Anna Maria Locke

2018

Life lately - summer updates, recovery, and behind the scenes

2018Anna Locke

Happy August!

I know my last post was a bit heavy, but before I re-launch the blog back into "business as usual," I wanted to share a life update and behind the scenes on what I’ve been up to this summer and how I’ve been feeling. To remind you (and myself) that it’s ok to feel like your life is a hot mess. That it’s still possible to seek meaning and joy and work towards your dreams and business goals while processing grief and loss and all the shit too. Big love and hugs all around!

Our deck has become my happy place.

The weather has for the most part been cool and glorious and I love spending my mornings camped out on the wicker loveseat Ben gave me for my birthday, reading and journaling and thinking and be-ing. Feeling the breeze, watching the squirrels turn the power lines into their circus arena, watching the airplanes glide into O’Hare, trying to ignore the occasional wafts of summer trash smell coming from the dumpster right below.

Sometimes our neighbors across the alley blast mariachi music.

My little sanctuary in the city.

May and June were a whirlwind. Loss and grief as I went through the miscarriage, the high of our annual coach Summit, travel to Florida and Tennessee, bills on bills on bills. Between losing a pregnancy and having two new biopsies done on abnormal spots I have been an expensive human being this year.

So how have I been feeling, really?

Some weeks I’m doing great and flying high, but for the most part I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and enjoy summer and not drink too many margaritas and keep my business afloat and serve my clients and be a good friend/wife/daughter and not be wracked with uncontrollable envy when I see my pregnant friends. Because everyone and their mother is apparently pregnant right now, did you notice? I am happy for you, I truly am.

They tell me I am being so strong and I say “well, life happens!” and change the subject before I start crying.

But a piece of me likes playing victim and pity party too. I hear that the only cure for miscarriage grief is getting pregnant again, but at the same time I am terrified of losing all my energy and losing my body and being exhausted and can we even afford this? Am I actually ready to be a mother? FUCK I DON’T KNOW! They all say it’s worth it, in tired strained voices as they bark at their misbehaving toddler in the same breath.

I recently took the Enneagram personality test (here is a great free version!) and was “diagnosed” as a 4, which apparently means I'm good at processing grief, experiencing melancholy, and don't just have feelings ... I AM my feelings. YOU DON'T SAY. I feel like I suddenly understand myself so much better. I feel it all.

When July hit, I was desperate for a fresh start and threw myself into the pursuit of “reclaiming my joy” and my body.

But this week I had a fleeting thought: I think I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself.

I want this year to be my year so bad. The year my business finally blasts through the stable comfy plateau it’s been sitting in. The year I grow into myself. Confidence, gratitude, give zero F’s, overcome fears. The year we start a family.

I want this to be the year that good things happen. That life isn’t so hard. (Ha!)

My biggest fear right now is that I won’t be able to grow a baby and grow a business at the same time. That we won’t be financially prepared for this next step. That we won’t be able to afford to buy a house until we are 40.

But so what if we need to stay in our little apartment for a while longer? I can claim a plot in the community garden down the street.

I tend to focus on what's missing from my life, so I'm making an effort to practice gratitude and look at what is already here. Because overall I'm pretty much living my dream, and life is good.

And as much as I've been craving nature and mountains and wilderness...

Chicago isn’t too bad.

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A sneak peek behind the scenes:

Even though I tend to go into hermit mode, I’ve been making an intentional effort to get together in person with friends and family as much as possible, and create more coffee dates//networking opportunities with other coaches and entrepreneurs here in the city and I am so immensely grateful for the support and love and connections I have in my life.

I went to Iowa for my college roommate’s daughter’s baptism.

I went to my first Tony Robbins event, Unleash the Power Within (and the power was unleeeeeeashed). You can watch my re-cap video here!

My friend Amanda and I launched our workshop and wellness event business, Empowered & Free.

I've been running the beta round of my Cycle Sync Your Biz program with a small and awesome group of women.

Ben and I started LIIFT4, a new strength program together.

My mom in law Pat came to visit. We went to a concert in the park and other summery things and it was really fun.

I've been getting back into yoga, getting back into church, and spending lots of downtime reading Game of Thrones and watching Bachelorette, Nashville, and Real Housewives.

 

August Intentions

Heading into the final stretch of summer, here are my intentions!

