Here I come 2018

Since it's the start of a new year it's natural to reflect back on the previous year and look forward to what 2018 might bring. I'm not one to do new year resolutions, but I have been mindful lately of the direction I want to take my life and the decisions I want to make. It really is an ongoing process as I feel this recent wave started sometime in 2017, but was built off of ideas and actions that started far before then. These dreams and goals relate to my family, my career, photography, and all other aspects of my life. And while I'm also not one to select a word to define the upcoming year... if I did, I think it would be SIMPLIFY. I'm sure I could think of many other words to connect to this need. And yes, that's really what it feels like - I NEED this. I need to simplify my life. 

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It's not that my life is crowded or busy with events. I'm not running from one thing to another. I don't have multiple children to attend to and I don't work over 36 hours a week, but I often feel there are too many things... distractions in my work and personal life. I don't have any immediate plans to change my job so for now I plan to focus on my personal life. But like I said, this process has already started and, in all honesty, I'm still figuring out what it means. It's things like unsubscribing from emails that I don't really need, backing off (some) social media (thank you 2016 election for starting that process), but it's also finding more time to work out, to get outside, to continue going to lunch with my dad, and reading books with my daughter. 

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In some ways it's turning off all the channels that are always buzzing about me to focus only on one. So far it feels satisfying.

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So while I've been reflecting on my personal life, I can't help but think about how photography plays into it as it's become such a big part of my life. I've looked back to see how I used to take pictures to document events so I could put them on my (former) blog, but then I stepped back from that. Instead, I began a 52 project where I started focusing more on the skill of photography, and last year it turned into a 365 project. And I did it! I took pictures every single day of 2017. So many other photographers said it was life changing for them, that they grew so much in that year so I hoped I would feel the same at the end of the year.

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Truthfully, I was so grateful it was over. I'm not good at allowing mistakes like missing a day. I don't give myself enough grace in those situations (perhaps 'grace' could be another word to focus on for the new year). So, in the end it felt like a bit of a chore. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I grew as much as I did when I focused on the 52 project (and to be clear, I took waaaay more than 52 pictures, but just not pictures everyday). This past year I took pictures because I felt I had to and I spent almost every night editing so I would stay on top of it.

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I didn't take a single picture for the first 3 days of 2018 and it was absolutely freeing. But, by day four I was ready to start capturing memories again. I needed a break during those first few days, but also everything I saw felt mundane. I've captured it before, why should I capture it again? It's nothing special. But you see, last years goal wasn't only to take pictures everyday - it was to capture our life. Hopefully, I would grow in skill (working with different light sources for example), but I wanted to capture Riley playing with her friends, talking with her dad at dinner time, reading a books, stopping at the Little Library on the way to school, and so many other daily or not so daily events in our lives.

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I'm glad I did. I love looking back at her reading the Spiderwick Chronicles and remembering how excited she was to read each book in the series and then watch the movie. I treasure the picture of her reaching into the Little Library on our walk to school so much more now because that family has moved and taken the Little Library with them. I cherish all the pictures I captured of my dad and am grateful at how accommodating he was.

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I know photography isn't for everyone. I know a lot of people don't get why some of us take so many pictures and that's okay. It's important to me so that's all that matters. I look back at pictures from my childhood which are often the only reason I have a memory of that event. I'm grateful for every single picture I have of my brother who died far too young. I know I need to get in more pictures as I wish my mom was. So this year I plan to continue taking pictures every week, but not necessarily every day. I'll work on skill building, on telling stories, and capturing moments. I won't edit every night which means I'll spend more time working out, reading, watching TV, feeling less obligated to complete a specific task. I might even write more. I'll admit I miss it a bit.

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So hear I am, ready to start the new year, a continuation of the past. A building of a life I want to live... and capturing it along the way. 

My Minnesota - November - Westwood Hills Nature Center

As I write this, it's below freezing outside and snow covers the icy ground. It definitely feels like winter. I've barely left the house all week, but just a month ago we were having a mild November and embracing our time outdoors before our long Minnesota winter set in.

One sunny day we bundled up (more than was necessary, it turns out) and explored Westwood Hills Nature Center which is located not far from our home and a favorite get away. I love this little patch of nature hidden in my suburban neighborhood set right outside the city. It's as if you've escaped the bustling metropolis for a bit without really needing to leave the city at all. If it wasn't for the hum of cars from the highway nearby it would be quite believable that you'd driven out to the country. 

There are a number of paths to explore so we decided to start by heading up the path behind the nature center building. As we came upon the the bird feeding area we encountered a turkey. I've seen turkey's here almost every time I've visited recently, but usually they are in a group. This guy was by himself and slightly wary of us, but he had the bird feeding area to himself so he didn't seem too eager to leave either. We watched him a bit before moving on.

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After our excitement of seeing a turkey, we went forth on a mission. Several years back people noticed nature art along the trail... pictures of owls, bears, dogs, and other animal would show up from time to time on the trunk of an old tree. Eventually, they tracked down the artist who happened to be a local nanny. Apparently, she updates her art multiple times a week, but I'd never come across one myself until recently, when I decided to take a path up by the pines instead of down by the boardwalk. I was alone so Riley didn't get to see it. I knew she'd love to find one on her own so I hoped we'd come across one in the same area. We walked the path to where I had found a gorilla, and came across a lion. It looked a little old, but we were still excited to find this creation. 

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We noticed another person nearby, but it wasn't until we got closer that we realized it was the artist herself. We stopped and chatted a bit with Chelsea and then left her to finish what she was working on. We explored further on, but had to come back on the same path and were able to see the finished product. Riley was delighted to see they were cats, her favorite animal ever.

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We noticed Chelsea gathering materials so we knew she wasn't done making creations and we couldn't leave yet. We wandered around and I tried to get us down by the marsh, but Riley to anxious to get back to see what new nature art she might find.

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We were right that the lion was old as it was replaced by a couple dogs. Riley brought her journal and pencil on our excursion so she was making notes and naming each of these creatures.

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The last one we came across was this owl before making a quick stop by the marsh before heading home. Chelsea shared that she updates these weekly so we are sure to go back, especially since we know where to find them now. And while I love a good walk through the woods, it's nice to see someone be inspired by nature in a new way.

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The planning for our trip to Moab, Utah really started a few years ago when Jesse and I bought a Tacoma Toyota. I thought we were buying a truck... something to get us from point A to point B and maybe haul some things along the way. I was sorely mistaken as this truck was to become much more than that, at least to my husband.

It really started when my husband went online to research something about our truck and found a forum specifically for Tacoma owners. One thing snowballed into another, and a few posts on the forum led to connecting with other local Tacoma owners, new shocks and tires (and countless other things that didn't really need replacing, but the old versions might not be appropriate for driving off the beaten path) and eventually multiple road trips with these new truck friends.

They've gone as far as South Dakota and Michigan, but also spent multiple weekends up north here in Minnesota. My husband loves the outdoors, as do I, but I'm not really a winter camper - nor is our 7 year old, so I was glad that he found this group of people who enjoyed much of the same things he did and were willing to do it during any season of the year.

Some of these guys are much more the off-roading type and have their trucks modified a bit more than ours. They love to drive over big rocks and put their trucks to the test, perhaps even feeling an excursion wasn't as great as it could be because they didn't break anything on their vehicle. Jesse is more of a "I want to drive off the beaten path, camp, and hike" type of guy, but is open to a little challenge as long as our truck can handle it. Sometime in the last year, the guys started talking about driving to Rock Therapy, an event held in Moab each year. As best I could understand it, it was an event where people could come together and bond over off-roading adventures.  

