Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Scar

At the age of 17, something happened that changed my appearance. And while I could have been really upset by it, I wasn't. Instead of an ugly mark, I saw something else entirely.

My parents and I were on our way home from visiting my granddad in Fort Walton Beach, FL. We were driving in Dad’s Dodge Ram pickup truck, and Mom was dozing by the window, while I sat in the middle seat reading a book I’d borrowed from Granddaddy. Chicken Soup for the Soul, I think. Without warning, my face was slammed into the dashboard. I could hear Mom whimpering a little and Dad frantically calling my name. “I’m okay,” I said, “But I’m bleeding.” Somehow I’d seen my reflection, I’m not sure in what. I cupped my hand under my chin, and we all crawled out of the mangled truck.  

A van had crossed traffic right in front of us, and we hit it going about 45 mph. To make a long night in the ER short, I had a large gash on my chin, and it had to be sewn up on the inside and the outside. It was quite a gash.

Even when the stitches were out, my scar was a bright, angry red and jagged. You couldn’t miss it. Everyone noticed it, and people I hardly knew would ask what happened. I remember taking those uncomfortable moments and turning them into a chance to say how I viewed my scar. I was grateful for that scar because it meant life. God had decided to save my life that day, whether for a purpose or simply because it pleased Him to do so, I didn’t know. But I knew I wanted to live the life He’d spared with purpose. His purpose.

Fast forward to today, twenty years later. I catch myself looking so critically at the lines on my face, lamenting the unkindness of the aging process, and it is hard to imagine the heart of my 17 year old self truly not minding the ugly, red mark across my chin. It is still there, so faint now, the jagged edges fixed long ago. Even so, it still catches my eye from time to time, and I still run my fingers over it when reading or thinking about something.

It is then, in those moments when my thoughts settle upon it, that God uses that scar to shift my focus. He gently reminds me that aging is also evidence of life still being lived, of work still to do, of a husband to help, of children to show Him to, of hearts to encourage and lift, of a helping hand to be given, a card sent, a meal provided, a home opened, a smile given, an ear lended, a hurt forgiven, a seed planted, a bit of Jesus shown...until He calls me home.

I don't know when that will be, but I know what I'm to do in the meantime. And when I forget, when I lose focus, when I’m discouraged and filled with doubt, distracted or just plain tired, all I have to do is look in the mirror to be reminded of God’s great love and purpose all over again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Arms of Love

After graduating from Auburn in 2001, I headed to Jingzhou (pronounced Jing-Jo) City in China to teach English at a small agricultural college. The college was outside one of the last walled cities in China, and while this city was considered small, it was home to about 2 million Chinese people. Among these 2 million Chinese people were about 8-12 Americans of which I was one.

In this small city, it was quite possible to come across Chinese people who had never seen or spoken to a real live American, and we were very intriguing to them. So intriguing that being outside the school gates could be very tiring some days as I was often approached by people wanting to talk with me or take a picture with me, and at the very least, they pointed and said loudly to all who could hear, “Mei-guo-ren!” which meant American.

At the college, I taught both spoken and written English classes to juniors and seniors, and while my students were only a few years younger than I was, they were more like children than my fellow college students from Auburn. If there was time at the end of each class, I would let them ask questions about America and sometimes about me. And at every such opportunity one of them would always ask me to sing.

My students loved music, karaoke, and singing any chance they could get. They didn't have to be good at it to enjoy it, so if I asked them to sing their favorite song for me instead, they would without hesitation and in front of the entire class. Common favorites were “Right Here Waiting for You” and “My Heart Will Go On.”

I avoided singing for them as long as I could until the English department put on a talent show for the school. They begged and I caved. Someone asked me what song I would sing for the program, and I'm pretty sure the entire school showed up when they learned the American teacher would be singing.

I don't remember much about that night except it was cold (buildings weren't heated) and for the first (and probably last) time since I'd been there, this extremely loud city was quiet. I walked up on stage, was handed a mic, and I began to sing.

“I sing a simple song of love, to my Savior, to my Jesus.
I'm grateful for the things you've done, my loving Savior, oh precious Jesus.
And my heart is glad that you've called me your own
And there's no place I'd rather be
Than in your arms of love, in your arms of love
Holding me still, holding me near in your arms of love.”

