Hawaii: The Big Island – January 1, 2022

Blue as far as the eye can see

After a week of mostly cloudy skies with periods of sunshine, this day began with a clear, bright, perfect blue sky. Being an internal optimist (like a Sour Patch Kid, I am sweet on the inside and sour on the outside), I believe that this blue sky day on the first day of 2022 portends good things for this new year. Hope I didn’t just jinx it. See? Sweet and sour at the same time.

My sister-in-law, Karen, booked us an outrigger trip for an hour this morning. We lucked out with the flawless weather and applied copious amounts of zinc oxide sunscreen. We started our trip off the sandy shore at the Marriott’s King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. We met our guide, Jeff, and began the experience by pulling the outrigger to the water. I lucked out because I got to be the official photographer for this. That wooden boat is heavy, even on wheels!!

The sea had a moderate swell, but outriggers are made for this so it was no issue with seven of us paddling. The ride was smoother and easier than I imagined, and the views of the island from the water made the effort worth it. We paused a few times, just drifting on the ocean, so Jeff could tell us a bit of the history of this area. We learned that Hualalai, the dormant volcano visible from Kona’s shores, means “head in the clouds,” which has been true for the majority of our time here. I told the boys that from now on when one of us is in another place mentally I shall say we are “hualalai.”

While we were taking a paddle break at one point, we heard a mammal surface nearby. Looking around, we saw a couple dolphins and were lucky enough to see them curiously check us out by swimming underneath the boat. How cool is that?

There is a dolphin there swimming off…they are fast and hard to capture in a photo

After our outrigger trip, we returned to the house for some steak and eggs before heading out to do a little souvenir shopping in Kona town. Luke was craving shave ice. I hadn’t had any yet on this trip, so it seemed like a good idea. I got lilikoi (passion fruit) flavor because that is my absolute favorite and something I don’t often get to enjoy in Colorado. Somehow I convinced the boys to play along for this little photo op. I think Joe was representing a brain freeze with his expression here.

Trinkets obtained, we headed back to the house to order some takeout Thai food and enjoy our most colorful sunset here yet. It’s like the universe aligned everything just for us on this New Year’s Day. With our trip coming to a rapid conclusion, the reality of our imminent departure hit Joe and I like a wave hitting the lava rock shoreline. He and I are the most committed to this state, the ones who would be most likely to have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto a flight back to cold, snowy Colorado later. I am trying to be zen about our exodus, but I am struggling. Time to engage my mindfulness skills, stay in the moment, and mourn the exit when I board the plane in 12 hours.

Seriously, Hawaii? Why you make it so hard to leave?

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 31st, 2021

For this last day of 2021, I vowed to be more present. It’s something I have been working on this year, through mindfulness and meditation, because I want to be more checked in than checked out and because I want to learn to manage my monkey brain and respond more carefully to people and to life’s choices. So I spent less time today on my phone and more time simply paying attention to my surroundings rather than trying to photograph them.

Snorkelers galore at Kahalu’u Beach Park enjoy a morning swim

The first thing we did this morning was head out to do some snorkeling at a beach known for clear waters and loads of reef fish. Kahalu’u Beach Park did not disappoint. Although we did not bring an underwater camera, I saw oodles of fish, many of which I had not ever seen before. While I was unsure how I would like the Big Island and her scarcity of sand beaches, it turns out that the lack of sand means clearer water for viewing fish. This has made the paucity of sandy beaches a total non-issue because I would rather snorkel than sit in the sand and carry it home with me anyway. At this snorkel spot, I saw myriad yellow tang and bullethead parrotfish, several different varieties of trigger fish, Moorish idols, huge corals, and a porcupine fish. We were out for about an hour and it was worth every second.

The wind picked up substantially in the afternoon and the surf got a little crazy for a few hours, so I spent some time along the lava rocks behind the house searching for shells. I’ve found a couple full cowries, which made me happy.

In the late afternoon, I spent some time staring at the tumultuous seas. I would move here in a heartbeat. If I won the lottery, a place like this one, right on the ocean, would be my first purchase. Since we are down to our last two days here, though, I decided to soak this hammock thing up because I don’t know when or if I will have this opportunity again. And I have officially decided that Hawaii agrees with me, so it is only natural that I end up here somehow, someway, someday.