Jesse and his buddies planned out a 10 - 12 day road trip that he wanted me to come on, but that just wasn't going to happen. He'd been wanting me to come along on one of these trips for some time so I suggested that Riley and I fly to Utah to hang out with him for a few days. If I'd known what a challenge that would be I might not have suggested it (super early flight out, late flight in, two flights with layovers each way, and then a two hour drive to our final destination), but in the end it was totally worth it. My only wish was that we'd stayed longer than four days as it just wasn't enough.

Six guys (Jesse, Sam, Chris, Aaron and his two boys), four trucks, two trailers, a scooter, and a dirt bike left Minnesota on Thursday and made their way to Colorado where they dropped off a truck and a scooter with Chris' brother. They forged on in three trucks (plus two trailers - one carrying the dirt bike) and took the 142 mile Kokopelli Trail from CO to UT. Let me back up here for a second and share that about six months ago Jesse shared a blog post of some guys who took this trail. The trail is fine, mild in many areas, but there is a section called the Rose Garden Hill that looked incredibly difficult in a truck such as ours. I most definitively said "don't ever do that trail" and then he broke it to me that it was probably going to be part of the Moab trip. 

So he did it (in the dark even), and I think it burnt him out a bit. He said it was hard and at some point they were all beat from the Kokopelli trail and just wanted to get to Moab so they didn't finish the trail. I think this kills Jesse a little to not be able to say that he finished the entire trail, but it is what it is. I have yet to see all the pictures or video footage from this part of the trip. I can't wait, and yet I can.

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And that really brings us up to where Riley and I come in. By lunchtime on Tuesday, we were in Moab eating at The Spoke and getting ready to check out our new home at Ken's Lake campground... except that those plans changed. Apparently, the weather forecast nighttime temps around 38 - 44, but ended up being more like 28 degrees. We didn't think we had enough blankets (Sam had bought an extra for himself after a particularly cold night) so Jesse determined that we needed to find a hotel for that evening. I think he may have also wanted to sleep in a real bed for a night. 

Moab is lined with hotels so we hoped we could easily find a room, but Moab is also an adventurers town (even if some of those adventures don't want to rough it at night) and people flock to it in the fall when they don't have to worry about 100 degree daytime temps. It took a bit, but we were able to secure a room.  I had mixed feeling about staying at a hotel, but was also relieved that I didn't have to sleep out in the cold. Travel tip: if a hotel says they are full, check Expedia as we were able to secure a room that way. Also, Sam and I tag teamed this trip with our Travel Advisor and Yelp apps to find hotels and restaurants.

We had plenty of time before settling into the hotel for the night so Sam, Jesse, Riley and I decided to go for a hike at the Grandstaff trail. Grandstaff is located off the beautiful Rt 128 which weaves along side the Colorado River in between mountains. We didn't have a lot of time to hike this trail so we didn't go far, but it was one of my favorite excursions on this trip.  If I ever get back to Moab, I will be hiking this trail to the end to see the Morning Glory Natural Bridge which is supposed to have the 5th largest span in the world. Travel tip: dress in layers in Utah. It get's hot in the sun, but can be cool in the shade. Unfortunately, Sam was still dressed for his cold overnight sleep and got way too hot.

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On the way back into town we made a rock stop at Lin Ottinger's Rock Shop. This isn't just any rock shop as it's owned by the guy who discovered the Iguanodon dinosaur.  We were delighted to recognize that dinosaur from our dinosaur book (which Riley insisted on bringing with her and yet, we never pulled it out of the suitcase). At any rate, this place has all sorts of rocks, fossils, jewelry, dinosaur bones, etc. Riley settled on a necklace with her birthstone of amethyst and we picked up a reproduction of a dinosaur claw for a dinosaur loving friend.

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From there, we headed to the campground to get some clothes for Sam and Jesse and then headed to the hotel to check in. Riley and I were barely functioning on fumes (I'd been up since 2:30 am, she since 3:30 am), but we were determined to power through no matter how much we just wanted to take a nap.

View at the campground.

View at the campground.

Our next stop was Dead Horse Point which my wonderful husband made a point of going to just before sunset so I could get some pretty pictures. That guy knows the way to my heart. The views here were really breathtaking (as were all our views from above on this trip). I wasn't the only one that thought this would be a good place to snap a few pics as there were also a bunch of other photographers who all seemed to be waiting patiently with their tripods for the sun to set. Jesse grabbed my tripod for me, but I declined. I knew I couldn't stand in one spot - I wanted All. The. Pictures. 

A quick stop at the visitor center before heading to the top.

A quick stop at the visitor center before heading to the top.

Examining a dinosaur track in a rock.

Examining a dinosaur track in a rock.

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Anyone else nervously looking at this picture and thinking how easily that camera and tripod could get knocked over?

Anyone else nervously looking at this picture and thinking how easily that camera and tripod could get knocked over?

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That view was just what I needed on the first day of this trip. This stop hadn't been on our original agenda, but I'm so glad Jesse suggested it. We'd promised Riley an ice cream treat of some sort so afterwards we stopped at Milts in Moab for some food and shakes before heading back to the hotel. If I hadn't already eaten a burger for lunch, I totally would have had one here and I sort of regret I didn't anyway. It's a small place, mostly outside seating, but we grabbed a counter seat inside next to the grill which was filled with 'flavor country' as we call it. Instead, we split some chicken fingers and had a couple of shakes which turned out to be a really great combination. With bellies full, Jesse and Sam went to the laundromat while Riley and I went to sleep early to rest up for another active day.

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On Wednesday, we met up with the rest of the guys back at camp. This was going to be our off-roading day. We had plenty of touristy things we wanted to do, but this was also the reason we came here. The guys decided on the Top of the World trail which was rated at moderate to difficult, and now that I've taken the trail... and in my one time off-roading experience, I would say was an accurate rating. We traveled along Rt 128 again, but even farther out (such a beautiful view on this road) and turned at the Dewey Bridge. The bridge used to be the main road across the Colorado River here, but after the new bridge was built it was converted to a walking bridge. Unfortunately, due to a human made fire, it was destroyed and now the remnants stand as a reminder of the destruction that a few matches can create. 

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For this excursion, we were joined by Shawn from North Dakota with his buggy while Sam rode his dirt bike. The trail is anticipated to take 3 - 5 hours and we likely took close to 5 hours with the downtime we had at the top. You definitely should not attempt this trail with your stock vehicle. There were quite a few 'stairs' of rocks that we had to drive up and down and while the drive up felt easier, it still had some challenging spots.

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Jesse allowed Riley to sit up front (in her car seat, fully strapped in) as a bit of a treat. We were always going slow so I wasn't worried about her and at times she and I were walking. Jesse taught her how to shift and she caught on quickly as to when he needed to be in L or 2. Later in the trip, we'd be hiking and she'd say "this trail looks like a 2, and up there a 3" or something to that effect. I learned how to drive on a three on a tree and my first 3 vehicles were manual transmission so I was extra proud to hear my kid talk about gears and totally get it.

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The guys were all really great about looking out for each other. They all had CB radios so they could chat and communicate things of importance. Whoever was up front might note to stay to the right at a particular point or let everyone know if there were other vehicles coming that they might need to move for. During extra challenging spots, one person would get out and spot for those behind them, guiding the other drivers with directions like "passenger" or "driver" to let them know which way to turn the wheel. I even did my share of spotting which seemed to really delight Jesse. He saw me embracing his hobby and I saw myself as making sure the exhaust on our truck didn't get ripped off. We're partners in this.

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We finally got to the top and took in the amazing view. It's no doubt why it's called Top of the World. The guys took turns having their picture taken on the slab of sandstone that juts out over the cliff. I have a great fear of failing off a cliff so it was a little nerve wracking to see (and I'm even a little wobbly kneed just thinking about it now), but I took a few deep breaths and stepped back from the edge (and nervously watched my kid the entire time we were up there).