The song was one of my favorites from my days at the Auburn Christian Student Center, and while living in Jingzhou, I sang it when loneliness or homesickness got the better of me. I knew without a doubt my God was with me in this place so different from anything I'd ever known, and singing these simple words brought Him closer and made me feel safe.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

10 Dives for 10 Years

In a few days, Jason and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. It's a big one. A milestone. I love looking back over these past ten years together. There's so much good and wonderful and amazing to remember. There's the not-so-great too, but those times seem to have made the good even sweeter.  

This 10th year of marriage, we took up something new. Or I took up something new, and Jason returned to something he hadn't done in years. Scuba diving. It started with my desire to swim with manatees, and from there I decided I also wanted to learn to scuba dive. That part was a bit of a whim (not the manatees, they'd been a lifelong dream), and I had no idea when I started on this scuba track just how much I was going to love it.

And man, do I love it! I seem to never get my fill when we go on diving trips, so before we’ve even reached home, I want to plan our next trip (and we often do).  I love the graceful majesty of the underwater world. I haven’t come into contact with a shark or a whale or even a sea turtle yet (although I remain hopeful), but everything I’ve seen has captivated me. I want to learn more, see more, do more. I want to go every weekend. I placate myself by watching Blue Planet on Netflix or by perusing Eloise’s sea life books from the library. I follow divers on Instagram and dream of one day taking pictures like theirs.

What makes all of this even more special is sharing it with my husband of 10 years. And he is such a natural! I’ve learned a lot from him as a diver (as with most things). I enjoy talking about our experiences with him after a dive, and can spend hours doing just that. Our dive trips are more than just scuba diving trips, however. I view them as little deposits into our marriage. As we drive away from home, leaving our kiddos with our parents and all other responsibilities behind, it is like we are dating again. We laugh, we joke, we discuss topics uninterrupted. We linger over meals and take our time doing everything. I always feel rejuvenated by the whole weekend, even if I am tired from the traveling and diving itself.

Last year we set and achieved the goal of running a half marathon every month. That too was fun because I had a guaranteed getaway with Jason every month. I loved the racing too, but the real joy was found in getting away with him. As we faced 2017, we wanted another goal but were both sort of run down from all the races we’d run. When I got certified as an Open Water Diver in February, we found our goal. We would do 10 dives to signify our 10 years of marriage.

What I discovered with diving is that dives are not counted as I would count them. A diver can come up for surface intervals, and if each descent consists of 15 minutes or more, it counts as an individual dive. So while my dive computer and log book may contain more than 10 dives, I’m counting our dives by location. I’m also counting two of my four certification dives, which I’m told are also not included in one’s dive count. It’s weird, but there it is. So here is my dive count (by location) for the purposes of our goal:

  1. Vortex Springs, Ponce de Leon, FL - February 18, 2017 - my first 3 open water certification dives were done here. I’m counting this location as one dive with Jason. He was working on his advanced open water certification, and I was working on my open water certification. It was cold, but I enjoyed experiencing real open water diving for the first time.
  2. Rainbow River, Dunnellon, FL - February 19, 2017 - a drift dive which was really beautiful. I completed my last skill here, and was officially a certified open water diver after this dive.
  3. Blue Water Park, Pelham, Alabama - May 13, 2017 - Jason and I decided we wanted a refresher before jumping into the ocean the following weekend. This was my Mother’s Day dive trip, and we dove with two dive masters in training, which I found helpful since I’d only been on my certification dives and was feeling a little rusty. My dive log counts 4 dives on this day, but I’m counting it as one dive with Jason.
  4. Hathaway Bridge Span 1, Panama City Beach, FL - May, 20, 2017 - I almost didn’t make it down there, but I got over my moment of fear and was greatly rewarded. This may be one of my favorite dives of all time so far because it was my first dive in the ocean and the beginning of my love affair with the underwater world. I wanted to stay down there forever.
  5. B&B Barge, Panama City Beach, FL - May 20, 2017 - About an hour or more after the bridge span, we descended to explore the sunken barge. We had a bit of a current, but I loved it all the same and saw a huge goliath grouper for the first time. The water was extremely rough getting back on the boat, but at that point I felt I could take on anything.
  6. Jetties at St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL - July 29, 2017 - Water was too rough for us to go out on the boat, so we settled for a rainy dive around the jetties, which was a fun second to our cancelled wreck dive. I saw all kinds of fish, crabs, sea anemones and sea urchins, a flounder and a tulip snail. I also tried out a new underwater camera our dive shop had, and enjoyed trying to capture everything that captured me.