  • I want to continue to focus on in-person relationships
  • launch my Cycle Sync Your Biz program! (email me if you're interested)
  • get back into a blogging groove
  • be intentional with social media consumption (loving the Facebook News Feed Eradicator plug in)
  • turn my piles of fabric into headbands and scarves for the fall season in the Etsy shop
  • dive back into the baby making journey without stress.
  • add more free resources to this blog!

Notes to self/you:

-it’s ok to be solitary, to dive into projects and work (I don’t have to be present on social media every day)

-it’s ok to have enormous goals and feel like there’s no way I can do it all. (lean on trust and faith and baby steps)

-don’t be afraid to show up and LEVEL UP. Do the work/hold the space/life the life/claim the energy as if I am already there.

-take action before I feel ready (I’ll never feel ready)

I'm excited about what's to come, but at the same time I'm content with how things are right now. I think that's a pretty good place to be :)

xo Anna

The stuff no one tells you about having a miscarriage

2018Anna LockeComment
Miscarriage is birth and death simultaneously...ecstatic connection and unquenchable loss. The uterus dilates and contracts, as in the process of birth. In its wake follows an ancient grief, the grief of grandmothers and women who have lived before, pouring forth…
— Tami Lynn Kent, Wild Feminine
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Trigger warning: in case you can’t tell by the title, this post talks about miscarriage and is relatively graphic so if you are currently sensitive about those kinda things, feel free to stop your scroll!

In May, I had a miscarriage.

It has been equal parts the worst thing that I've ever experienced, and the most fascinating thing I've ever experienced.

I'm ok. 

I'm ready to share.

I know getting this off my heart will make me feel better, as well as provide encouragement and solidarity (or at least TRUTH) to other women, so cheers to facing and moving through discomfort and hard shit!

That’s the purpose of this post.

I'm writing this for my own benefit and healing, as well as to provide a resource for other women going through miscarriage, or who know a friend who has gone through it. Besides the hot mess vortex of message boards or the cold and clinical medical perspective, it’s hard to find a blog post or resource that tells you exactly what happens when you go through a miscarriage, especially the physical side of things, and especially if you don't know of any family or friends who have gone through it too.

It blows my mind how common miscarriage is, and yet how no one talks about it! Until it happened to me, I knew literally 4 women who had gone through this. But when it happens to you, it's like you join a secret club and you learn that a large percentage of all woman over 30 that you know (especially mothers of multiple children) has had at least one loss too.

I want to talk about the stuff no one talks about.

The stuff that happens to us, for us, and by us on this crazy adventure called life. Because we're never alone, and when we speak our truth, we open the door for so much magical healing and connection.

Here's what I've discovered and learned in the past two months (that have felt like two years):

First of all, no one tells you that the typical 40 week countdown of pregnancy starts with the first day of your last menstrual cycle, NOT the date of fertilization or even ovulation, so by the time you find out you’re actually pregnant you’re already 4-5 weeks along.

No one tells you that getting pregnant is actually a little more complicated than you’ve been led to believe by your high school health instructor.

How awesome would it be if high school girls were taught menstrual cycle awareness in health class, not just about abstinence and STD’s? If we learned how to understand and appreciate our complex yet powerful bodies? That would be so empowering.

Instead, we spend decades actively trying to prevent pregnancy and feeling paranoid, living in fear, suppressing and hiding our natural cycles with pills and hormones, when really we’re only fertile for a short window of a few days each month and our eggs only live for 12-24 hours after ovulation. Men, on the other hand, are fertile 24/7 and can shoot a load of sperm practically on demand … but of course birth control, reproductive rights, and fertility are not considered MALE issues by society, the medical community, or politics. Le sigh.

I found out I was pregnant April 5th.

We had just returned from Hawaii back to the cold, rainy Chicago and it felt like my jet lag wouldn’t go away. I was exhausted and due for my period to start, had extra sore breasts and was a few days late but my cycles range from 29-36 days so wasn’t overthinking it. My friend Deidre was convinced I was pregnant so I took a pregnancy test, and sure enough saw a suuuuuper faint line on the pee stick. Apparently ANY line, even a faint one, indicates the presence of hCG hormones aka pregnancy.

