Category Archives: Family Ramblings

Some Ice Time

It’s about 10 degrees out which means the ice is frozen solid and safe to be on so Kristy and I head to a local pond to practice and play on ice skates. At first you feel the air biting at any portion of skin left exposed in an attempt to freeze it. In a few minutes the warm blood pulsing through our veins fights back. Continually moving back and forth across the ice and we become filled with warmth… almost hot even! The cold temperature no longer matters as a layer or two of winter clothing is shed to keep from sweating.

Skating on the Pond

The sun begins to set on our backs with hardly a gesture to say goodbye as we continue to cut up the ice from the steel blades attached to our boots gliding every which way. We’re having fun out here occasionally kicking snowballs or pieces of ice back and forth in between the twists and turns working to hone our skating skills on this February day which is now turning into night. With the sun fully below the horizon, area lights turn on blasting light across the ice showing us every groove placed on this frozen lake throughout this day.

It's getting dark but that doesn't stop her from practicing

It’s time to leave as dinner will be waiting prompting a plea for just a few more minutes on this frozen surface. We’ve been having so much fun how do you deny a little extra time? Finally it is time to go. Once in the warm car heading home the cold can now be felt on our exposed skin again feeling the heat blowing through each vent. There is a slight burning sensation coming from our cheeks as they begin to warm reminding us of our recent adventures on this cold winter day. Maybe there will soon be another opportunity to skate again.

Continuing to practice in the cold

The Year Ahead – 2018

Now that the holidays have passed I like to make goals for the new year. Some are already underway while others have yet to be defined. This is going to be an interesting year for our family. To begin the year Minnesota is hosting the Super Bowl and my wife and I are committed to be a part of that which will be great. My oldest daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school and move on to the next phase in her life so that’s going to be a big change for us. Before the school year ends we are expecting to complete our National Parks Monopoly board with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After graduation there are no definitive plans which feels weird for me. I’ve had an adventure planned many summers and not having one this year seems like something is missing. Maybe this will be a good summer to get another dog and use this time to train it. Once the fall arrives there could be a transition bringing our daughter to college in a different state. We’ll see.

Getting Ready for Super Bowl 52

In just a few short weeks Super Bowl 52 will take place and I get to be there for all the fun, with my wife and several other family members, for the entire 10 days. During this time I’m a part of the volunteer group Crew 52 which will be roaming the Super Bowl Live area each day so if you’re in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week look for me and say hello. I’ll be the one in the long, blue coat that says Crew 52 Volunteer on it. In addition to that I’m also a part of the halftime setup crew so that is really exciting. There will be posts on these experiences I’m sure. The question often comes up wondering if I will be part of the crowd on TV. No, I’m part of the crew that sets up the staging and takes it down all in a matter of minutes so the only opportunity to get on TV is possibly in the background behind the on field analysts during halftime before or after the show.

Volcanic rocks

Plans for traveling to Hawaii to explore this great National Park and Island have been in the works since last fall but there is still much to do before we go on this adventure over spring break. This is a happy and sad trip bringing mixed emotions each time I plan another piece of it. I’m really looking forward to spending this time with family exploring another National Park and learning more about volcanoes and the tropical wildlife in the area. However, this is the last trip that I may get to take with my children in this way. The future is uncertain with the oldest moving on in her life. Sure, there’s likely to be other trips but will it be with significant others or spouses and how often will vacations align to take trips like this? I’ve really enjoyed our trips to explore National Parks and cherish the time spent together and I will do the same with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Just about to graduate high school

Shortly after returning from the Hawaiian Islands, graduation will take place. Something I am definitely not ready for. It’s one of those events you know will come (at least you hope it will) but that doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for. High School goes so fast even though it may not seem like it on a day to day level. Our youngest daughter has now entered her first year in high school so she is not far behind. It’s kind of exciting to see what her future holds as she becomes more in control of it. A factor I know that is scary for her but she’ll be fine I’m sure.

A pair of Ringneck ducks

Once these events are complete there really is nothing on the books to look forward to. There are several possibilities such as more homeowner projects of which there are always plenty. I would like to take in a hiking and camping trip here or there to enjoy the summer and use the camera to photograph more beautiful scenery. Continuing to improve my photography is another goal throughout the year but I have nothing specific determined yet. We’ll have to see by the end of the year what comes up because one thing is almost guaranteed – something always comes up. I’m not one to just sit around hoping for things to appear. I hope you have several things to plan for to make 2018 a great year!