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It may be obvious, but I was the photographer of the group. I mean everyone was taking pictures with their phones, but everyone knew I had the DSLR camera and they seemed pretty open, if not excited, for me to take pictures. I'm used to my husband avoiding the camera at home - he just doesn't like his picture taken (it happens anyway), but I know part of the reason he wanted me on this trip - besides my wonderful company - was to document, in pictures, their adventures. Not that I needed it, but I was often nudged to capture one picture after another. "Oh, you should get out and capture how his tire is lifted off the rock" and so on. I'm not used to such willingness to be in front of the camera, but I now know that my husband is totally cool being having his picture taken as long as it includes his truck or nature.

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While we mostly debated the 'difficult' rating on the way up, we had no doubt on the way down. The entire route is basically one road up and then a loop at the top that brings you back to the same road you take back down. It was on the down side of that loop that Chris and Shawn (with their more modified vehicles) got ahead of us. Aaron and Jesse took a slower pace to make sure that they didn't rip the undersides of their trucks off. Sam was at the back on his dirt bike, but eventually passed us slow pokes down to catch up with the other guys. Travel tip: Not that this means much to other people (or me, really), but for those that understand it... Jesse has 34 inch tires with a 2 inch lift in the front and 4 inch lift in the back so this trail certainly isn't for just any truck. Do not take this trail in your 'off the show room floor' stock vehicle. You will regret it or end up walking most of the way. Not that I should need to say that, but you know... some people.

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Sometimes a winch came in really handy. Another upgrade to our truck that I initially thought was ridiculous.

Sometimes a winch came in really handy. Another upgrade to our truck that I initially thought was ridiculous.

By the time we finished this trail and dropped the bike off at the campsite, we were starving. We wanted to check out the local Thai restaurant, but were told it was a 45 minute wait. We drove around and Jesse suddenly pulled in to a McDonald's parking lot. I was not in the mood for this and wanted to throw a hangry fit, but was also hangry and just needed food. I put my big girl pants on and ate their new chicken tenders which really weren't that half bad. After dinner, we settled in to our second hotel room of this trip as we anticipated another cold night. Travel tip: Make sure you have food when you go on long rides. We had snacks which acted as our lunch, but we didn't anticipate it would take quite as long as it did to do that trail. Big fail on our part.

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This girl was either playing with rocks or readng her books on this trip. I suspect you'll notice a theme in these pictures.

This girl was either playing with rocks or readng her books on this trip. I suspect you'll notice a theme in these pictures.

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And so on Thursday, after a day driving over the hard stuff, we split up. Chris and Shawn went on trails with names like Bone Crusher and Metal Masher or something like that, and Aaron and his boys, Sam, and Jesse selected to go sight seeing with us in Canyonlands National Park. I have to admit going into this, I really wanted to see Arches National Park over the Canyonlands, but this was a big one on Jesse's wish list and I now totally get why. You could spend a week or two just in the Canyonlands as there are so many places to drive, hike, bike, and explore.  We started at the Island in the Sky visitor center and then checked out a number of must see touristy spots before taking a road less traveled back into town. 

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At our first stop, I had an 'aha' moment when I saw the Mesa Arch which I'd seen photographed before. Maybe this place was pretty cool to visit - we weren't the only ones that thought that same thing, though. There were plenty of people out exploring, although it did feel like we might have gotten there a bit before the big crowds arrived. Still, expect to see a lot of other people exploring along side you here. 

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Each stop had a short hike with an amazing view. We all tried to capture the amazingness with our cameras, but the pictures never really quite gave it the justice it deserves. 

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I may have asked the guys to shift to the left for this photo and Jesse may have hammed it up a bit.

I may have asked the guys to shift to the left for this photo and Jesse may have hammed it up a bit.

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We started at the Mesa Arch, went on to Grand View Point, explored Whale Rock (recommended at the Visitor Center as a must explore for kids), and at the end of this particular road, found Upheaval Dome. Travel tips: Stop at the visitor center for suggestions from staff, especially important if the weather may be inclement. Additionally, keep in mind that the altitude may be different than you are used to. On the trip out, the guys stayed up in the mountains in Colorado and got sick from the altitude with it hitting Sam the worst. Sam and I tended to take some of these hikes slower as we were mindful that our bodies did not handle the altitude change as well. For a moment, I thought I was terribly out of shape with my huffing and puffing type of breathing, and then realized that it was the darn altitude impacting me.

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It's hard to see here, but it really did look like we were walking on the back of a whale... made out of rock, of course.

It's hard to see here, but it really did look like we were walking on the back of a whale... made out of rock, of course.

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We planned ahead and picked up sandwich stuff for our lunch this day. Such a better experience!

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It's unclear what caused the formation at Upheaval Dome, but a leading theory is that it was created by a meteorite. Whatever it was, it is pretty impressive.

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Once we hit all the hot spots along the Island in the Sky road, we ventured back to Moab via Shafer Canyon and Potash roads. The first part of this trail was navigating a bunch of switchbacks on Shafer's Pass. This road claimed to be two way, but was only wide enough for one vehicle for much of the way. If another vehicle came your way you hoped you were on the wider part of the road or might need to back up until it is safe to pass. The difficult road we drove the day before was not nearly as scary as this type of road is, at least for me. It's one thing to bang the bottom of your truck into rocks, it's another to careen off the side of the road altogether. Travel tip: While your vehicle might not need quite the modifications needed for the Top of the World trail, it would still be recommended to have a 4 wheel drive and to be a skilled driver to take this route.

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The reassuring face my husband gives me after looking over the side of the cliff.

The reassuring face my husband gives me after looking over the side of the cliff.

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From Shafer Canyon road, you can continue on to White Rim road - something the guys really wanted to do, but time wise it wasn't in the cards for this day. We turned off on to Potash road which brought us back to Moab on mostly smooth roads, with interesting views. We were able to see the Potash ponds from Dead Horse a couple days prior so it was interesting to be able to drive right past them. 

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We got back into town during the late afternoon so we stopped by some local shops to pick up our obligatory vacation trinkets (t-shirts, magnet, etc) before walking over to Arches Thai for dinner. We made sure to call ahead and arrive much earlier than the day before. We had planned to eat here on Tuesday, but discovered they are closed that day, and of course there was the wait on Wednesday so I was incredibly grateful that the food was really, really good when we finally did get to eat here. After a highly satisfying meal, we headed back to the campsite where we planned to actually sleep for our last night in town. 

Ken's Lake campground has a man made lake within view of our campsite so Riley and I decided to walk down the road to check it out. Turns out it was far further than it appeared. It seemed within walking distance, but at one point I turned us around to avoid being stuck out in the dark by ourselves. As we returned to the campsite, I noticed that I was over 19,000 steps on my fitbit so I walk around a little more to finally get that 20,000 steps in a day badge. Done! A walk to the bathroom (one of the nicest smelling vault toilets I've ever used) and a short trek to the neighboring campsite for some chit chat around a fire got me to my goal. 

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Jesse and Riley headed to bed around 9:00 pm and I attempted to get some star shots. There was a lot of light coming from the campsites (which I tried to include in some shots), but I still don't feel like I nailed these. My quest to get a good star shot continues. 

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That night was warm inside the tent - no worries at all about being too cold. I really needed to get up and use the bathroom, but it sounded incredibly windy and cold outside. Jesse went out in the middle of the night to secure parts of the tent better as it was making quite the racket and scaring Riley. I finally got up about 6:20 to find it wasn't nearly as windy or cold outside as I anticipated. It was still quite dark so I thought about setting up for another star shot because the stars were AMAZING, but it was windy so I crawled back into the warm tent for a smidge before getting up for our last day in Utah. 