Sun sets on the last day of 2021

We opted to cook in tonight. Steve grilled tenderloin and we sautéed some shrimp in garlic butter and topped it with chopped parsley. It was perfection. The sun set behind a huge bank of clouds as fireworks began to pop off on the hill on the other side of the bay from our rental. Overall, it was a perfect end to a long, tiring 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 finds our situation, on the whole, improved from the last two years. Happy New Year from this beautiful place!

Our genius son was the only one who stayed up until midnight to catch Kona celebrating NYE 2020 in grand fashion

Hawaii: Big Island – December 30, 2021

Today was the most mellow day we have had yet on this vacation. Honestly, aside from taking some time to swim and snorkel in the keiki pond near our rental, photograph flowers, hunt for shells, and watch the sea for dolphins and whales, the most energetic thing we did happened at 10:20 pm when we got in the ocean to watch manta rays feed. That will require a separate post, which I will get to as soon as we manage to downloaded the photos from the GoPro we rented for the experience. Still, it was an amazing day for wildlife and nature viewing and photography.

It has been overcast here for days, but luckily we have managed to escape most of the rain we feared would literally dampen our trip. While we may not come back tan, we are definitely warm, rested, and unwound, which makes this entire trip worth every second of missed clear, sunny skies.

Next up: Manta Rays!

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 27, 2021

Even in paradise on vacation, there are days when you have to face reality and do the things. This was that sort of day.

I started the day with a leisurely morning jaunt outside to relish the sunrise and the uninhabited beach. Most people will tell you they prefer sunset. I’m a sunrise gal, myself. Maybe it’s the quiet morning. Maybe it’s the effort it takes to be present for a sunrise. Maybe it’s the promise that lies ahead in a fresh day. Or maybe it’s just that I like to be contrary to popular opinion. Anyway, it’s the sunrise that captures my attention.

After sunrise, it was time to attend to chores. I washed and folded clothes and towels, cleaned up the kitchen, made our bed, and fed the feral kitties that have chosen this as their home.

hey kitteh kitteh

After that, Steve and I had shopping to do since it was our turn to prepare dinner. We picked up some opah (moonfish) at the seafood market, and then hit the store for groceries before making our way home. I thought I would sit in the sun for a bit and as I was about to make my way to the beach, I was slapped in the face with a harsh reminder that there really is no escaping reality, not even in paradise. I’m not sure what makes people visiting a beach decide they need to bring the American flag and a f*** Joe Biden message along to make a statement, but I could have done without it. Not because I begrudge anyone their First Amendment right to express themselves freely, but because I was hoping that I could escape partisan political bullshit while on vacation. Luckily, there is a reminder off the front lanai to find inner peace. So I decided to go there instead.

A little while later we were treated to an entire pod of dolphins swimming ahead of a boat. I didn’t have my phone on me, so I missed the photo moment. But a little while later they headed back and I was able to capture (from a considerable distance) this tiny bit of dolphin proof.

For dinner, we prepared fish tacos. I made a fresh pineapple salsa while Steve grilled the fish. We served the tacos alongside some white rice, black beans, and a green salad with sundried tomato dressing. After dinner, I sat in the spa while Steve and the boys alternated between swimming in the pool and warming up in the spa. Their antics made my heart happy.

It was a chill day at the house, but one we needed to get caught up and ready for the last days of our visit. Our next days will be more active with trips to other parts of the island, a helicopter tour, some long overdue professional family photos, and a swim with the manta rays. Stay tuned.

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 26, 2021

Mornings here are getting into a rhythm. Steve and I wake early, take some photos when the area behind the house on the makai (towards the sea) side is calm and mostly people free. I like to wander down to the tidal ponds to see any fish that might be stirring. This morning, as I meandered towards the water, I noticed this flower that someone in our family had placed along the lava rock wall surrounding the pool. There aren’t as many flowers blooming here now as there would be at other times of the year, but that makes the ones I am seeing more of a treasure.