A lot of pregnancy feels like your life has become a string of days spent trying to impatiently pass the time between doctor’s appointments. It is the craziest most frustrating feeling to not be able to do anything except trust things are developing fine until you have your first appointment or ultrasound. I find it extra crazy that in our society you have to keep your pregnancy a big secret until you’re 12 or 13 weeks and have made it through to the safety of the second trimester, when risk of miscarriage is very tiny.

I understand and respect why women want to keep the news a secret until it’s “safe” to share, especially if it involves your job or workplace. At the same time, I think it is complete and total bullshit that the whole time you’re trying to conceive through early pregnancy -- a period of time that lasts at least several months up to years on end -- is such a taboo hush hush period of time in a woman’s life. This is the time we should be rallying together to support each other and celebrate our womanhood regardless of what happens, NOT the time we need to feel isolated and alone!

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But back to the story.

I was pregnant.

We gave it a nickname.

I downloaded all the pregnancy apps and read all the pregnancy books. (Highly recommend Expecting Better if you're a paranoid hypochondriac like me!)

I stopped going to hot yoga.

My boobs grew an entire cup size which was awesome, not gonna lie.

I had the WORST food aversions to vegetables, chicken, and leftovers, and only wanted to eat cheeseburgers and fries and oatmeal. So many fries.

I didn't experience the extreme fatigue I'd heard about, but my energy was definitely lower and I was incredibly spacey. It felt like I usually do during my period, except extra strange.

We spent an entire evening picking out baby names.

We broke the news to our parents over my birthday weekend and celebrated with my mom and dad here in Chicago.

We told Ben’s grandma that only the best grandmas are promoted to “great.”

We planned to tell my grandma when we visited her in the Quad Cities over her birthday/Mother’s Day weekend.

I started mentally rearranging my work and travel schedule over the next year.

We started mentally rearranging our furniture so we could convert my office into a nursery.

And FINALLY around what would have been my 8th week I went in for my first ultrasound appointment to get a more accurate estimated due date.

You can usually detect a heartbeat and see an embryo via vaginal ultrasound at around the 6 week mark, so I was nervous and excited to finally see something, make this pregnancy feel real, and confirm there was actually something growing inside of me and I wasn’t just having what felt like a bad hangover 24/7.

Another thing they don’t tell you - to measure and view your reproductive organs and embryo they do an internal ultrasound which means a giant wand is shoved right up into your vajay. I had experienced this before so luckily it wasn’t an unexpected suprise! Yay womanhood.

So I go into this ultrasound expecting to see a little jellybean hanging out inside my uterus.

Instead, all to be seen was a yolk sac - the precursor to an embryo, and everything was measuring at about 5 and a half weeks along. The tech didn’t seem concerned because this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, it usually means I must have ovulated and conceived later than we thought.

But it was still a pretty crushing shock, especially since I had been so in tune with tracking my fertility and knew deep down that something was wrong.

I scheduled a follow up ultrasound the next week to see if the embryo had developed (they grow fast!), and also had my hCG or pregnancy hormones tested to make sure they were increasing.

That next week was the longest 8 days of my life.

I spent way too many hours on the internet, binging on message threads and reading about other women’s experiences. I know this doesn’t sound like the best thing to do, but I really needed to feel like I wasn’t alone.

It was so hard to have zero control over the situation, and impossible not to worry.

To make matters more stressful, a few days later I started to spot. Again, spotting in the first trimester doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, but it wouldn’t go away. And then it turned into light bleeding. And then my nausea let up and my breasts stopped aching. I tend to be a hypochondriac, but I still knew that it was ending.

I journaled a list of all the things I could do this summer if I wasn’t pregnant.

Get back to my high intensity workouts.

Lose the 10 pounds I’d put on.

Drink all the beer and margaritas.

Have energy to pour into my business goals.

The following Thursday Ben took the morning off work so he could come to the follow up ultrasound with me. I was bracing myself for the worst, and just wanted to know what was happening and gain some certainty over the situation.

I didn’t think of it as “preparing for bad news” because miscarrying didn’t seem bad or wrong to me, it was just neutral.

The ultrasound did show that a fetal pole had developed (the first stage of an embryo), and the tech could detect a slight fluttering she measured as a heartbeat, but it was extremely slow, and everything was still measuring at only 5 and a half weeks along even though I should have been over 9 weeks by then. So yay growth! But …

I feel extremely grateful for our ultrasound tech, she was a mom herself and so friendly and positive and told us we still shouldn’t assume the worst until we got the results of my blood test back.