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Friday's plan was to explore Arches National Park before Jesse and Sam drove Riley and I back to Grand Junction, CO to catch our 5:00 PM flight. I got up to take pictures of the rising sun while the guys discussed plans for the next few days. Originally, they planned to leave Saturday morning which then changed to Sunday. I think Jesse was done and just wanted to go home and the thought of driving 4 hours round trip that day only to be heading in that direction in a couple days didn't appeal to him. Sam was driving with him and agreed that he was ready to go as well so they decided that once they dropped Riley and I off they would head home to Minnesota. Aaron and Chris stayed another day and two, respectively.

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We got most of the campsite packed up, but knew we'd be coming back after Arches to get the trailer so off we went National Park exploring with Aaron and his boys.  Travel tip: Arches is popular which means it's busy. Get there early or you will be waiting in line for some time.

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A co-worker recommended hiking to the Delicate Arch. I'd done some research and it was on my must do list, but we just didn't have enough time to work it in. Maybe next time... for now, we enjoyed seeing it from afar and were able to see other arches up close.

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Like the Canyonlands, there were a number of places along the road to stop off at, take a short walk and see something amazing. After seeing the Delicate Arch, we checked out the Fiery Furnace, the Sand Dunes and Broken Arch, and then finished wih the Skyline Arch.

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Sand Dunes and Broken Arch was an unexpected treat, even if it was a little more challenging to walk on the sand. The walk wasn't far and you were greeted with a cool looking arch (which just had a small slice of rock fall off of it a few years ago). It was a good reminder that some of these rocks could come down at any time. Travel Tip: If you have little kids, you may want to bring your beach toys here. It was a nice cool, comfortable spot for families to take a break.

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My 35mm lens just didn't do this arch justice, but it was incredibly windy so I didn't dare switch out to my 15mm fish-eye lens. You can see the lighter shade of rock in the upper left which is where some of the rock fell off. It doesn't look like much, but I still wouldn't have wanted to be under it when it happened. I wish I would have explored that path behind Riley, but I guess that gives me another excuse to go back. 

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Speaking of fallen rock... the Skyline Arch just lost an enormous rock in 1940 which doubled the size of it's opening. We were able to walk right up to the base of this arch and probably crawled over the piece of rock that fell out.

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We left Aaron and the boys to explore more while we went back to the campsite one more time to pack everything up for our return home. Jesse and Sam dropped Riley and I off at the airport in Grand Junction and we joked that they might be in Denver by the time we fly in there for our layover. Inside the airport Riley's bag was searched because she had so many books with her. Only my kid. Travel trip: If you have a voracious reader like my kid, encourage her to bring books, but not ALL the books, and talk her out of bringing hard copy books. She didn't complain once, but her bag was heavy. We arrived home around midnight - later than I care to be up, but it was well worth it. I'll admit that Utah wasn't originally high on my list to visit, but after this experience, I know we'll be back one day. 

November 4 on 4

Each month I join a group of talented women from Clickin Moms to create a 4 on 4 blog circle showcasing 4 of our favorite images from the last month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.


Oh, October... what can I say about you? I didn't pay much attention to you due to most of my attention going to our vacation this month (post coming soon!) and some photo shoots I did for others (which I don't normally do). I noticed the weather change, raked some leaves, put the lawn furniture away, adjusted to your waning light, and then celebrated Halloween. Yet another month that flew on by that I didn't get to embrace as much as I wanted. 

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Next up make sure to check out the wonderful Chrissy Mazer and continue the circle around.

October 4 on 4

Each month I join a group of talented women from Clickin Moms to create a 4 on 4 blog circle showcasing 4 of our favorite images from the last month. This month got away from all of us, but I realized that I had something put together so I thought I would post it anyway.


September was a blend of getting in all the summer things before it gets cold, and embracing the start of fall. I'll admit I'm not a fan of the fall season - I like warm weather and can't seem to enjoy fall for what it is, but I do love fall activities (apple orchards, corn mazes, pumpkin patches!). To me, fall is the start of an inevitable winter which I'd rather do without. I don't like to be cold and I'm still trying to figure out how this wasn't enough to motivate me to move out of Minnesota during some point in my life. 

I've already turned the heat on in the house. And it wasn't even October yet.

At any rate, a lot of my September pictures bring me back to the final days before school started where we tried to summer as hard as we could, and then shift to the acceptance of returning to our structured school days while watching the greens of summer begin their unavoidable pigment change to gold,  and brown and red.

We've been walking to school when we can and enjoying the nice weather as it holds out, but as I write this it rains outside. 

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My Minnesota - September - Apple Orchard

I'm a little behind on a little bit of everything these days. Somehow it was the beginning of September and now November is right around the corner. I hope this is a sign that winter will be past us before we know it. Here's to hoping...

September found us jumping right into fall activities. We knew we had a busy October so we decided to go to the apple orchard earlier than we usually do, and I've got to tell you, this is the way to go. We arrived right as they opened and had the place to ourselves. Well, not entirely, but it wasn't super crowded as it can be later in the season. It was wonderful and I'm going to try to remember to do this moving forward.

We have a fondness for Minnetonka Orchards - it's our go to orchard. It has a number of great kid's activities, farm animals, pick your own orchards, music, tractor rides, food, and more. I highly recommend it.

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For the rest of September we soaked up as much time outside enjoying the cooler weather and the changing colors knowing that it was fleeting. As I write this, the season has taken a turn as it's snowing which makes me even more grateful for our time exploring the outdoors in September.

Day in the Life Fall 2017

It's that time of the year again...where I spend an entire day documenting our life. Thanks to Ellie and Addie for hosting this Day in the Life round up. 

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Riley is 7 and a half years old

Jesse is 42 and I am 45

Lucy the cat is 13

The night before I head up to bed and check in on Riley. She's fallen asleep sideways and with the light on. I decide to take a picture of her with my phone and use the Lightroom app, but the shutter sound is soooo loud. I get into my bed and proceed to try to figure out how to make the shutter noise quieter. After multiple searches online it appears it isn't possible. I open the phone's camera and am able to have a quiet shutter so I decide to use that for any middle of the night pictures. I turn off the light shortly after 10 and go to sleep.

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1:02 - As usual, I wake multiple times during the night. I go to take a picture of my clock to keep track of these wake ups (with my quieter phone camera shutter, of course) and my clock is flickering with a radio station instead of the time. Eventually it shows the time, but it does this pretty much every time I look at the clock during this day. I've noticed it doing this in the past, but not to this degree. I hope this doesn't mean that my alarm clock is about to give out.

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2:30 - Up again. Get up and go to the bathroom as I always do, and go back to bed. Fall right back to sleep.

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I hear Jesse get up and then Riley. She slept in most of the summer, but seems to be back to getting up at 6:00... or at least that's the earliest she's allowed to come out of her room. Who knows how long she may have been up before that. I finally look at the clock around 6:11 and decide I'm going to try to fall back to sleep.

6:52 - Success! I haven't been feeling my best this week and I know sleep will help. I sort of want to stay in bed even longer, but I'm hungry so I work on getting myself out of bed. I finally head downstairs a little after 7:00.

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Riley is eating at the table and Jesse is in the office. I do my usual morning routine, like drink a glass of Citrocel, refill the cat's water, and debate about breakfast.

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I was pitifully inactive the day before and know that behavior contributes to me not feeling well. However, Friday night, I just didn't have it in me... lots of fatigue, headache and other body pain so I just wasn't up to any activity. The Citrocel seems to have taken care of my hunger for now so I decide to jump on the treadmill before I really have time to think about it. I decide to commit to at least 10 minutes based on how crappy I feel this morning. I watch Narcos while walking and am so engrossed in it that 25 minutes go by pretty fast. 

