-15 feet of water, the temperature suddenly dropped from about 70 to about 60 degrees, and stayed that way for about 25 minutes. It was invigorating (but not cold!) and a cool experience, no pun intended. Michael later explained that the water comes out of a 200-300 foot deep canyon several hundred yards north of the Cove and causes the thermoclines), got to go into a cavern, and had a successful, safe dive.

Certified!

Sherrie and I finished our PADI certification this week! We did four dives at the Homestead Crater–two on Wednesday and two on Friday. We practiced a few skills and generally got used to being deep underwater breathing air from a tube. We had a few interesting experiences in the deep dark (nothing dramatic), but all in all, it was fun and we are now Open Water certified! This really means nothing more than that we have a “license to practice.” What I mean by that, is we know very little about diving, and we have a lot to learn.

On Saturday (yesterday), we did a hike in Logan Canyon called the “Crimson Trail” (shout-out to our niece Brianna for suggesting it!) It is a beautiful hike! It was about five miles, and took us a couple of hours, and we climbed about 1300 feet. The hike down (we went counter-clockwise) was very steep (but mercifully not too long–we had memories of the hike down from Box Elder Peak a couple of years ago!). Michael was stung by a wasp, and his arm is quite itchy today. We enjoyed the woods and the shade and the steep cliffs. Here are a few photos:

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Michael on the Crimson Trail.

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We look like we are having fun!

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A view down one of the cliffs. NOTE: Only the phone is peaking over the edge–Michael is laying on his belly near the edge holding the phone.

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A view up the cliffs from below. Probably not the same cliff as the prior picture, but who knows for sure?

Today (Sunday) we are in San Diego. Michael has a meeting tomorrow at MCAS Miramar, and Sherrie is going to just do whatever (something fun!) while Michael is in his meeting. We are going to stay a couple of extra days after the meeting to do stuff in San Diego, including a planned dive at La Jolla Cove on Wednesday with Dive California! We are nervous about the dive, but excited at the same time. Hopefully we have a favorable report next post!

Here are some photos from today at Mission Beach. I have fond memories of my childhood in San Diego in general and La Jolla and Mission Beach in particular. It’s been fun to be here today.

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Belmont Park in the background, and the old (even when I was a kid it was old) roller coaster.

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Beautiful Sherrie and sunset on the beach. The guy in the background caught some kind of ray just after we took this photo.

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Crescent moon through the palm trees at dusk.

Trying to Be Brave

I notice that Michael and I tend to record just our adventures, which makes it seem that most of our days are not filled with such things as cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and going to work.  I am here to report that much of our time is taken up with day to day chores,  and for the record we try to keep up with them, and with our borrowed garden and grasshopper/deer infested yard, we both try to practice every day (I am taking piano lessons, and Michael guitar lessons), we do our best to get some sort of daily exercise, we make sometimes feeble attempts to keep up with the families and individuals we have been assigned to watch over from our ward, we on occasion get to spend time with our children and their families, and if there is time left over, we try to fit in some choose time – and hopefully some adventures.

My choose time has been hampered with a sore neck that started during a pickleball game several months ago.  I tried to play for a couple more weeks, but finally gave up because it hurt too much.  It is hard to play pickleball when you can’t turn your head.  Tennis started soon after that and I have only played a little here and there before I have had to say uncle and take myself off the roster.  I have seen a chiropractor, a doctor, and now a physical therapist is working on me and I surely hope to be back to normal soon!  A sore neck just seems like such a small problem to be giving me so much grief!  I tried tennis again this week, and was again disappointed by my neck that doesn’t want to let me have fun.

For Michael, the getting old problem has been his knee and his continuing stomach troubles.  We were very hopeful that he would feel much better after getting his gall blaldder out, but he has been a little disappointed to feel sort of the same since.  I am trying to convince him that life can still be fun if you walk instead of run, because your knees feel better,  but it is going to take some convincing to get him to slow down.

So those are some things we are trying to be brave about.

I lucked into an adventure on Monday – Michael spent the day at work but I spent it at Tony Grove up in Logan Canyon.  I went with my friend Marie and some of her family.  We started the day with a hike to the top of Naomi Peak.  We had some kids along – Marie’s great neice and nephews, which made the going quite slow.  That was nice because when we finally got everyone to the top, it didn’t feel like we had done all that much work.  I was surprised to find out that we had climbed close to 2000 feet!  It is one of those peaks that feels like the top of the world with views all the way around – it was beautiful!   We had about 15 minutes or more on the way down where we were not exactly sure where one of the kids (about 8 years old) was.  He decided he couldn’t make it to the top, and was going to wait for us but wasn’t there when we came back.  I was amazed at his calm mother who just assumed he had started down the trail.  I, the catastrophisizer, was looking at trails leading other directions and remembering the search helicopters we had seen in the Uintahs last week.  Despite my worries, we eventually passed someone on their way up who reported they had passed little boy in a blue shirt on his way down.  I was very happy to hear that.

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We made it back to the lake and spent the rest of the day lazily paddling around in Marie’s kayaks and reading books.  She and I were successful in taking her little grand daughter out for a ride/nap that lasted 45 minutes or so.  I thought I was paddling pretty lazily, but that might have had something to do with how bad the next morning’s tennis felt on my neck now that I think of it.

For me the real need for bravery has come about with our scuba lessons.  I am a scaredy-cat!  It just doesn’t feel all that natural to put yourself way under the water, especially in the ocean.  I am SO excited to go and see under there, but SO scared!  But our second class this week was not as scary as the first one – in fact I was scared before but not hardly scared at all in the class and did all the crazy stuff with really no problems.  So now I am not that afraid of scuba diving in an 8 foot deep swimming pool.  Very brave, right??  Next, we will go to the crater at Midway and learn to go much deeper.  So I am scared again.  But I think I can do that.  Mostly I am scared when I think about jumping off a boat into the ocean.  I am going with Michael to San Diego in a couple weeks and every time we talk about maybe trying a dive there I get feeling a bit wound up ( Michael will be laughing when he reads that I characterized that as “a bit”).  I am pretty sure that diving will be amazing and when I get used to getting myself equalized and breathing comfortably under water, it will be awesome.

Anyway, we went and saw the new Mission Impossible movie this week, and scuba diving is not in the least dangerous or adventurous.  Kind of boring, really.