The big excitement of the morning came when Luke was the first of us to spot humpback whales in the ocean behind the house. We’d been wondering if we would see some. We know they usually visit between December and April, but we’d been told it might be a little too early to see many of them. In fact, while verifying the time of year when they travel through these waters, I found that other Google searchers had similar questions. The funniest question I saw in my search was, “What time of day is the best for spotting whales?” I laughed. We Americans are so used to having the world at our fingertips that there are those among us who think the whales actually have a schedule they follow to make it easier for us to see them. The pure, simple, and beautiful answer about when you see whales is whenever they need to come up for air. They aren’t an attraction at Disneyworld that runs on a tight schedule. They are actual creatures living their lives. We just happen to be fortunate enough to bear witness to that on occasion. Throughout the rest of the day, though, the whales decided to inhale in front of me four additional times when my eyes just happened to be trained on the sea. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.

The rest of our day was spent snorkeling and hanging at the pool. I love snorkeling. While I am not well practiced given my status as a landlocked, mountain girl, I do revel in the view underwater. I saw a banded coral shrimp, which I had never seen before. The boys (aged 20 and 18) acted like boys (aged 6 and 4) in the pool, beating each other with foam noodles and using snorkel masks to dive. While they were doing that, I made another little green friend on the lanai where I was busy composing yesterday’s blog post.

The highlight of the day was a dinner cruise down to Kealakekua Bay, the site where Captain James Cook was killed. This cruise, conducted by Body Glove Ocean Adventures, was surprisingly informative, well run, and fun. I typically view these trips as tourist traps. I still book them, but I am prepared for them to be hokey and subpar, worth only the opportunity to get out on the sea. The cruise was recommended to us by the concierge service at the property management company that oversees the rental home we’re occupying, so I am grateful to them for that. The dinner was delicious: a locally grown green salad, Hawaiian-style barbecue ribs, a coconut milk, green curry vegetable side with white rice, and a coconut roll. I was impressed they were able to pull this off so well given that the boat we took unloaded passengers just 10 minutes before we were able to board. During the trip, we were gifted with whale sightings and the opportunity to see both spinner and bottlenose dolphins. By the end of the cruise, with copious tropical drinks on board, most of the passengers were singing and dancing along to YMCA by the Village People. I am usually a cynic and find this type of behavior beneath me, but I may be growing because I found the entire spectacle charming and actually participated. There was a lovely Indian family (about 15 of them) who were celebrating some family milestones, and they formed a large circle near the singer/dj and led the crowd in the revelry. After so long being sequestered and not being in the company of strangers, it was heavenly, even for this introvert.

When I can get myself to back off my cynicism and check my opinionated mind at the door, I rediscover the simple pleasure of witnessing connections between people and remembering that these moments give this ephemeral life its breath.

Hawaii: The Big Island – Day One

We were up early, no surprise when you are in a time zone three hours behind your own. So, after flopping around in bed from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m., we decided to call it good and start moving. We had arrived after dark, so we had no idea where we had gone to sleep, although we knew we were near the ocean. We woke up in our rental condo (only one night here before moving to our house for the next 10 days), and this was our view. Damn, Hawaii. You know how to bring it.

Not too shabby for a morning view

First order of the day was copious amounts of caffeine at Kona Coffee and Tea, where this little fellow decided to try to peddle insurance to us while we sipped our beverages. He was too cute to ignore, so we listened to his pitch but ultimately told him we weren’t ready to switch to Geico and he politely went on his way and left us to our day.

Did you know….

After finishing coffee, we thought it might be fun to see if we could get a view of the home we would be staying in for the remainder of the trip. We knew the house was near a public access beach, so we parked the rental van, traipsed down the sandy public access path, and found Keiki Beach relatively empty at 8:30 a.m.

We wandered around, staring into tide pools as we made our way towards the rental house. I knew exactly where to find it (thank you, Google Maps) and there it was, exactly as pictured on VRBO. We were drying to get in, but check in wasn’t until 4 so we settled for a view for the time being, feeling relatively confident we would be just fine with our chosen lodging. I mean, how could we not be?