7:55 - My wrist has been bothering me this week, but it's in a lot of pain today. I have no idea why and don't realize how bad it is until I try to take a sock off my foot. Holy crap that hurts. I head upstairs to eat some food and find Riley and Jesse working on sketch books. Riley put one together for each of us and Jesse is cutting the letters for 'dad' out of construction paper to put on the cover of his. Riley transitions into playing on her tablet.

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8:05 - I eat gluten free waffles and a banana while reading The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen. It was a random library book I picked up and it's been well worth the read. The author wrote a series of short stories over almost 20 years that were inspired by her mom and aunt. When she died, her husband and friends compiled the stories into a book that chronicles the sister's lives over 70 years. 

8:27 - I take a well needed shower, check the weather and then get ready for the day. While in the shower, Jesse and Riley get dressed. I head upstairs and hang out with the cat for a moment and then strip the sheets off the bed.

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9:28 - We leave the house and head to REI. Jesse is going on a big road/camping trip to Moab, UT for 12 days with his Toyota Tacoma friends and Riley and I are going to fly out there for a few days to join him. I decide this is a good excuse to buy new pants and feel the need to splurge at REI.

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I figure Jesse will want to pick up some last minute supplies, but once there he shares that he needs to assess what he has and will be back in the next few days to get that stuff (side note, we went back the next day because we both realized we need new light coats. Jesse still did not assess his trip needs, but we picked up some camp food anyway and a couple of coats). I spend way too much money on two pair of pants and a pair of socks, but somehow feel justified since I get to apply my 8 dollars and some change in dividends on my purchase. It didn't make much of a dent, but I'm sure I earned more dividends for next year. 

Riley is in a bit of a sour mood while at the store. Not sure what's going on, but I'm sure it's not very exciting for her there. I let her play in the play area even though she's older than the 'age 6 and under' that they have posted. She perks up a little, but she is a little off the entire day - nothing too bad, but she's generally such a happy kid that it's noticeable to me.

10:53 - We leave the store and Jesse turns away from the parking lot exit. I'm quite confused until he stops in front a Tacoma truck that's all pimped out. Jesse takes a picture of it to show to the guys. He mentions that he likes this person's storage system so I figure that may be the next thing Jesse purchases for our truck. It's really gotten a little out of hand, but there could be worse hobbies to have.

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After admiring a stranger's truck, we decide to pick up lunch on the way home. It's a little after 11:00 and I remark that I'm really hungry since I didn't have my mid-morning snack. Jesse is doing this intermittent fasting thing where he doesn't eat from 5 pm at night until 11 am the next day so we have a little laugh about me complaining about not eating in the last hour while he hasn't eaten in 18 hours. I might have laughed more than he did.

We stop at Honey and Rye on the way home. I'd been mentioning this place to Jesse for years, but would never actually think to stop there until the evening and they close at 3:30 or something like that. The week before we finally went there for lunch and loooooved their sandwiches so Jesse suggested we go back. Riley doesn't really like anything there (except the sweets) so we just picked up our food and then made her lunch at home. 

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11:20- We're home and I see some packages have come. A couple books for Riley that Jesse ordered and the 2015 day in the life book that I finally got around to printing (the 2016 book came a few days later). I open it and realize that the font I used was too big. Oh well, now I know for the 2017 book. Jesse makes Riley a plate of food and we all eat our lunches. We let Riley go on her tablet again and I watch a little more of Florence Foster Jenkins that I started the day before. It's based on a true story of a socialite who thought she was a good singer, but wasn't. You won't want to watch this movie if you have a headache - her singing is horrendous, but the acting is great.

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11:49 - I clean up the kitchen, change out the laundry and decide to finish my book as I'm on the last chapter. My wrist continues to hurt and I generally feel like crap all over... most of it is low level pain, but now my teeth and face hurt. I can tell it's getting worse so at some point I take a pain pill and then head to the couch with my book.

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1:07 - I'm finished with my book and Riley is playing on the floor next to me. Jesse says his goodbyes as he's headed over to his friend's house to work on the trailer they just built. It needs some finishing touches (fenders) before it's ready to go to Utah. Jesse is hauling a friend's dirt bike along on their trip.

Riley seems content and I need to attend to how I'm feeling so I decide to meditate while putting a warm compress on my dry eyes. I do a 10 minute body scan, but only remember getting from my head to my back... and then I wake to silence. I'm not sure how long I was out, but obviously it was needed. I turn on the Calm app's music and suggest to Riley that she read to me. She hasn't had any homework yet this year until this past week. She now has to read to us for 20 minutes at least 5 days a week. I'm not too worried about Riley getting this practice since she is a skilled reader, but I like to follow directions. Riley reads me The Journey to Atlantis. She recently discovered the timer on my phone so we decide to set that for good measure. After she's done I read a little of The Secret Garden to her. We started this book long ago and then set it aside for the summer. The movie is now on Netflix so I want to finish the book and watch the movie together.

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2:40 - Good lord, I've been on the couch for a couple hours and am feeling incredibly lazy. I know it's probably good for my body to just chill today, but I feel like we have to do something. I tell Riley that we are going to walk to the library to return my book and then walk to the frozen yogurt place. I'm not totally convinced that I have it in me, but after a gloomy, rainy morning the sun is now shining and it's inspired me to get up and go. First, I change out the laundry again and put the clean sheets on our bed. The mail has come so I grab that and see that my company has sent me a gift card for Starbucks. Due to one of the recent hurricane's it impacted our phone volume at work so it was their way of saying thank you. I do so appreciate that they do this, but I don't drink coffee so I have a number of unused gift cards.

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2:54 - Finally out the door. We go to the library and see that they've installed a bench that blocks off our shortcut. It seems an odd placement since they have pavers that lead you to the shortcut. It's like they can't make up their mind as to if they want you to take that path or not. For some reason Riley's brought her book which she carries the entire way, but never reads. We head towards the frozen yogurt place and Riley goes into pretend mode. I'm queen Elizabeth and she's princess Riley. I'm not a fan of pretend, but this day she tells me exactly what I need to say... "Mom, I'm going upstairs for awhile. Now you say 'okay', okay?" And then she'd talk to herself or sing. It was a fairly easy walk and she seemed pretty content. We walk past a couple cars that clearly were in accidents so I mention that I've been in a few. She wants to hear all about them so I tell her about being rear ended a couple times and the big one where my cousin crossed a highway and got slammed into by a car. She's relived that I wasn't hurt in any of them. 

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On the way home I have to momentarily change roles to Prince Loken. Riley stages a scene where we walk across the parking lot towards each other, and bump into each other. I, the prince, walk with her for awhile before departing ways. I go off script during our encounter and Riley approves (I often do not say what she'd like me to say which is probably one of the reasons I don't care for pretend play). I can tell she's starting to peter out so I just let her do her thing. She sits on some rocks for a bit and I don't rush her. We don't have anyplace to be and it's turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

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4:04 - we get home and I suggest we go to Goodwill to look for books. I sort of want to keep moving while I'm at it and this seems like an easy task to include in our day. When we get to Goodwill we are sorely disappointed by the kid's book options. I've never seen it so picked over. There are a bunch of new prints of Little Women so I grab one of those and a book for me. Riley finds a brand new create your own recipe book and a brand new scrapbook you make about you and your dad. She wants to go, but I make her follow me around the entire store. 