A rider connecting with her horse before going into the riding arena

Another Year Here and Gone

Two Thousand and Seventeen has now come to a close and I like to take a brief look back to see if I attained the goals set out in the beginning of the year and what else happened before going forward to the next year. The goals set out for 2017 included exploring Yellowstone, Little Bighorn, and Dinosaur National Parks, a return to Isle Royale, some home owner projects, and celebrating 20 years of marriage. We did end up visiting Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument as a nice addition to our year. Most of these items were accomplished all except a hiking excursion to Isle Royale which was canceled just a couple of weeks before going off an this adventure. I’ll get more into this in a moment but first let’s look at the other goals.

Looking at the landscape at a portion of Custer's Last Stand

Once summer began we were off to Montana to see the sight of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn. It was a warm and very windy day while we were here giving us the full Western Prairie experience. Learning about and seeing how this battle unfolded was a great learning adventure. Even looking over the landscape and seeing the different encampment areas and trails taking to get here, it’s hard to image the battle which ensued on these lands. Fortunately there’s plenty of information in the visitors center to fill in the events leading up to this historic battle. A piece of American history that is brought to life by this park.

Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park was the next adventure waiting for us which brought beautiful landscapes and interactions with nature that will last forever in our memories (and photographs). It has been said this is the Serengeti of the United States because of the diverse and numerous wildlife living here. We absolutely can attest to that with several bear sightings, a wolf encounter, bison, elk, coyotes, and other wildlife making their way into our view. Experiencing the thermal features here are very impressive with geysers, extremely colorful hotsprings, and mudpots giving a unique adventure to those able to visit.

The Yampa River cutting through Dinosaur NM

Our final park on the National Parks Monopoly board for 2017 was Dinosaur National Monument located in Utah and Colorado. To image dinosaurs roaming this area was special and really brought to reality by seeing first hand the skeletons still buried in the earth among the hills here. Very interesting to see what has been already un-Earthed and imagine how many more places in the undisturbed grounds still held on to these historic creatures. These are surrounded by beautiful landscapes created by two rivers creating valleys through the colorful hills over thousands of years. At night the dark sky becomes filled with stars from horizon to horizon. I spent a night just photographing these bright lights in the sky.

A cinder cone at Craters of the Moon NM

In addition to these National Parks we managed to take in Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument before returning home. Both are great places to visit and we enjoyed a brief exploration of both. One day I would like to climb Grand Teton so a potential upcoming adventure.

Sunrise over Lake Superior on the North Shore of Minnesota

A few weeks before taking off to Grand Portage, Minnesota in August to hop on a boat and head to Isle Royale, the person I was going with had to cancel for work reason so I needed to make a decision of not going or going it alone. I decided to cancel primarily due to safety concerns. Our hotel was unable to be canceled by then so I decided to take the family to the North Shore of Minnesota to explore Voyager Days in Grand Portage along with a Pow Wow and take in the night sky with the Perseid Meteor shower on full display. This was all great to discover but would have been even better after hiking on Isle Royale for a week. One morning I got up to watch the sunrise and go exploring by myself photographing the beautiful area landscape. At one point I crawled up on some boulders only to have one of my hand holds give way causing me to fall onto the rocks below. Expecting to feel a lot of physical damage I only noticed one of my hands injured from this fall. Once I was up and walking around again I figured out that canceling the trip to Isle Royale by myself was a good idea for this very reason.

Celebrating 20 years together. We needed the bottlecaps to fill in the missing pieces for checkers

September brought my 20 year anniversary being married to my wife. We took a few days and stayed at the same lodge, Cove Point Lodge, that we stayed at on our honeymoon. It was interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same in those 20 years. The worst part about this celebration was realizing how much we’ve forgotten in those 20 years which was brought to our attention by looking back at pictures of twenty years ago in this very same place and not being able to remember several parts of our honeymoon. I guess that’s become one of the reason I like to take so many pictures.

Heading out with the camera in search of another beautiful picture

Speaking of pictures, I ended up taking several thousand photographs again in 2017 and saw improvement in my picture taking abilities. There’s still more to learn and improve so I expect the same will hold true in the new year. It’s been another great year and I hope you had a number of memorable moments to look back on with a smile. On to 2018!

Making due with the surroundings to capture a good photograph

Why Disney World?

During a recent school break we took the opportunity to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida to watch as our daughter played in the high school marching band while marching at the Magic Kingdom. When we first started talking about taking the whole family to Disney World the first thoughts that came to mind was battling crowds to stand in long lines and paying large sums of money to do this. This wasn’t an incorrect assumption but wasn’t nearly accurate enough. Seeing the reality of this brought the question of why so many people desire to visit Disney World.