  7. “Red Seas” tugboat wreck, Panama City Beach, FL - July 30, 2017 - One of the coolest wrecks I’ve seen so far (yes, I realize I haven’t seen many). This one was big, still looked like a boat, had a cool history and lots of cool marine life living in and around it. I think I reached my deepest depth here at 80 ft.
  8. USS Strength wreck, Panama City Beach, FL - July 30, 2017 - Our second dive of the day right after I threw up over the back of the boat. I was completely surprised by sea sickness on this trip, and even more surprised when I lost my breakfast just as I was gearing up to jump in, but once off the boat I was free from my nausea and surrounded by beauty once again. This was my first dive of the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail - another diving goal Jason and I have set for ourselves.

That is as far as we’ve gotten as we approach our September 3rd anniversary, but I know we will reach and probably exceed our goal of 10 dives for 10 years of marriage. We have some pretty big plans for a short but exciting diving experience at the Georgia Aquarium this weekend, and I am so excited I could burst!

I love having Jason for a dive buddy, best friend, fellow adventurer, and husband of 10 years. I have a feeling that even if he’d had no previous diving experience, he would have joined me on this path anyway. I love our life together, and thank God every day that I married such a wonderful man. I look forward to many more diving adventures, running journeys, hilarious moments with our kids, and the day to day contentment of our life together, and I remain overwhelmingly thankful for every moment of these blessed 10 years we have had. I love you, Jason Reneau!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Running, Schooling, and Eclipsing

This poor running blog. Abandoned by an injured runner turned scuba diver. But I'm still running. In fact, I've begun day dreaming of fall goals and focusing my running on building a base from which to train. I've begun running more consistently, managing my knee pain with daily rounds with the foam roller and addaday stick. And it really is about adding a day. Just one more day of running. And then another. And then another. I feel a little all over the place with my training... sometimes I make it out in the morning, sometimes I hit the treadmill mid-day. Sometimes I run after putting the kids to bed or with my Walk/Jog/Run class... or sometimes a combination of these, with some Body Pump at the Y thrown in. It's not ideal... I like a good schedule, but I'm taking what I can get and for now, it works.

And things have gotten crazy, busy, wonderful up in here! My girl started kindergarten this year! So far, so good, and I love watching her experience new things, learn new things, become enthusiastic about new things! She is doing half-day kindergarten for now, and I think it is the perfect amount of transition from being home to attending school. She comes home after lunch, and some days we do something fun like shop, visit our library, go to my sister's for a swim and to the local reptile store (her personal field trip with my sister), and some days we come home and color, play, read, or bake. Or all of the above.

The eclipse! How about that! We drove to Sparta, TN to experience the totality, and it was AMAZING!

I loved experiencing this with my people! I was simply filled with awe by the whole thing!

So DIVING! I'm an Advanced Open Water Diver now, and Jason and I went on another amazing dive trip at the end of July - that will receive it's own blog post with pictures and videos. It was once again a wonderful, beautiful experience where I saw new things and learned new things, expanding my knowledge and experience as a diver. More to come on that. For now, there's our family update in a nutshell!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Diving in Panama City

I'm pretty new to this whole diving thing, and I still have much to learn. But every time I go, I learn something new, develop a new skill, improve upon my current skills, glean advice from more experienced divers, and expand my confidence and experience as a diver. And I absolutely love all of it.

Diving in Panama City this weekend was my third (and fourth) dive, if you don't count my first four dives to become a certified diver. It was an ocean dive, which I'd never done. It was boat dive - meaning I would have to jump off a boat to enter the water, and it was deeper than I'd ever been - about 75 feet at the deepest.

And let me just say - it was amazing and the absolute best dive I've done so far. The quarry dives I've done were cool and interesting...until they weren't. On those dives I found myself feeling uninterested way before the dive was over. When I got to the bottom of that ocean, I had to keep a close eye on my computer and air because I did NOT want the dive to end. I wanted to stay down there much longer than my air would allow. That was a new and pleasant feeling. I was left wanting more... almost craving it in a way.