5:12 - We get home and she wants to start filling her recipe book right away. She decides she wants to start with breakfast so I tell her to search for kid friendly breakfasts on the computer. She finds one and asks me to write it in her book and then is disappointed that we can't make it immediately, but I promise to put the items on the grocery list. I notice that we have two more packages that have been delivered. Amazon can thank my husband for keeping their business going. Somewhere along the line I pop a frozen pizza into the oven as I've lost all energy to cook a meal.

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5:57 - I sit down at my computer and read up on how to sync Lightroom with Lightroom mobile. Riley watches TV because I don't really care at this point. I fold laundry and clean up a bit, but I don't take as many pictures for the rest of the day. Riley is usually game for having her picture taken, but I can tell she's over it. We are a sorry set today - getting through the day, but just not feeling our best. 

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7:07 - I tell Riley to head upstairs to get her pajamas on, but then see Jesse has arrived home and is in the driveway. Riley and I go outside and Riley excitedly tells her dad about the dad scrapbook she got. We go inside and get ready for bed. Jesse comes upstairs to say goodnight and Riley is bummed that it's already time for bed. I leave her room around 7:40 and she reads for awhile before going to sleep.

I decide to make a salad since I didn't have any veggies with my pizza. I start to edit pictures and decide to watch a movie. I pull up New in Town and figure it has to be ok since it has Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. I watch about 20 minutes of it and it's 20 minutes too much. Gah, it's an awful movie. It portrays my fellow Minnesotans as total bumpkins who say "you betcha" all the time. I go to turn on something else, but then decide I'm not in the mood. I listen to some more music from my Calm app, take some different pain meds for sleeping and then head up to bed a little after 9 pm.

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I check my fitbit and for feeling rather lazy for a good chunk of the day, I still managed to get in 13,114 steps. While in bed, I check Instagram and finally go to bed around 9:46

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11:44 - I wake up and go to the bathroom. When I get back in bed I realize that Jesse isn't there. He comes up a few minutes later and adds a blanket to his side of the bed and ends up hitting me in the face with it. I sleep pretty well, although get up multiple times as usual. I still feel cruddy the next day, but my wrist is way, way better. My cruddy feeling continued to carry over to Monday when I ended up taking the day off because of a horrible migraine. I just hope it all goes away for our Utah trip.

And that is our fall day in the life.

My Minnesota - August - Duluth

I'm joining up again with my fellow Minnesotans to highlight places we've explored in our state this past month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around. 


This month I met up with fellow photographer, Carrie Bayless, for an entire weekend in Duluth. I'd only known Carrie online so it was great to meet her face to face and hang out with her and her kids. My husband and daughter tagged along and we agreed that we had a fantastic time. We've been to Duluth many times, but never shy away from a chance to visit Duluth and the North Shore. While a number of the spots we've visited on this weekend we'd been to previously, but we were able to explore new places as well. We packed in a lot this weekend - more than I have in previous visits and was so grateful to have other people who were willing to do so with us. 

Our first stop found us meeting at Spirit Mountain. I'm not big on alpine slides and the such, but I know my family loves this stuff. While there, they enjoyed the alpine slide, the zip line, and the scenic chair lift (which I joined them on). We thought about sticking around for more, but to be honest it was a bit hotter than expected so we went on to our next spot, Enger Tower. 

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Enger Tower provides panoramic views over Lake Superior and is a must see at least one time you visit Duluth (I've been twice). After climbing to the top of the tower, we explored the Japanese Peace Garden and the walking paths before heading out to dinner.

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After checking into the hotel we decided to head down to Canal Park to eat dinner and explore. We've been there plenty of times, but this was the first time we walked over the bridge and adventured on the other side as well.

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To wrap up our day we found a little beach and the kids splashed around in the cold Lake Superior water. My daughter ended up soaking wet and wishing she had her bathing suit, but she was one happy kid and didn't seem to mind the cold.

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That night we also drove over to Brighten Beach to get pictures of the stars, but mine didn't turn out. I had big plans of getting up early on this trip for a sunrise shot, but my sleep was too precious to me to get up that early. I guess I'll leave the sunrises to someone else.

Instead, after sleeping in ever so slightly, we took a drive an hour north to Gooseberry Falls. It was no surprise that there were a ton of people visiting this popular destination as it was a beautiful weekend, but it was surprising that I was able to capture some pictures with only Riley in them. 

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After eating a quick lunch we headed north again to Split Rock Lighthouse. 

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One of my favorite things to do at Split Rock is walk down to the beach and hang out on the rocks where I can watch my daughter throw pebbles into the water.

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And then we headed further north up to Palisade Head for another spectacular view before heading back to Duluth for dinner and an early bed time after a very active day.

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On the last morning we decided that we wanted to beat the traffic home so we took off on our own and stopped at Jay Cooke State Park for one last adventure. I'd been impressed with my 7 year old's ability to pack in so much activity this weekend, but this is about the time it all broke down. This was a fun visit, but it was peppered with moments of complete breakdown followed by energetic highs by my kid. Still, Riley deserves a big kudos for her over all adventurous spirit this weekend... and while were at it, kudos to my fellow introverted husband for agreeing to a weekend with strangers.

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And that was our big adventure for the month of August. I've never Duluth'd so hard before, but boy did we have a good time. 


Make sure to check out the talented Carrie Bayless to see her take on our trip to Duluth.

September 4 on 4

Each month I join a group of talented women from Clickin Moms to create a 4 on 4 blog circle showcasing 4 of our favorite images from the last month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.


This month my husband surprised me with a new lens. I'd been talking about getting a wider lens (I have a 35mm), but wasn't sure if I wanted something like the 20mm or the 15mm fisheye. It would be fun to have a lens to play with, but I'm fairly practical so I thought having the 20mm or even 24mm might get more use. In the end, my husband made the decision for me by getting me the fisheye... and I'm so glad he did. 

I got it at the end of August so I haven't been able to play with it too much, but so far I'm loving it.

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 Next up make sure to check out the wonderful Chrissy Mazer and continue the circle around.

My Minnesota - July

I'm joining up again with my fellow Minnesotans to highlight places we've explored in our state this past month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around. Also, be prepared for a lot of photos - I went a little nuts with this post.


June found us exploring pretty hard... and that intensity lead into July, but then we petered out a little as the month went on. We spent the 4th of July on the boat with family, went to the Hamel Rodeo and parade, hung out at a number of local parks, and then finished the month purchasing new plants to replace the ones that the wild bunnies like to eat.

It's been 30 years since I've been to the Hamel Rodeo. I've been talking about it for years, but finally went with Riley and my mother in law. It was a fun girl's night out, and when we shared the experience with my husband, he was bummed he didn't go. I'm hoping this means we go back next year. 

Mid month I realized that we hadn't hit up any of the parks on our list in awhile. We've been trying to mark all 35 playgrounds off our list that are in our city. I thought it would be easy to finish them this year (we started last year), but we still have a lot yet to explore. This last one had a pond and a baseball field next to the playground so we had to check those out as well.

One July morning, we went on a very long walk to a park that we visit quite often. Riley wanted to explore all three playgrounds along the path, plus we were met with 50 or more ducks feeding outside the pond. 

This month I was able to check another item off my bucket list... ride the Como-Harriet Streetcar/Trolley. This was one that we'd been talking about for years - like before Riley was born. I was determined to make this happen and am glad I did as we ran into friends by Lake Harriet who rode the trolley with us. 

And finally, we explored the local lawn and garden center. This may not feel like a very momentous way to explore Minnesota, but we'd finally taken some time to work on the yard and it felt like an important part of July... even if we have a lot of yard work yet to do. We dug up some plants, thinned out others, and bought new plants with the hope that the bunnies that have overtaken the neighborhood wouldn't eat them. Spoiler alert: the bunnies were pleased that we brought them a new food source. The rabbits did not eat the lavender so I'm tempted to line our yard with that and other fragrant plants. 