Marching at the Magic Kingdom

So in a nut shell here’s my question: Why pay over $100 per person per day to immediately get persuaded to spend even more money on food and gifts as soon as you enter the park and throughout the park only to be beaten up by the crowds to stand in long lines and kicked by kids who are unable to stand for that long? Lets break this down a little. First is price. The more days you buy the cheaper each day becomes which can bring your cost down below $100 per day but not everyone had that kind of time. Food and gift purchases are, of course, optional but there are way more gift stores and food places than attractions so that great smelling meal or those Mickey ears become harder and harder to resist. Looking at reviews of Disney World you will come across several complaining of the crowds and how rude people can be along with the wait times for attractions. My wife was hit by a mom who had one stroller stacked cross ways on top of another stroller causing these to require more room but this mom didn’t seem to care how many people she was going to hit while pushing these double stacked strollers with no children in them. And lastly, the lone lines. Many attractions had a wait time of about an hour but the most popular Avatar ride had waits exceeding 3 hours. We ended up not being able to go on this one as it was too much time but obviously a lot of other people were willing to wait that long. Security to enter seems cumbersome and slow as there are people that need to go through all of your bags before you can proceed into the park. This is the same at each of the parks so if you’re going to park hop add extra time for security at each one. And this is all called fun at the “Happiest Place on Earth!”

Waiting in line

So what seems to be so appealing that people from all over the world have to go to Disney World? First off, nobody does a better job of immersing you into a ride with all of the props, landscaping, music, and characters. They put a lot of effort into making you feel like you’re transported into another place and are a part of that ride. Although many of the attractions at the Magic Kingdom feel like they’re old and outdated when you compare them to the newest rides put together today. Maybe that’s one of the draws is people like these nostalgic rides. I felt they could do a lot more to many of them with today’s technology. Certainly other things like the castle, parades, and fireworks and lightshow work with these other rides to create the Disney Experience that so many return time and again for.

We didn’t take the time to look over reviews before going to Orlando and that was a bit of a mistake. Reading just a few reviews a couple of months before going would help understand just how important advanced planning and preparation is and can make your time in Disney a little better. Definitely learn about Fastpasses if you do not know about them and utilize them. You get 3 with each ticket per day. There are some great things to see and do at Disney World but the crowds and long lines definitely detract from them.

Fall decorations

20 Years Later

Recently my wife and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary and decided to spend a couple of days at Cove Point Lodge were we went for our honeymoon. We enjoyed staying here the first time so wanted to do it again. Just ahead of our trip we looked over photos from our honeymoon to remind us of what we did the first time. There was a photo of us in front of Cove Point Lodge taken from Cove Point which creates this little cove along the shore of Lake Superior that we wanted to duplicate just to see how much has changed. Well, other than us.

Certainly cameras have changed which made it somewhat challenging to attempt to capture the same photo. After some repositioning we got something close but not as close as I would have liked. some of which was hindered by Lake Superior being higher than normal with all of the rain we’ve received this year. Some of the changes noticeable were different colors on the lodge, some of the shoreline in front of the lodge cleared with chairs added to take in the magnificent view of the lake, and new buildings along the shoreline. Otherwise things appeared to have stayed much the same.

Standing in Front of Cove Point Lodge in 1997

20 Years Later

One of the mornings we were wakened by thunder with some lightning. I got up to watch as it was still dark our and you could see for hundreds of miles over Lake Superior so catching a glimpse of lighting stretching across the sky was easy to see. My bigger camera was left in the car the night before causing me to question whether or not to get dressed and fetch it or just enjoy the passing storm. I really didn’t want to get dressed or go out into the rain so I came up with another alternative. Attempt to use the camera on my phone. After some practice I actually was able to capture lightning streaking across the sky. With a little more exploring I found where I could change the settings on the phone camera to basically get what I wanted which allowed me to capture some cool shots of lightning satisfying my desire to photograph the early morning storm.

