Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

The Game is Complete!

A few weeks ago we made our final Monopoly National Parks adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to complete a journey which began almost nine years ago. It’s hard to believe we were actually able to complete this goal of visiting 28 parks in that time frame.

Hawaii Volcanoes Entrance Sign

On the road to this entrance sign it was difficult to pay attention to driving as I often caught myself reminiscing over past adventures that all began at Badlands National Park where our two girls first became Junior Rangers and we all began to see the luxury of our National Parks. Once the final signature had been obtained we were congratulated by those around us in the visitor’s center but the fact that this game was now completed didn’t really sink in at first. In fact I think there was probably more sadness than sense of accomplishment because we are now without plans for another family adventure. It’s a weird, empty feeling that I’m not sure how to grasp. There’s always been another place to plan and prepare for.

The final signature on our National Parks Monopoly Board

While our board of adventures was complete there was a small piece to add in order to make our journey full circle. That was to visit Pearl Harbor. More specifically to re-enter the gift shop there 15 years later with our children to the place where this whole thing actually began. It was in this very place that Karen and I first discovered the National Parks Monopoly board and this idea of visiting each place was conceived. Only this time there were four of us to complete this list of incredible adventures.

Gift Shop at Pearl Harbor

The End!

The Forms of Water

Winter is beginning to lose it’s hold on the North bit by bit allowing water to run freely again. Near this running water, the ice remains showing all of the different layers together which has hidden the lakes and rivers for several months. In some areas this ice is really quite intriguing as you look closer at it. Portions of it are solid white other parts are made up of a combination of ice crystals forming together. A question I have about these different layers is were they formed during the winter or is this the result of spring weather with freezing and thawing working together to form these layers? Soon it will all be gone. Replaced by rain and thunderstorms once again.

Smiling Ice

Planning for Hawaii–The Beginning and the End

In a few short weeks we’ll be making our last trip on our National Parks Monoply board to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It feels like an amazing accomplishment to visit 27 different National Parks all across the United States. These include parks in Alaska, an Island in Lake Superior, and now Hawaii which makes completing this goal we set 9 years ago even more humbling as I plan for and reflect on this last journey for our family in this Monopoly game.

Mountains meet the ocean on Oahu

My wife and I have been to Maui and Oahu almost 15 years ago which is when this whole concept of going to each park on the board began. This is actually becoming a little difficult to write as I reflect back on our last visit to Hawaii and thinking about what we wanted for our children. The terrorist attacks on the United States were still fresh in our minds and the uncertainty to what type of future was in store for the kids. Still we were determined to share as many experiences for Kristy and Lysa as we could to show them this great country and the history which helped shape our nation.

USS Arizona Memorial

It was on Oahu that our future adventures were conceived while visiting Pearl Harbor. The first stop upon entering the National Monument was a gift store as we planned our time here to see the exhibits. While walking up and down the isles of this store we came across a National Parks Monopoly Board. I picked it up and looked at all of the parks portraying each property and saw many that I had heard about and wanted to visit along with many I’ve never heard about. Looking over at my wife I said how much fun it would be to visit each park on this board with our children. She agreed it would be a lot of fun. The board was returned to its shelf with both of us believing we would never be able to actually go through with this idea and we moved on to learn about the horrific events of Pearl Harbor

A stunning hibiscus which can be found growing all over Oahu

With the terrorist attacks fresh on our minds we looked at the events of December 7th, 1941 with sorrow and detest. For the first time these events came alive in my mind and more than just a date I read about in history class. After a few hours exploring Pearl Harbor we continued on to see the Dole Pineapple Plantation and more of Hawaii’s beautiful landscape. In a few weeks, after watching molten lava flowing from the ground at Hawaii Volcanoes we’ll take our children to Pearl Harbor to learn what transpired there and stop once again in the gift shop completing what was once thought of as an impossible idea.

One of the many different types of Pineapple at the Dole Plantation on Oahu

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

A Superbowl Depression

This is what many seem to experience the day after the Super Bowl. It means professional football is over for many months so Sundays are now void of this captivating activity. Yes, I understand many are thrilled another season has ended and they no longer have to endure another football game until the end of summer and Eagles fans are in a state of happiness that will last much of the year so will not miss a game being played for awhile.

Crew 52 being deployed along Superbowl Live

For me I’m a little conflicted. Being so involved in the Super Bowl this year has been exciting and exhausting so it’s nice to have this time to rest and catch up on things not done during the 10 days of festivities. This exhaustion came from having additional commitments every day for these 10 days in addition to working. That meant getting to work by 5am, leaving mid-afternoon to either volunteer at Superbowl Live or rehearse for the halftime show usually getting back home around 10 pm and then doing it all over again the next day.

Heading to US Bank Stadium for halftime rehearsal

Do get me wrong, this was a lot of fun and something I’ll remember for a very long time. Thankfully it only lasts a week and a half. So where does the depression come in (more of a let down than I depression I guess) ? There has been so much build up and preparation for months and months before game day and it all stops abruptly after the Superbowl is played. It reminds me of getting married in that there is a lot of preparations and then it’s over. There’s a feeling of emptiness because there is no longer the need to spend time on it anymore so now what do you do with that time? You begin to miss the excitement that comes with all the planning and anticipation for this larger than life event. Conversations with people seem a little more mundane after being able to discuss exciting things happening each day and getting different perspectives on these events.