So we went home to wait for the doctor to call since I chose the earliest possible ultrasound and the office wasn’t even open yet. Annnnnd then the attending OB was called into an emergency delivery. So I had to wait for several hours. My bleeding kept getting worse and worse, so I knew what was happening before she called back and shared that my hCG levels weren’t rising and that I would have a miscarriage. She said it was ok to pass everything at home, but to go to the emergency room if I started bleeding very heavily.

I didn’t really have any feelings at that point, I was just grateful to have answers and know what to expect, or at least to know what was happening. After the longest week ever of worrying it almost felt like a relief.

Except then I just had to sit around and wait for the miscarriage to actually happen, and had no idea what it would be like or if I’d have to go to the ER.

Ben went into school to teach his afternoon classes but my friend Amanda came over to be with me, and we sat on the couch and binged American Idol because watching talented teenagers chase their dreams was just what I needed to escape my reality.

Amanda eventually had to leave for work too, but I felt stable enough and although I had started to cramp, it wasn’t unbearable pain.

Pretty soon after she left, I went to the bathroom and passed a small gush of blood and two larger globs of tissue, which wasn’t as traumatizing as I had feared but still the saddest thing that had ever happened to me.

So at 7:45am that morning I learned our little tadpole had a heartbeat of 58-62 bpm (for a healthy baby it should be at least twice that).

By 4pm in the afternoon I was flushing it down the toilet.

That is what crushes me the most.

After that the bleeding never got worse, so I had Ben pick up my favorite burger and fries on the way home (my biggest pregnancy craving), and we cracked open two cans of bubbly we had in the fridge because I honestly just wanted to drink.

It was the saddest and most surreal day of my life.

Side note: having a miscarriage three days before Mother's Day?

LITERALLY THE WORST.

But wait, there’s more! The miscarriage doesn’t end when you pass the tissue and fetus!

Everyone is different, so there’s really no way to tell what will happen to your body. Sometimes you need to have a “D&C,” short for dilation and curettage, where they literally dilate your cervix and suck or scrape out the remaining tissue if your body doesn’t pass it on its own.

I didn’t need a D&C because my bleeding was never too crazy heavy, so I let things happen on their own time. It still took me almost two weeks to stop bleeding. It was like the neverending period from hell.

Think of it this way: when you have a regular period, you’re shedding your uterine lining that has been building up for 10-14 days or so. When you have a miscarriage, you’re shedding the fetal tissue PLUS the uterine lining that has been building up for weeks and weeks to make a nice cushy home for your baby.

I went in the next week for a check-up, and my doctor removed some of the remaining tissue which might have helped reduce my bleeding, but then I just felt like someone had punched my uterus from the inside for the next couple of days.

And then the following weekend (so 8 days afterwards) I flew to Florida for a retreat with some of the health coaches on my team. I knew a good girls weekend would be really good for me, and it was, although I was so depressed even hanging out with my squad couldn’t really lift my energy. I also avoided the pool or ocean because I didn’t want to risk infection, which was kind of a bummer. At least I could drink my fave kombucha margaritas! At risk of sounding like an alcoholic, being able to have margaritas this summer has been the biggest consolation.

AND THENNNNN…

Monday morning we planned to clean up the AirBNB, before flying back to Chicago that afternoon. At around 7am I started having cramps again, and they quickly intensified to the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. I’ve never felt anything like this before and now I’m curious to actually go into labor to compare the feeling, because it felt like I was having contractions.

Every 30-45 seconds or so the pain would ease up for 5 seconds, and then another wave would hit. This went on for a little over 2 hours and I didn’t know what to do. I took three ibuprofen which seemed to do absolutely nothing for the pain. I tried to drink a little water and eat half a banana, which I promptly vomited right back up. I felt like I was literally in hell. Couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. The weird part was that my bleeding never got worse - if anything, it was lightening up.

I called my doctor’s office to see if they could remotely prescribe me some pain killers but they told me all I could do was get to urgent care and then come in when I got home. So Amanda (who I am starting to think of as Saint Amanda) drove me to the nearest urgent care, where they gave me a shot of pain reliever (in my butt, HAHA) and a prescription for Vicodin so I could survive the plane ride home.