Lightning from an early morning storm over Lake Superior

Also while preparing for this trip we discovered how poor our memories can actually be. While recalling our first time at Cove Point Lodge we remembered hiking along a river which we were sure was accessed from a side trail from the lodge to the Superior Hiking Trail. Turns out this side trail, which we hiked again this time, does not connect to any sizeable rivers close by. Also we discovered that on our honeymoon we explored Tettegouche State Park hiking up to the high falls. I thought my first time seeing the high falls was actually many years later with our children. Another false memory was how the Lodge was arranged. Yes there was a fireplace, tables and chairs arranged around the fireplace, and a dining area but it did not match the way I recalled it from our honeymoon. While they could have rearranged the chairs the fireplace was in the same place only I remembered it differently. This is one of the reasons I photograph things now because I know our memories are not always accurate.

During our recent trip we did some hiking along the Beaver River nearby and stopping to see Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time but enjoyed much of our time relaxing around Cove Point. Sitting near the shore listening to the waves, watching thunderstorms, and staring at the night sky. After sunset one night we went out to stargaze and could see lightning occasionally near the horizon. Upon checking the radar it showed a line of storms several hundred miles away. That was pretty amazing to think we could see that far over Lake Superior. While it was a little disappointing to realize how much we didn’t remember from our honeymoon, it was an enjoyable couple of days with beautiful weather to take in the North Shore.

Hiking on the Beaver River

Planning for 2017

This is a year I’m certainly looking forward to as there are plenty of activities entering our calendar but also am getting a little concerned there is too much to accomplish to enjoy all I would like to. Last year’s goals were mostly accomplished with our travels to National Parks in Texas and Arkansas, taking thousands of pictures which I’m certain has improved my photography skills but still more to do, fixing broken portions of this website, as well as making it to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike Flattop Mountain and Long’s Peak.

Spring blooms

What does that leave for 2017? Plenty! How about starting with our Monopoly goals of visiting Dinosaur, Little Bighorn, and Yellowstone National Parks? Yellowstone has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time as it’s one of the marquee parks in the United States. The more I read about Dinosaur the more interested I get in exploring such a place tucked in Colorado’s northwest corner revealing pre-historic fossils among a beautiful landscape. What’s not to look forward to here? And Little Bighorn, a place among US history commonly known as Custer’s last stand. I get chills just writing that as it reminds me of Gettysburg and all those lost there.

Isle Royale National Park

There’s also a return trip to Isle Royale National Park for a more intense backpacking trip in the works. Our family took on an adventure here in 2012 at which time I insisted I was done backpacking and would never go back to this island. Well, a few months after my muscles and joints recovered I began to think about improvements I could do to enjoy it more but still never really seriously thought about another trip here. The most difficult part was carrying such a heavy backpack. Last summers adventure to Long’s Peak convinced me I could backpack and enjoy it. After almost despising an extended hike I’m now really excited about returning to the island and taking in more of what it has to offer. What’s different you ask? First I’m confident in my abilities after hiking 14 miles at higher altitudes and really want to know how much more I can enjoy it at elevations I can breath more easily at as well as I know how to prepare and train for an extended hike.

Clear winged moth on a warm summer night

Add in to this landscaping projects and a small remodeling project at my house, a camping trip, a snowmobiling excursion, and celebrating 20 years of marriage to my wife and this year will fly by I’m sure. I hope 2017 becomes a great year for you as well!

2016 Plans and Goals

Reflecting on 2015, which you can read about here, I came up with some things I would like to accomplish in this next year.  First and foremost, I want to enjoy the activities and adventures we embark on. We did a lot of fun and exciting activities last year but I didn’t feel like I got the most out of them that I could because there was always another event coming up soon requiring attention to plan and prepare for taking attention away from what I was doing. It seemed like we were always in a rush to do whatever it was we were doing because there was something else that needed to get done or was scheduled. If I can help it that won’t be the case in 2016 for us!

An ocean sunrise

My next goal is to explore Window Trail in Big Bend National Park, Padre Island National Seashore, and Hot Springs National Park. I’m pretty confident in being able to complete this in the next year as we already have some lodging accommodations, airfare, and a car reserved. I’m looking forward to this trip as we will be staying in Big Bend which will only be the second time staying right in a park reducing travel time and increasing exploration time.

Using the GoPro Hero 4 underwater

As has been the case for the past several years, I want to continue learning and improving my photography. Originally I set the bar at wanting to take 3,500  photos this year. That just makes me laugh now after having taking over 11,000 in the past year. I’ve decided to up that to 5,000 photos towards the goal of improving. That means working on composition and technique, not just randomly taking pictures of family and friends or the dog. As part of this I want to capture images of individual snowflakes.

A woodland mushroom

Along with the photography goal I would like to complete the Photography Experiment board by learning more about flash, fill flash, rock climbing, and travel portraits. This is a goal that would be nice to complete but if it doesn’t happen I won’t be too concerned. Still, working a little on it would be good.