Looks good to me

Since we had hours to kill before the 4 p.m. check in time, we decided to drive up to Waikoloa to right a wrong. A few years ago on a flight to Montreal, I lost the koa wood band we had purchased in Maui five years ago. Steve and I had first seen these wedding bands in Kauai in 2013 and thought someday we would get them. Then we did. Then I lost mine. Today we replaced it. Third island is the charm? While in Waikoloa we did some souvenir shopping and stopped to have lunch at the Lava Lava Beach Club, which had great food and drinks, and an even better view.

The rest of the family was landing in Hawaii around 4, so after lunch we hightailed it into town for some grocery shopping and check in time at our rental house. After one slight hiccup with a security alarm that was not supposed to have been set but was, we finally got to tour our vacation abode. We were not disappointed in the home, which features this in the entryway. Seems like someone knows the recipe for serenity.

Rules of the house?

While the boys and I got settled, Steve made the fifteen minute drive to the airport to retrieve the rest of our family. When they arrived, we got caught up on the trip out, the hoops we jumped through just to make it to Hawaii, and our relative levels of exhaustion. Then we ordered some take out, consumed Thai food and cocktails on the deck overlooking the sea, and finally called it a night.

What struck me the most about the Big Island on my first full day were the textures. With a conscious decision made to spend less time on apps and more time on mindful presence, It seemed everywhere I looked there was depth and detail: from the evergreen branches climbing towards the sky to the shell of a minuscule snail to the veins in a hibiscus flower to the rough lava rock at the tide pools to the soft clouds above pointy leaves. The island was begging me to pay attention to it. I acquiesced. How could I not?

There is a reason why we love Hawaii so much and keep returning. She never disappoints.

Can The Grinch Be Tamed By Mele Kalikimaka?

Picturing myself here

The worst part about vacation is the getting ready. The worst part about taking a vacation during the holiday season is that you have to do all the work for the holidays that you normally do, but you have to do it in less time, and you have to add all the vacation prep to your already tightened schedule. I’ve been a stressed out nightmare the past couple weeks. My days packed, my list of things to do seemingly insurmountable, trying only to get from one event to the next, never being able to get ahead. I’ve been testy and tired, anxious and annoyed. I’ve not been my best self. Some days, I wasn’t sure who I was. Today, it hit me that I have been the Grinch.

My goal for vacation is to toss off my grinch mindset and embrace the present with peace in my head. That will be achieved through some meditation, some fresh, salty air, and some sand under my feet. And maybe a piña colada or mai tai or two. Maybe without all the traditional trappings of the holidays, without the obligations and the busy work, the peace that is meant to consume this season will consume me and allow my grinch heart to grow three sizes.

Can the Grinch be tamed by a Mele Kalikimaka? I will let you know if Hawaii is able to work her magic. Stay tuned.

Bucket List Item No. 8 – Mele Kalikimaka

Wouldn’t you love this view every day?

For many, many years, one item on my bucket list has been to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m not sure where this idea originated, but I’ve been bugging Steve about it for a while. In early January of 2020, we were able to plan and book a family trip to Hawaii for Christmas with Steve’s family, courtesy of my exceedingly generous mother-in-law, Marlene. Then, all hell broke loose in China and it spread to Iran and Italy, and Steve and I suspected our trip might be doomed. Early on during lockdown, we kind of held out hope that maybe things might be okay if everyone banded together to fight this common enemy. We might still be able to make Hawaii for Christmas. But the country didn’t band together, Covid kept surging, and Hawaii said a polite “No, mahalo” to incoming visitors. Our airline reservations were cancelled. The VRBO gave us our rental money back. And we spent the holiday in new, matching, family flannel pajamas in snowy Colorado instead.

This year, we threw caution to the wind and tried booking our Hawaiian Christmas again. We found a different VRBO. Booked flights and a rental van. And then we waited. We were encouraged in March and April when people were gobbling up the vaccination appointments. Then the rate of vaccinations slowed substantially, and we went back to our waiting game. I didn’t even look for a dog sitter until September because I was that certain we would not be going. But here we are now, a little less than six weeks from our departure date, and things are looking like we just might make it.