The dive shop through which I've earned my certification and where I purchase all my gear and rentals has a quote on their website that says:

"The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."
                                                                                                        - Jacques Yves Cousteau

I found this to be true this weekend. I grew up on the beaches of Panama City. I went often, swam often, snorkeled, hunted for shells, and enjoyed the beauty of it all for years. But I'd never seen it like I did this weekend, and it was magical. Beautiful. Peaceful. Graceful. Full of wonder from the large goliath grouper, to the tiniest starfish hidden inside a sand dollar. I lack the words to adequately describe how I felt down there, experiencing this amazing part of God's creation I'd never seen before, but I'll try anyway.

Jason and I drove down Friday, stopping by Southeastern Divers Inc. on the way out to rent our tanks and wetsuits (one of the last bits of diving paraphernalia I've yet to purchase). Saturday morning we awoke early and headed to Panama City Dive Center to sign in, and then headed to Captain Anderson's Marina where we'd board the Reef Runner for our two ocean dives that day.

The original point of this trip was to hunt lion fish. Jason and I bought pole spears and a Zookeeper (a contraption in which you store your lion fish once speared), and were ready to hunt, but the water was too rough to go offshore, so we stayed inshore, but there were few lionfish to be found at either spot we dove. I hope to go back and give that another shot at a later date, but that did not detract from the fun we had.

We met Zach, our Captain, and Fred our Dive Master. Both were great and very good at what they do. Zach navigated some rough waters at the end and kept an eye on weather and conditions to keep us all safe. Fred, our illustrious dive master was a real character, from his colorful personality to his exteremly colorful language. He gave us all a hard time, telling us there were no sissies allowed on his boat, and regailing us with stories of previous dives. He seemed 10 feet tall to me (of course everyone seems tall to me) and had a handle bar mustache. He was retired military, a retired fire fighter, and a black belt in kung fu, so while he was joking around with us mostly (I think), I still took him pretty seriously. No sissies. Got it.

When it came time to dive, however, he was perfect. He was just what this new diver needed, in fact. (But don't tell him I said that.) We geared up, and Jason and I were the last off the boat. I wanted to see everyone else do it so I knew what to do. I recognized it all from my diving manual and the diving videos I'd watched, but doing it myself was still intimidating. Fred strapped on my fins and reminded me to hold my mask and regulator as I jumped. And then I jumped. I grabbed the no swim line that would lead me to the anchor line... and panicked. I couldn't breathe. I could breathe, but I felt as if I couldn't. The waves were rough and the ocean was deep, and it all seemed too much. I said, "I can't breathe!" and Fred and Jason were immediately beside me. Fred said I could go back to the boat, and I said I wanted to. He helped me to the stairs and Jason followed.

I knew I didn't want my dive trip to end this way. I knew I wanted to get to the bottom and see that bridge span and look for a lion fish. But it seemed daunting. I didn't want to get down there breathing hard and fast like I was. I kneeled on the ladder catching my breath with Fred and Jason waiting for my decision. I said I wanted to try again (no sissies, remember). Fred helped me back to the rope leading to the drop line that was anchored to the bridge below, and Jason stayed close. I told him to give me a minute at the 15 foot mark and he said he would. I put my head under and began to descend. I took a minute to relax and "find my Zen" as another diver on the boat put it, and then I was ready. My breathing slowed, and then I forgot all my fear as the world below came into view.

I was surrounded by the most graceful school of fish. They all moved together as one and flowed under and around me. The bridge was covered in all kinds of coral and algae, with brightly colored fish playing around it. Large trigger fish, beautiful starfish, and all kinds of things I couldn't identify caught my attention, and I immediately thanked my God for giving me the courage to get down there and see His majesty around me. Again, there are no words to describe it. Jason kept checking in with me to see if I was okay, and I signaled I was, but I needed to say more. So I made a heart with my fingers and motioned to everything around me. I was WAY better than okay. I think I was in love.

Jason was great at reminding me to check my computer and air, and I became more aware of it despite my beautiful surroundings. My computer eventually beeped at me to tell me I only had 6 more minutes at my current depth, and I wanted to tell it to leave me alone. But Jason motioned upward and I knew I had to go. We explored the shallower portions of the bridge until close to 500 lbs. of air left and then ascended. Grudgingly.