Within an hour the cramps eased up (PRAISE THE RISEN CHRIST) and I never ended up needing anymore meds, although I started to cramp again around 3am the next morning by the time I finally made it home (oh yeah, after an 8 HOUR FLIGHT DELAY, go figure) I popped a few more ibuprofen and went to sleep.

I think it was my uterus saying “F this sh*t, I’m done” and taking one last stand to expel any remaining tissue because after that the bleeding stopped fairly quickly.

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Stuff no one tells you about having a miscarriage:

No one tells you that if you let things pass on their own, the tissue you’re losing might start to smell STANKY, sort of like rotting meat. Because that’s literally what it is. (I warned you this was gonna get graphic!) But NO ONE TOLD ME THIS and WebMD told me a bad smell was the biggest sign of a uterine infection which can spread to your blood, make you infertile, and cause all sorts of deadly complications. So of course I lived in a state of paranoia for several days, convinced I was going to die.

No one tells you that your hormones will go crazy as you have the biggest hormone crashes of your life. Your body thinks that it’s having a baby. You might experience the worst depression or mood swings ever.

No one tells you that getting your period back might not make you feel happy. It might make you relive the miscarriage again and make you feel like you’ll never stop bleeding. It might make you sad that your body is back to “normal” like your pregnancy didn’t even happen, like it was all a dream.

No one tells you that it will feel like a knife to the heart every time another friend announces their pregnancy on Facebook. And that it will seem like EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER is getting pregnant.

No one tells you that social events will be excruciating. Having to make small talk and pretend that everything is fine when on the inside you are falling to pieces.
 

Things that have been interesting to discover:

Your maternal instincts kick in as soon as you know you're pregnant. It doesn't matter whether or not you have a "real baby" or even an empty gestational sac inside of you, or if you're even excited and happy to be pregnant. You will love that theoretical baby with all your heart and soul.

I have felt a new range of emotion deeper than anything I’ve experienced before, like a new level has been unlocked in my creativity, feminine power, and general humanity. By expanding our capacity for grief and pain, I believe we inversely expand our capacity for joy and love as well. At least that’s what it felt like for me, and the thought of being able to hold that limitless joy gives me a lot of hope.

I’ve also been interested to discover my deep resistance to expressing negative emotion. My first instinct when sharing my sad news is to apologize for bringing down the vibe of the conversation or group. WHAT? 

I have this deeply rooted fear that if I allow myself to be depressed, angry, or sad, I’ll be rejected - by society, in my job, even by my husband. I know this sounds crazy when you write it out, but inside my crazybrain the fear is real and has triggered some deep opportunities for emotional healing.

This has allowed me to re-frame how I relate to my job as a coach - it’s not just about being a beacon of positive energy. Coaching is about keeping it real, holding space, and sharing the full spectrum of human experience.

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be “low vibe” if that is in alignment for you.

We HAVE to process our feelings, if we shove them down and ignore them it’s like trying to hold a beachball underwater, it will eventually pop up and explode unpredictably.

It is important to be vulnerable and open up in order to receive support and experience connection.

I do NOT feel like my body failed me, or blame myself at all, which I was relieved to discover. It’s tempting to want to second guess every decision we made or drink we had before we knew we were pregnant, or feel like a failure when we have a miscarriage, but our bodies are resilient and it’s actually pretty rare to miscarry an embryo or fetus if you and the baby are healthy and everything is developing normally. Most miscarriages happen because of chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo, and the embryo basically aborts itself since it won’t be able to grow and develop. I trust that this wasn't my fault, and that it was just one of those random shitty things that happens for no apparent reason.

In the end, I am so incredibly grateful that it’s literally my job to take care of myself, and that through coaching I’ve built a community of other women to support me through the ups and downs of life. A few of my clients had miscarriages earlier this year, so being able to connect with women who have been through the same thing has helped so much. Finally, the ability to stay home and take care of myself without having to use up sick days or go back to work before I was ready has been a huge ginormous blessing.

I am grateful that I know my body CAN get pregnant (although knowing this doesn’t make loss any easier or less sad), and I’m grateful to have had the fascinating and miraculous experience of pregnancy for five weeks.