The State of Hawaii is allowing visitors with proof of vaccination (meaning we don’t have to have Covid tests before our flight), and all seven of us have been vaccinated and will have had our boosters too by the end of this month. We’re a little late to the game now, but we’ve begun booking activities. Steve, the boys, and I have a helicopter tour booked. We’ve also got seats at a luau on Christmas Eve. We’re working to secure a reservation for a dinner cruise. We hired a photographer to take some family photos too. There are a couple more activities we’re interested in, but the point of the trip was to hang out as a family so that is what we will spend most of our time doing. To that end, after researching and hemming and hawing over five different homes big enough to accommodate our group, we ended up reserving one that is right in Kona and on the ocean. It even has some sand and a hammock. There were newer homes. There were flashier homes. This one looks a bit over-the-top with island decor, but the location, though, am I right?

With just six weeks to go before our flight to the Big Island, all I have to do is about thirty five days on the Peloton, four million sit ups, and some dreaded swimsuit shopping. As National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a family tradition each year, I already know the lyrics to Mele Kalikimaka. I will be singing them to myself every day between now and December 25th, when I will cross this Hawaiian Christmas dream off my bucket list.

fingers crossed

Ocean front hammocks at our VRBO

Virtual Postcards From My Covid-19 Vacation

“So happy I was invited, gave me a reason to get out of the city…you and your sister live in a Lemonworld.” ~The National

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At my house in Lemonworld

Our current, shared reality is, well, lackluster at best and terrifying at worst. As the number of Covid-19 deaths climbs and our world economy tanks, as the jobless claims skyrocket and citizens are sidelined at home, it’s getting downright difficult to maintain sanity. Although it was just a month ago I was looking forward to travel plans and finding plentiful packages of toilet paper during my Target runs, March seems to have lasted a lifetime since those halcyon days before the virus became everything. I find myself missing the annoyance of politics and the grind of everyday nonsense.

I had been doing my dogged best to write both to process the gravity of our situation and to bolster my flagging spirit. Writing, as it had been for me in the past, was becoming my escape, providing a sense of accomplishment and belonging. It was bringing me peace. It was my way of reaching out from my increasingly isolated, introvert world. Writing was all those things. And then suddenly it wasn’t because I found a better way out of my head.

I took a trip. I boarded a plane and now I’m on an island, basking in the sunlight, listening to the surf, and keeping myself plenty busy. I belong to the Animal Crossing world now. For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game exclusively for the Nintendo Switch console. My son downloaded the game on March 20th, its release date, a day when the virus news hit a sobering crescendo with the US State Department urging Americans to return home from abroad and Italy’s coronavirus death toll surpassing China’s. For a week, Joe played the game and showed me the sweet, wholesome world on his screen. It didn’t look like a bad place to be, so I decided to join him. Now I live on Lemonworld.

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Game fishing accomplishment

It’s been a whirlwind. I arrived here last Thursday afternoon. I settled into my tent and then began pulling weeds and gathering wood to raise funds for a house because my tent camping days are behind me. On Friday, I learned how to fish, determined how to shoot down gifts attached to helium balloons with my slingshot, and discovered that eating cherries gave me more energy to break rocks with my axe. I moved into my small cottage home, which I was able to pay off immediately because I am so industrious with my gathering and fishing and selling. Being a dutiful community member, I also began making donations to open a local museum. That same day, however, I made the horrific discovery that tarantulas live on my island. Of course they do because even peaceful tropical islands have their drawbacks. That first night, I got bitten and passed out three times because of those damn spiders. Hello, learning curve. Still, this island was beginning to feel like home and the spiders only come out at dusk, so I told Tom Nook, the tropical-garb wearing, raccoon dog fellow who brought me to the island, I was here for the long haul and thus ready to move into a bigger home.

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Visiting the Lemonworld Museum to see the coelacanth I donated

Yesterday, the spring skies opened up and it poured all day. Relentlessly determined to pay off my new, larger home (you have to catch a lot of fish to raise 198k bells — bells, you see, are the island currency), I spent my rainy day traipsing up and down the beaches trying to catch large fish I could sell to grow my bank account. I hit paydirt. On one of my expeditions, I reeled in an oarfish. Not long after that, I caught a rare coelacanth. While those fish would have netted me quite a handsome sum, I donated both to the museum because science is important. Ultimately, over the course of a long, active day, I was able to save up the full amount for my upgrade. I prefer to live debt free in paradise.