Riley made glasses like Geronimo Stilton and wore them much of the day - which is what you see on her head here. Jesse and I were also given costumes for character's from the book series, but were not required to wear them in public.

Riley made glasses like Geronimo Stilton and wore them much of the day - which is what you see on her head here. Jesse and I were also given costumes for character's from the book series, but were not required to wear them in public.

And that wraps up our July. It was a hot one, but we tried to embrace it to the fullest. Next make sure to check out the wonderful Carrie Bayless

My nephew wrote a book... The Long Road North

When I was 18, I moved out of my parents house and found a freedom I wasn't sure what to do with. It was exhilarating - I could make whatever choices I wanted to. I could skip my college classes, stay up way too late, eat crappy food, drink too much, and no one was there to hold me accountable, except myself... and I didn't always do a great job at that. Obviously, there were repercussions to my lifestyle choices... my grades, body, and mind all gave me the feedback I didn't really want when I made poor decisions, but it didn't seem to stop me.

The further I deviated from the structure and values I grew up with, the more I struggled to find out who I really was and where I belonged. Eventually, I found my way, trying to take the best from my youth and from what I learned in those young adult years. I look back and cringe at some of my behavior, but also know that I am who I am partly because of those days.

I think we all go through this time of self discovery... for some the road is relatively smooth, but for others we might find that we've gone completely off road. Whatever the path we take, we hope to find a good fit in the end.

My nephew, Quentin Super, recently wrote a book, The Long Road North, to share his story of growth during his college years. He documented how he found himself behaving in ways that didn't feel genuine to him and what it took for him to introspectively review his actions so he could start living the life he craved.

His journey included an actual journey or, I should say, a series of journeys on his bicycle. He and his friend, Rhino, started riding their bikes around town, and then adventured further until they found themselves riding from St Cloud, MN to Winnepeg one chilly spring break in March of 2015.

Their trip was filled with challenges, whether it was the wind, tests of endurance, or even tests of friendship, but they made the grueling journey there and back. It gave my nephew time to think and realize what he was capable of. It may not have resulted in a revolutionary shift in his behavior or who he was, but it did contribute to the man he's growing into.

I read Quentin's book within 2 days, and while I didn't identify with his experiences (let's just say, it's a little weird to read intimate stuff about your nephew), I did recognize the struggles and growth that you go through at that age. I'm not sure his book even captures the growth I've seen in him personally. I'm immensely proud of him as I know he made a physical journey that I don't think I would have had the physical or emotional strength to pull off myself at that age (or any age). 

You should totally order his book... and I'm not just saying that because I am his aunt. You can find it at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Also, being the good nephew he is, he asked me to take his picture for the book and for an article written about him in Immersion magazine (a magazine in which he writes for as well). Let's just say that I was honored to do so... here are a few pictures from our last photo shoot.

August 4 on 4

Each month I join a group of talented women from Clickin Moms to create a 4 on 4 blog circle showcasing 4 of our favorite images from the last month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.


Oh July, where have you gone? It seems impossible that you are over and that school starts back in a month. So much summerin' left to do, and yet we had a pretty full month. Riley finally mastered bike riding (and I found an excuse to try panning), we walked to the local frozen yogurt shop plenty of times, we played in the sprinkler and went to the splash pad, and spent lots of time with friends.

Summer has been good.

I just wish it could be summer every day...

 Next up make sure to check out the wonderful Chrissy Mazer and continue the circle around.

Day in the Life - Summer 2017

Each season I spend an entire day documenting our life. This day was a little different in that our nephews were with us for the weekend, but they were featured a few years ago in a day in the life when they were in town so it seems appropriate that they made an appearance again. Thanks to Ellie and Addie for hosting this Day in the Life round up. 

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Riley is 7 years old

Jesse is 42 and I am 45

Lucy the cat is 13

Mason is 18

Cade is 15

Frank, my dad, is 89

The night before I head up to bed just after 11 pm after a late night watching an outdoor movie at the local rec center (Sing) with Riley. They were supposed to start the movie at 8, but waited until 9 when it was dark enough and then ran into a technical issue so we left by 10:20, before the movie was over, as it was way too late to keep my 7 year old up. And let's honest, it was past my bedtime too. At any rate, once home I went to bed and made the mistake of bringing my iPad and therefore, did not turn out the lights until 11:30 which is way past my regular bedtime... and then my mind raced for a bit before I actually fell asleep.

 3:48  - I wake for the first time, go to the bathroom and go back to bed. I'm annoyed that it's too cold with just the sheet on, but too hot with the comforter. Try to find a middle ground so I can fall back to sleep.

5:25 - I wake from a dream where I am with my friend, Josie. In the dream I'm trying to fall asleep and finally look at the clock and it says 5:35. I'm annoyed that I am still awake, but when I wake from the dream, I am relieved that I was actually asleep.  Kind of amazed how close in time the dream time is to the real time. Out of habit, I get up and go to the bathroom, but don't really need to.

6:48 - I usually sleep on my side, but at some point I roll over on to my back. It feels good to change positions, but it usually results in a cat jumping onto my chest and then nudging her face and wet nose against mine. The thought of that this morning makes me turn over to avoid the cat attack, but she never comes up to bed anyway. I toss and turn and realize I might as well get up.

7:28 - Out of bed and head downstairs. Everyone is still sleeping which is super late in our house, but we've all had some late nights recently. We also had our 15 and 18 year old nephews staying at our house this weekend and they were up late with Jesse and one of Jesse's friends. I assess our messy house, check Instagram and TimeHop, make breakfast, and sit down to eat. Riley comes downstairs at about this time. She grabs her Nintendo and plops herself down on the couch. 

8:07 - My husband comes down stairs and notes that he didn't go to bed until 2 am. Our schedules are waaaay off. He makes his breakfast and then I announce that I'm doing a day in the life today. He grumbles for a moment, but then gets over it.

8:27 - I decide to go on a walk before it gets too hot or rains. It's supposed to be 86 today, but it's only about 67 right now. It was supposed to rain, but now the weather forecast has changed. I'll risk it and hope for the best. I ask Jesse if he wants to come (and bring Riley, of course), but he declines. 

I decide to walk around a local park that has a pond. It's often my go to walk, but I change it up a little and wander through a wooded area first. The path leads back down to the pond and I have a choice to take the short way home or go around the entire pond. I have to pee and the clouds are looking somewhat ominous, but I've got a spurt of energy I didn't have before so I take the long route around.

I get to the far end of the pond and decide to take pictures of some flowers when it starts to sprinkle very lightly. I make no rush to move forward and hope that it doesn't start pouring. Eventually, I start moving again and notice that the park is starting to get busier. It was peacefully quiet, but it looks like some soccer games will be happening today. Luckily, the sprinkles stop and it doesn't end up raining at all this day.

9:19 - I arrive home from my walk and find Riley and Jesse playing our new game, Pokemon Monopoly. We have a kid's Monopoly game that I like because it doesn't take hours to play, but Riley played this one with her cousins the day before and it seemed to take forever.  I grab some granola and eat it in front of the computer while I cool down, and then jump in the shower.

10:00 - Monopoly game is still going. The boys are still sleeping. Oh, to be a teenager. I discover later that one of them staying up until about 3:30 am. I go upstairs to get dressed after my shower and end up changing Riley's sheets and making our bed. I found some cat hero sheets on clearance at Target and had to get them for our cat obsessed kid... even though she has more sheets than she really needs. Seriously, I have one set of sheets that I use over and over for our bed, but she has a rotation of about 6 different sheets.