And I am SO GRATEFUL for all the work I’ve done with menstrual cycle awareness, it has given me such an appreciation for my body and allowed me to enjoy getting my period again each month because it meant another month I could experience my full cycle! I actually love being on my period because it’s my time to chill, rest, and do deeper visioning and inner work. My entire business and creative flow revolves around my cycle and I knew I’d actually miss it once I was preggers.

I actually did get my period back this week, just 26 days after the miscarriage. It’s definitely been heavier and crampier than normal, but I’m glad my body is getting itself back on track. My energy has also been improving, and I feel a little physically and emotionally stronger every single day.

I’m not sure when we’ll start trying to conceive again.

For now, I want to enjoy the summer and be fully present in the moment. Despite the grief and hormonal craziness, having my body back just for me again feels really good right now.

If you want to follow along with my journey, I share more personal updates and real talk on my Facebook page, and especially inside my private wellness community which you’re welcome to join here! It’s a positive, encouraging space to connect with other women who are working towards embodying our best selves every day. And in case I haven't emphasized it enough, COMMUNITY IS SO FREAKING IMPORTANT!!

Thank you for listening and allowing me to share my story.

xo Anna

p.s. If you're wondering what to say to a friend who has experienced miscarriage (or basically any kind of loss), a simple "I'm so sorry for your loss" and a giant hug are the best :)

Also "do you want to talk about it? Because I'm here to listen" (when you are actually in person//on the phone).

Our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii

2018Anna Locke
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Last month we decided to take advantage of Ben's spring break and escape the endless Midwest winter by heading to Hawaii to explore the island and visit our friends Kate and Doug, who own a coffee farm in the Kona region.

It was our first trip to Hawaii (well, since I was 18 months old!) and we both agreed it was the best trip we've ever taken - truly magical!

Here's a travel recap of our vacation, and some of our favorite spots on the Big Island that you must visit if you ever get the chance!

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We flew into Kailua Kona on Sunday night, rented a car, and drove up the mountain in the dark to our home away from home Sunshower Farms! This is what the house looks like in the day, but in the pitch blackness it was quite the adventure for our little Mazda, up winding steeper-than-Berkeley back roads. But we made it and woke up the next morning in HAWAII!!!

Kona is to coffee like Napa is to wine. So many big and small family farms growing delicious coffee beans on the side of a volcano. We may be biased because it's owned by our good friends but Sunshower Farms is definitely worth a visit for a tour and "cupping" aka coffee tasting on the back lanai overlooking the Pacific ocean!

We hopped on a tour one morning to learn more about the farm.

Coffee beans grow on trees and it takes about four years for a plant to produce fruit. The flowers are small and white stars, the berries turn red when ripe, and inside are usually two mushy slimy beans that are roasted into delicioiusness!

Doug and Kate live entirely off the grid, so all the water for the farm and household comes from these giant rain catchment tanks that look like janky swimming pools. 

After the farm tour we headed to the lanai for a coffee "cupping," which basically means a tasting where you take notes on the aroma of dry and wet grounds and taste of different roasts.

I cut caffeine out of my life 2.5 years ago but of course I drank allllllll the fresh coffee while we were in Kona and it was worth it! Fun fact: Kona coffee is the only kind where you can literally say you are "buying local" (as in from the USA). 

If you want to learn more about the coffee industry, sustainability, ethical practices, and how a lawyer and financial trader from Chicago left their jobs to start a farm in Hawaii, check out the interview I recorded with Kate here!

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On our first full day we dodged the random thunderstorms to visit Pu`uhonua O Hōnauna National Historical Park, an ancient sacred site and place of refuge. It was beautiful and very interesting to learn more about the history of the island and the native culture.

"In old Hawai'i, if you had broken a law, the penalty was death. Perhaps you had entered into an area that was reserved for only the chiefs, or had eaten forbidden foods. Laws, or kapu, governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was certain death. Your only option for survival is to elude your pursuers and reach the nearest pu'uhonua, or place of refuge.

As you enter, the great wall rises up before you marking the boundaries between the royal grounds and the sanctuary. Many ki'i (carved wooden images) surround the Hale o Keawe temple, housing the bones of the chiefs that infuse the area with their power or mana. If you reached this sacred place, you would be saved." (source)

Afterwards we stopped for happy hour mai tai's and fish tacos on the beach! It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.