This game has been the perfect escape from these troubled times. Not only has it relieved me of infinite time to read news and perseverate over social media posts, but it has given me purpose and a sense of accomplishment (at least virtually). My sons both have the game now, and we can visit each other’s islands. Yesterday, my husband ordered himself a Switch, so soon all four of us will have an island getaway. The boys may have missed their spring break trip to Cuba, and Steve and I won’t be hanging with the stingrays on Grand Cayman in April, but at least we can still vacation together while trapped in our home. The only thing missing on my island, as far as I can tell, are pina coladas. Wonder if I can get my little raccoon dog buddy to bring me one of those?

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Soaking up the sun and listening to the surf in my happy place

 

 

Paradise – The Last Day

(Our last day in Kauai ended at the airport where we prepared for our overnight flight back to Denver. Because we had precious few hours left in paradise, I chose to save my final post about our trip until today. I’m sure you understand.)

Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls

We set the alarm for a 6:30 wake up call because we had a lot to accomplish. Happy to see that the clouds were finally clearing from Lihue, we decided our first stop would be Wailua Falls. Perhaps because this particular destination was relatively close to our lodging, we’d managed not to make it there yet. The mood was already somber in the car as we all took in the gravity of the situation. We were heading home at the end of the day, and not one of us was yet ready to leave.

When we reached the falls, it was lightly misting and the sun was obscured behind some clouds. Still, it was barely 8 a.m. on a workday morning for most folks in Kauai, so we had the falls to ourselves. We stood there for a few minutes enjoying it. The heavy rains from the preceding day had turned what should have been two separate falls into one large one, an upside surprise to visiting Kauai during the rainy season. As we stood there snapping photos, the clouds began to break up and for a brief minute the falls and the vibrant green forest surrounding it were illuminated. Perfection.

Sunny Poipu Beach mostly to ourselves
Sunny Poipu Beach mostly to ourselves

As beautiful as it was, we were eager to get on with our day so we headed to Koloa for coffee and breakfast to take to the beach. We were on Poipu before 9, and it was relatively empty as most folks were still sizing up the clouds and enjoying sleeping in on vacation. I headed for the water immediately, hell bent on getting some more fish photos with the underwater camera. I had hoped to spy a turtle in the surf but had no such luck. It was cool enough on the beach that the water felt pleasantly warm, so I swam and enjoyed the fish for about 45 minutes while the boys played in the mellow waves. We stayed on the beach until 11 and then packed up to go back to Koloa to purchase the last of a few souvenirs and gifts.

Our token Hawaiian souvenir photo for the koa wood frame we bought
Our token Hawaiian souvenir photo

Our last token Hawaiian moment happened after showers. On the first full day of our trip we had bought Hawaiian garb, somewhat tacky and obnoxious and yet wholly necessary. Once we were cleaned, we donned our Hawaiian outfits and drove down to Kalapaki Beach, the first place we touched the sand and the ocean on our very first night in Kauai. There with the late afternoon waves pounding the shore break, we posed in between waves for a quick family photo as our last nod to Hawaii. It was hard to be cheerful about it, but we tried.

Pretty sure I could get used to life in flip flops, tank tops, and no make up
Pretty sure I could get used to life in flip flops, tank tops, and no make up

On the flight from Kauai to Honolulu where we would catch our red-eye to Denver, Joe talked non-stop about how much he wanted to move to Hawaii. He says these things about every place we visit, so I didn’t think much of it. Truth is, though, that I was with him. I could live in Hawaii. Island fever be damned. There’s something magical about Kauai…the quiet pace of life, the light, the lushness, the friendly people, the steady and warm rain. I could do it. I could cash in my busy life to be quietly zen on Kauai. I’m sure of it. It would be a life completely different from the one I am living now, but I’m pretty certain I could live on a steady stream of flip-flops and farmer’s markets in paradise. Luke said that even paradise would seem boring after a few months. After all, if you’ve seen one sea turtle you’ve seen them all right? He asserts that some day even humpback whale sightings would be commonplace, much the way coyote and elk sightings are at home. He may be right. I suppose it’s possible. I’d simply like the opportunity to find out for sure.