Getting back on the boat was a little crazy with the rough waters, but I remained relaxed and didn't fight the waves or the moving ladder as I climbed aboard. Fred helped and practically lifted me up by my tank. He secured my tank behind me as I sat down and then looked me in the eye and said, "I don't usually blow smoke up people's asses, but you need to be proud of yourself for facing your fears like that."

I appreciated that. And it felt great to have faced it. And so very worth it! Our second dive was at B&B Barge. The waters continued to get rougher, and we had a current as we explored. It was only about 55 feet or so, but it too was beautiful, and it was there I saw the goliath grouper. He was as big as I was, and my fellow divers said he was a small one! Visibility began to lessen as the waters got rougher, but it was still beautiful. I found a flashlight a little away from the barge and retrieved it, thinking it might belong to one of our divers - which it did! (Salvage diving, here I come).

Ascending this time was a little more intimidating because when we got to our 15 foot safety stop, I could see the boat rocking violently above me. I did not want to get too close, but I also wanted to reach the no swim line that would take me to the ladders. I saw it... and then I didn't see it. In fact I couldn't see the boat anymore. Jason and I ascended to see that we were almost past the trail line - which is the line behind the boat in case you miss the swim line. No worries though because Fred pulled it in and threw it out to us. We both got it and were pulled in. It was like skiing under water. I kind of liked it. When I got to the ladder I couldn't remove my fins and hand them up like before, so Fred jumped in the water and did it for me. I climbed up and sat back down on the boat safely once again.

I felt on top of the world! Exhilarated! And hungry for more. The boat ride back to the marina was beautiful and fun. I enjoyed getting to know our fellow divers, and that night we ate at Captain Anderson's with our small Huntsville group. Sunday, our dive got cancelled, and I was really disappointed, but we decided to visit my home church for services before driving home and that assuaged my disappointment some. The service was lovely, seeing so many dear faces was wonderful, and as we drove home, I felt refreshed and ready to hug my urchins and resume the daily grind.

Although, Jason and I couldn't help reliving our trip and discussing when we could go again. The sea is calling, and I must answer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little Fear and a Lot of Fun

As I mentioned in the previous post, everything we learned and practiced during the first weekend of Scuba training came easy to me. I grew up near and in the water, was on my high school swim team, and underwent life guard training as well. So all the skills our instructor asked us to demonstrate in the pool were not a problem. They were fun, and even the ones that seemed impossible like filling our masks with water and clearing them while submerged were surprisingly doable. We learned how to handle every possible issue that could take place under water, and I felt prepared if any of these things were to happen while diving.

The next weekend Jason and I kissed our kids goodbye and headed to the dive shop for our rental gear before taking to the road for Florida and my first open water dives. Jason would be trying some new skills too as he worked on his Advanced Diver's certification.

Saturday morning was cool and cloudy as we arrived at Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon, FL. I would be completing three of my four required open water dives there, and showing my instructor that I could do all the skills we learned in the pool...only this time I'd be doing them about 20 feet under water.

Demonstrating our skills in Vortex Springs
I felt ready, prepared, and excited to finally do this thing for real! We took our first plunge into the water and it was COLD. We had on wet suits and that helped...eventually. A wet suit traps water in, limiting the flow in and out, allowing your body heat to warm the cold water. That makes swimming in cold temps bearable. It was about 68 degrees in the springs, so it was just that... bearable.

Going underwater was amazing! There were fish everywhere! Right next to me, all around me. I even reached out and touched a few. As I tried to slow my breathing (the cold was shocking at first), I took in the sights around me as I slowly descended holding onto a rope tethered to the bottom. I could see other divers around me practicing their skills as well. We swam around a little and then settled on the bottom to demonstrate our skills.

Everything went really well until I was asked to remove my mask underwater, replace it, and clear it. This hadn't been a problem in the pool, but for some reason, when I let the cold water into my mask, my nose wanted to inhale. Trying to prevent this made me quickly replace my mask, slow my breathing and try again. This happened a few times and it was a little unnerving. The sensation of wanting to breathe through my nose and not being able to, made me a little panicky. I finally cleared my mask, looked at my instructor and shook my head no. He gave me the "okay" sign and we moved on.

We completed our three dives, but I knew I would have to master that skill before I'd be certified. I'd have one more chance this trip, when we did our drift dive in the Rainbow River further south. I was happy with the day's experience, but the fact that I hadn't mastered that one skill hung over my head. I tried to shake it off. I knew I wasn't scared, and I knew I could do it. But I remembered the panicky feeling, and it worried me.