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The next day we drove north along the west coast to check out a couple of gorgeous beaches, Hapuna Beach State Park and Waialea Beach. On the way home we stopped at a little juice bar and I got the best $8 Acai Bowl of my life. Probably because I was so hot and dehydrated, but it brought me way too much joy, haha. 

The big island is unique because it's (obviously) the biggest island in the chain and also the only one that still sits over an active volcano. The landscape is varied - dry and volcanic desert-like on the west coast, more lush and rainforesty on the east coast. In the north and center of the island there are rolling fields and ranches, and the two giant summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

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Fun fact: Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on earth, 33,000 ft from base to peak! It still had snow on the summit.

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(more scenes from the farm!)

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Another sunny day we went for a hike down to the Captain Cook monument, which took us down through grasses and shrubby woodlands, across a lava field, and finally to a bright blue cove filled with snorkelers and boats. The way down was beautiful. The hike back up ... well let's just say I was sweating more than I do at hot yoga and we had to stop at a gas station for emergency fluids before recouping with the best beers and macadamia nut cookies of our life!

We ended up driving literally all over the Big Island to explore, including a mini trip-within-trip overnight adventure to Volcanoes National Park (just in time before it closed due to the eruption!). 

There is an actual little community named Volcano on the outskirts of the park, where we stopped for lunch at the hidden paradise of Volcano Garden Arts, a garden/arts center and cafe. 

The eastern side of the island is considered the rainy side, but we got lucky and it ended up being the first sunny day in months according to the locals! We grabbed a delicious lunch in the garden and got to pat the resident giant bunny Noble.

After lunch we headed into the park itself, which is one of the most unique places I've ever been, and one of my favorite things about national parks is learning about the natural history of the area #geographynerd. The park is centered around Kilauea, the only currently active volcano in Hawaii. The big island is currently situated over a "hot spot" in the ocean, and the movement of tectonic plates over time is what caused the creation of the entire chain of islands now called Hawaii.

We came back to the park at night to see the crater after dark, and it was literally the coolest thing I've ever seen -- active lava shooting up!

The next morning we continued to drive north up the east side of the island to visit a couple of waterfalls, the city of Hilo, and the Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden.

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First up was Akaka Falls and it was by far my favorite waterfall. There's a gorgeous path that winds through lush tropical plantings that brings you through towering trees and finally right up to the waterfall.

If you look at the distance you can see Mauna Kea's snow covered peak!

After grabbing lunch at an adorable vegan cafe in Hilo, we stopped by the Hawaii Botanical Gardens and it was another experience I would highly recommend -- it was like stepping inside a tropical oasis.

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We stopped by Rainbow Falls on our drive home, which was also beautiful (and randomly located on the edge of a subdivision! You see all these photos and think they are in the middle of the jungle wilderness, ha) but Akaka Falls is still my favorite.

On our final full day in Hawaii, Kate took us on an adventure around the north and east sides of the island, through the adorable town of Hawi and across the Kohala region, which is full of ranches and rolling green hills.

One of the things that struck us the most is the diversity of microclimates, landscapes, and ecosystems on the Big Island! You have lava fields, dry arid deserts, beaches, mountains, rainforests, rolling plains, pretty much everything on one small lump of rock in the middle of the Pacific.

We stopped at the iconic Pololu Valley for a photo op, although decided not to hike down to the black sand beaches, still recovering from our Captain Cook adventure lol. 

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CLIFFS OF MAGICAL WONDER!

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Overall, we were in Hawaii for a week but having at least three more days would have been perfect!

Next time we want to snorkel, have more beach time, and go to the observatories on the top of Mauna Kea (there was a full moon during the week we visited, too bright for good star gazing).

Hawaii is truly a magical place, and I'm grateful we were able to visit and also learn more about the history of the island and the original Polynesians who were the first to call it home.

Living in the US, it's easy to take our colonial heritage for granted but I think the least we can do is bring awareness to the reasons why we have this gorgeous country in the first place.

Ben and I both agreed this was the best trip we've ever taken (especially together), it was truly magical and sad to leave, but we know we'll return!

Mahalo Kate and Doug for being such awesome hosts and friends :)

p.s. if you are a coffee lover, you can order their home grown and hand roasted beans here! THIS COFFEE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE, it's so worth it. You know you wanna be a coffee snob. Our fave is the Kalikimaka blend!

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