Time at the lake

Continuing to update and improve this site is another one of my goals for this year. Since I needed to re-build this website in 2015 I find several broken links that need to be addressed as well as some programming pieces that need to continue to be worked on to get them to work as I have envisioned.

Being watched in the woods

I’ve wanted to put together a video from all of the photos taken on our trip to Alaska in 2013. It’s probably time to get this done so I can remove the photos from my computer and free up space. It is uncertain at this point if I will be able to post the video as I’m probably going to use music that is copyrighted preventing me from being able to use it on the internet.

Just floating on the water

One final goal for 2016 is to volunteer more. I feel like I failed at helping others in 2015 and that is something important to me to get back to this next year. Sure I volunteered to help coach my daughters basketball team and spent a number of hours volunteering at our church. I guess it comes down to volunteering at food shelves more. Seeing people starving is something that affects me and a priority for me to help reduce to the best of my ability. We are so fortunate to be able to have all that we need and it is up to us to help those that we can. Food and shelter are at the top of my list to help with when possible.

Lunch on the prairie

That should keep me busy this year and hopefully allow me to enjoy our adventures. If not, there are more homeowner projects to undertake and a potential hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains.

2015 in Review

This past year seems more like a blur that lasted a few months rather than a full year as our family kept quite busy with lot’s of projects and activities. Now that 2015 has wrapped up and we’re on to 2016 it seems like a good time to review which goals were accomplished and those that I fell short on. Looking over my goals for this past year, which were published in this post (click on ‘post’ to read it), I see we managed to achieve half of them.

Warm Caribbean Waters

Exploring Padre Island and Hot Springs ended up being delayed until this spring. Instead we took in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Shenandoah National Park to see Lewis Falls. The timeframe for Padre Island and Hot Springs became filled with an anniversary celebration trip for Karen’s mom and dad who have been together for over 40 years. Definitely an accomplishment worth celebrating in my book!

Putting in windows

It may have almost killed me (at least it felt like it) but we completed our window project. I estimated my time spent which ended up at over 110 hours of my weekends and evenings to complete. That doesn’t include the time of others that helped me tear out the old ones and lift in the new ones. You can’t imagine how greatful I am to those that helped us and to be done with this home improvement.
Water Lily

Continuing my learning of photography took a back seat for much of the year so I didn’t complete my Photography Experiment Monopoly board once again. Maybe this year. In spite of this I did still manage to take over 11,000 pictures with my Sony Nex. That doesn’t include the thousands of images taken with my new photography addition – a GoPro Hero 4. By the way, I really enjoy the GoPro and where it can go and what it can do. I have definitely learned more about photography composition and techniques with the opportunities I was fortunate to have.

There were other accomplishments during 2015 which may end up in a different post.

A New Year, A New Site

Monopoly Traveler Site old    Monopoly Traveler Site old -2 

This has been a much longer journey than I expected but we’re finally back with new content. Back in March MonopolyTraveler.com had some uninvited guests who destroyed portions of this site. There were many attempts by a number of people to revive and restore things back to normal without success. Each time we thought we had the website back to normal and secure from these intruders new issues would pop up causing the necessary action of taking it down. By the end of March it was determined that MonopolyTraveler.com would have to be completely re-built from scratch requiring a significant amount of time.

One of the projects on the to do list was to make it more mobile friendly so this seemed like a good time to accomplish that and way over due. At that time a decision was made to look over all aspects of the website and decide what we liked and what should be updated in addition to making it more mobile friendly. Some of the components of this website were no longer functioning correctly and needed to be replaced or re-programed so those were addressed along with bringing more focus to the photographs. After some debate between putting time and energy into re-building the existing site with some improvements or going with an entirely different theme it was decided to use the time towards a new theme so here it is.

Working into the long hours of the night programming and testing a new site

Unfortunately existing commitments and unexpected events required more time away which continually delayed the completion of MonopolyTraveler. In spite of our best efforts there always seemed to be something else that was a higher priority taking time from assembling a new site so there it sat for months and months. Finally it has become a high enough priority and my last goal of getting this ready before the New Year is somewhat met. It has been a nice break from blogging but there are many photographs and experiences I want to share and a stress relief by having this off my to do list. There are still pieces that are being worked on and noticeable changes may come up as the mobile version is not completely satisfactory but for now here we go.

By the way, I said new content – not necessarily better or useful content, just new.