We drove to Tallahassee where we spent Saturday night, and Sunday morning we finished the drive down to Dunnellon, FL. The day was beautiful and sunny, and the river was gorgeous. I was excited to try this drift dive, but I still had to remove my mask underwater...

Stepping in with the help of my amazing instructor, Sean.
We took a boat up river and then hopped out to "drift dive" back. There were all kinds of things to see on this dive - much more than Vortex Springs, and I loved it. Jason was by my side more for this dive and that made it much more fun. Finally we reached a 20 foot deep section and my instructor turned to me and signaled for me to deflate my BCD (buoyancy control device) and sink to the bottom. I knew it was time. I'd prayed about it, practiced it in the shallow water, and while the fear threatened to resurface, I knew I had to complete it. I knelt on the bottom, gave him the signal for "give me a minute" (I made that one up, but he understood), and very, very slowly let the water creep into my mask. I did it inch by inch...or maybe centimeter by centimeter, and as it filled my mask I closed my eyes and focused on breathing through my mouth. At one point I felt Jason pat my arm, giving me reassurance.

Eventually my mask was full and I removed it. I replaced it, cleared the water out of it, and wanted to shout! I almost gave the thumbs up sign, but in diving that means "ascend" so I did the ok signal with both hands. Sean, my instructor, shook my hand, and I grabbed both of his and squeezed. He got the message. I was so excited to have done it, and so grateful for his instruction and patience. He flipped open a tablet he had clipped to his BCD and showed it to me. It said," CONGRATULATIONS!  YOU ARE A CERTIFIED OPEN WATER DIVER!" Or something along those lines.

This girl just became a certified open water diver!

I was so excited and relieved! I squeezed Jason's hand and brought it to my mouth piece - and he got the message too. I was grateful to have him next to me, assuring me and believing in me. We continued our dive, exploring vents, chasing big fish, and enjoying all the underwater beauty that surrounded us. I was finally a certified open water diver, and that, along with diving itself, felt amazing. Now I could enjoy the rest of our trip (MANATEES!) with that accomplishment in my pocket.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Learning to Dive

As the new year approached, I was having a hard time facing it with any enthusiasm...which was definitely out of the norm for me. I love a fresh start whether it is a new year, a new month, a Monday, or simply a morning. But 2017 looked like it was going to be a letdown after the wonderful year of racing, PRs, and trips with my one true love that was 2016. I was injured with no relief in sight, and I was trying to shift my focus upward instead of inward, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

One chilly rainy day, I was sitting next to Jason on the couch as Eloise and Matthew played around us, and I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw an ad for a trip to swim with the manatees. I'd always wanted to do that ever since I was a little girl. I used to have posters on my wall, glass figures on my dresser, and t-shirts, all devoted to my beloved manatee. And even though I lived in Florida, only a few hours away, I never made it to see them in person.

I shared this with Jason, and his response was, "Well, let's plan a trip then." I love that man. I then explained to him that we had to go soon because the manatees were usually in Florida from January through the end of March. He was still game. I then admitted I not only wanted to swim with manatees, I wanted to learn to scuba dive as well. Within an hour of this couch conversation, we were dressed, our kids were loaded in the car, and we were on our way to Southeastern Divers Inc. to register for a Scuba class and sign up for the manatee trip that would follow the four required open water dives in Florida.

I was given an open water dive manual to read before my class in February, and instructed to come to the store to watch the 5 videos that accompanied it. I completed it all, and spent Saturday, Feb 11 in the classroom and the following Sunday trying out everything we learned in a University pool. It all came easily and I loved every minute. I was breathing UNDER WATER! As I drove home, tired and excited, I couldn't wait to head to Florida the next weekend to try out everything in open water, and share this amazing experience with Jason, who has been certified to dive since high school. He took a refresher course before our trip and has since begun his certification as an advanced open water diver.

As we headed to Florida on February 17 for a long weekend of diving and exploring, we realized it was the first time in 9 years we'd gone on a trip together that was not centered around a race. And it was only the 3rd such trip of our married life, and that counts our honeymoon too. I had a pretty strong feeling this new year of 2017 was not going to be a letdown after all, but a grand new adventure for us to enjoy together. And how amazing it has been so far!