Players entering the field

After a week or two there will be adjustments and that time will be filled with other activities. The people you’ve come to know during volunteering and rehearsals have all gone back to their lives as well and this common thing you were all a part of has ended. Fortunately there’s email and social media to help but it’s still not the same as putting on a uniform that matches many other people creating this group of people all trying to help or being on the Superbowl field with hundreds of others getting ready for one of the largest events in the world.

Enjoying the halftime show

Super Bowl 52–Getting Ready

Minnesota is almost ready to open Super Bowl Live in downtown Minneapolis but there is still a lot of activity finalizing the numerous attractions available for free to fans. Something Minnesota is able to do, which is nearly impossible for other Super Bowl Hosts, is ice sculptures which give a unique feel to any event.

Conert stage being built

Live outdoor performances could be a challenge depending on the outdoor temperatures but will definitely bring a festive atmosphere to this area at night. Much of this stage is built with a few remaining parts to be put into place. A recent heavy snowfall may have delayed the completion a little but it’s Minnesota and that is to be expected from time to time.

Birkebeiner Bridge and sight of NBC broadcasts

Brought into Minneapolis for this special event is the Birkebeiner Bridge which is used for the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin. Plans are to use this for skiing, snow tubing, and skijoring for those that want to give it a try. This is also the sight where NBC will be broadcasting during the Super Bowl. In the photo above you can see their purple broadcast tent already to go.

Looking down the street where Super Bowl Live will take place

Along with several fun and free activities there will be many food vendors to serve all of those hungry fans. Their temporary locations are being constructed all along the sight of Super Bowl Live. I’m looking forward to seeing all of this in action from my street level view while volunteering with the Crew 52.

Some of the attractions of Super Bowl Live

Super Bowl–Crew 52

A week from now Super Bowl 52 activities will be in full swing in Minneapolis with numerous things to do. Ever since it was announced that the Super Bowl would be in Minnesota I began making plans to be a part of it and one of those things includes volunteering with Crew 52. This is basically a hospitality group, with 1,000’s of people on any given day, during Super Bowl week welcoming fans to the Twin Cities.

Minnesota Host Committee logo

There are those that look at this with distaste saying the NFL makes enough money that people are idiots for volunteering and making more money for this very profitable organization. In reality the NFL has very little to do with Crew 52 and the  places and events we’ll be at. These are Minneapolis and Minnesota sponsored events to welcome and entertain fans traveling here for this epic game. I’m more than happy to support my local area and help those not from this area in order to provide the best experience for them possible. Many people have helped me and my family when traveling to make our visit to their area more enjoyable and memorable and I want to return that hospitality for this Super Bowl.

Pregame Show Super Bowl 26

For me this all started with the last Super Bowl in Minneapolis 25 years ago. I had the opportunity to be part of the Pre-Game crew where my job was to inflate and hold the tunnel for players to run through during introduction. The energy and excitement for a Super Bowl was something I’ve never seen before and it was such a fun experience that I absolutely wanted to be a part of it again this year. To fulfill this I began searching for information and websites shortly after the announcement of Minneapolis hosting this game. Crew 52 hat, mittens, and jacket

I found the Crew52 website before they even had anything put on it so I saved the address and continued to monitor it every now and then until it was live and I could apply for Crew 52. To be a part of this I needed to fill out the online application, go through an in person interview, approve a background check, attend an orientation, and participate in training. This training covered where we’ll be stationed, working with homeless in Minneapolis, child exploitation, and terrorism and what to do in these situations. Ohh ya, we also received shirts, jackets, hats, mittens, and a scarf so we’ll be easily recognizable to visitors to ask questions or have us take their pictures and the number of sights for Super Bowl 52. In addition to this I’m a part of the set up and take down for the half time show which I’ll write about another time.

More Snowflakes

There hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to go out and find beautiful, wintery landscapes to photograph recently. Temperatures have also been staying quite cold so I’ve taken this opportunity to capture more snowflakes under the camera lens whenever a few flakes have fallen and have been having a lot of fun doing it. A previous post with more snowflake photos can be found here.

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Some snowfalls don’t produce much for interesting snowflakes while at other times there are so many to choose from that they can’t all be photographed before blowing away or disappearing. Yes, they disappear even in very cold weather. I can only assume it’s due to the very dry air near the ground causing these delicate ice crystals to evaporate.

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The many different shapes and make up of these ice crystals continues to amaze me with each one I see. Some are so sharp and pointy while others are more rounded. It’s also fascinating to see the different stages of development of different snowflakes in each photograph that surrounds the larger one focused on. In some cases you can see the center of a developing snowflake that has fallen before growing larger. Other times seeing the different fragments that have broken off from a snowflake during its journey to the ground provide some great shapes.

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At times there are multiple snowflakes frozen together such as in the picture above. On the longest branch there is the center of another developing snowflake frozen to the larger snowflake. In addition, the branch next to this one you can see the beginning of the center of another snowflake. One theory indicates these snowflakes collided on their trip from the clouds and merged together. I wonder if it’s possible these centers formed at the tip of these branches. Fun to discover regardless of how they were created. I hope you enjoy viewing these and also find it fascinating to see the different shapes they develop into.

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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