10:25 - I bring clothes down for Riley and after she gets dressed I remember that I was going to give her a bath. We've had multiple late nights in a row and she needs one badly. So, she gets undressed and jumps in the shower and then brushes her teeth afterwards. Meanwhile, Jesse puts away the game that they were still playing (why so long, Monopoly). This really is a late start of the day for us, but we don't have anything else to do this morning. We normally would go to the gym on a weekend morning, but we gave up our gym membership about a month ago. Instead, I go on walks, use the treadmill at home, or try to motivate myself to workout in the living room while Jesse has access to a small gym at his work. Paying for a huge gym just didn't make sense for us anymore. Plus, the upside is that Riley sometimes works out along with me so I feel like she's getting a more direct message about how we care for our bodies than when she went to child care at the gym. 

10:44 - Riley grabs Lucy, the cat, and takes her outside. She is not an outside cat, but we'll sometimes sit on the step with her. She seems to like it, but can also be a bit overwhelmed by the outdoors so we are mindful of that. At some point, Riley grabs the chalk and Lucy and I chill on the sidewalk before I do a little weeding and then put the cat indoors. Jesse leaves for a walk while we are outside and returns before we go inside. 

11:18 - Mason is finally awake and I think Cade wakes shortly after. Riley goes inside and plays 'student resources' on my computer. It's a bunch of educational games that her school provides so I don't mind when she requests to play them. Around 11:30 I announce to everyone that we need to get ready to go to my dad's. We need to get there before they close down the roads for the parade near his house at 2:00 pm. Jesse, Cade, and Mason take turns showering. Jesse, Riley and I grab some food, and we pack up the car. 

12:11 - We head to pick up sandwiches for the boys and then go to my dad's house. While at my dad's, we hang out outside and then Riley plays his out of tune piano with her new piano book. She had a piano lesson for the first time last week and loved it. My dad offers us the piano, but we have no place to put it. While inside with Riley, I look outside and see the guys checking out one of my dad's trees. Riley and I head outside to see what they are staring at and I notice my dad created some type of contraption to help take down a branch on one of his trees (basically, a rope tied to the hanging branch, with concrete blocks and a heavy chain tied to the end to weigh it down). This is sooooo my dad. I mean, it screams 'Frank'.

Apparently, my brother hooked the rope up to his truck, but it wouldn't come down so my dad and Jesse brain storm about how to hitch it to our truck and try it out in the future. Riley isn't as interested in this thing as I am so she goes back inside to play the piano. Eventually, we end up back in the driveway while waiting for the parade to start. 

1:52 - We grab our chairs and walk through my dad's back yard and sit in his neighbor's front yard to watch the parade. This spot puts us near the start of the parade as most people sit in town (a whole couple blocks away). We don't have a ton of people near us and there isn't any shade, but it's the shortest walk from my dad's house. The Hamel Rodeo was this same weekend (we went on Friday night) and the parade is sort of part of the Rodeo celebration so there are a lot of horses, along with businesses, firetrucks... and new this year was a couple bands (like country/rock bands - not marching bands) which was a nice improvement. 

We got lots and lots of candy, but also some reusable water bottles, a size XL shirt, water, coupons, and freezer pops, which are seriously the best parade idea ever. It was pretty hot and besides some passing clouds, we were in the direct sun. I tucked one of those freezer pops in my shirt and it helped me cool down.

2:50 - The parade is over so we head back to my dad's and fix a leaning and crumbling concrete deer, and marvel at the gnarly old willow tree in my dad's front yard. We find both toads and frogs hopping around the yard and I'm surprised when Riley goes right in and tries to pick one up. I totally thought she would be freaked out, but was genuinely interested in trying to at least touch one. She wasn't successful, but she was able to touch the one Cade picked up and she proclaimed it "slimey".

I pull out the stereoscope that I brought over and show it to my nephews. The stereoscope used to be my grandparents and some years ago, my uncle passed it down to me. I'm not sure how old it is, but it was patented in 1901, and my dad remembers playing with it as a kid (he was born in 1928). I have close to 100 cards (some have dates from 1899 on them). My dad's neighbor made a box to store the stereoscope and the cards in and it turns out that it's ever so slightly too narrow. Riley and the boys enjoy looking at the pictures.

3:49 - My dad suggests we go out to eat and takes us to Applebees for an early dinner. I'm starving so I'm all about eating this early and everyone else seems game. We chat about a variety of things including life in Luxembourg vs America. The boys have been living in Luxembourg for about the last 5 years and Mason just moved here as he graduated high school. Cade is visiting for the summer, but will be returning to Luxembourg in about a month.

We also talk about dreams and I share my morning dream. My dad shares that he has a lot of dreams that he hates. He shares that he gets lost in his dreams and can't find his way home. Yeah, I would find those dreams disturbing too.

4:49 - Dinner is over and we all head home. Once home, Riley plays on her Nintendo again, and the boys head out to Microcenter (computer store) to pick something up or return a part. I'm not quite sure. While out, Mason practices driving as he's working on getting his driver's license. I finally post some 4th of July pictures to Facebook, decide to unnecessarily sort the candy, and then grab a book and head to the couch. I'm reading The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. I'm kind of a Philippa Gregory junkie as I love a good historical fiction. 

5:58 - The boys are back. Mason and Cade head to the basement, which they've mostly taken over, and Jesse joins me on the couch for a little bit. He used to let the cat cuddle on him, but he doesn't have much patience for her anymore (especially since she started randomly pooping around the house), so naturally, Lucy crawls right on to his belly. Even after he removes her once, she comes right back. Jesse is not so enthused about this.

6:22 - I start to write this post before I forget too much. Riley takes another shower and I help her with that a bit. I go back to writing this post, Riley grabs a Captain Underpants book she read in 2 hours yesterday and decides she's going to re-read it. The boys are scattered across the house. 

7:44 - I find Jesse asleep on the couch and Riley is downstairs with her cousins. Earlier there were a few squirrels wrestling with each other in the front yard and now bunnies are frolicking in front of our house so I take pictures of them. The bunnies seem cute, and this may appear dramatic, but there is a bit of a bunny epidemic in my neighborhood. They are EVERYWHERE and they like to eat a lot of the plants in my yard. Bad, bad bunnies.

7:56 - Riley has been up until at least 10:30 the last couple nights so I want to get her in bed by 8:00 tonight. She'll likely stay up and read for awhile, but it's quiet time and I wouldn't be surprised if she crashes right away.

8:08 - After putting Riley to bed, I come back downstairs and realize I didn't document any of it. I don't care at this point. I'm tired, and want to eat a snack (because I ate dinner so early) and maybe watch TV. I look to see if I can find Sing anywhere, but no. The ending will just have to hang in the air for awhile. Jesse has the same idea about food and is making a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries. I decide I will eat another bowl of granola, but realize we are almost out of milk so I grab some Wheat Thins instead. I work on this post for a bit and then turn on Master of None while editing pictures from yesterday. The second season has a lot of laugh out loud moments.

9:38 - I upload today's pictures, then walk around the house and close up windows. Decide on a picture to post to Instagram and then start bedtime prep, such as brushing my teeth.

10:10 - I head up to bed and check in on Riley before I go to sleep. I have no idea when the boys went to sleep, but I think Mason went to bed early, Cade was in the basement for the evening so who knows, and Jesse came up after I was asleep.

And that wraps up a somewhat normal summer weekend day for us. Also, I realized, I didn't get a single picture of me in it and I take a ton of pictures of my daughter and my dad. Note to self: get in the picture more.

My Minnesota - Rochester

I'm joining up again with my fellow Minnesotans to highlight places we've explored in our state this past month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.

As suspected, the warmer weather had us exploring all sorts of things in June. We went to multiple local city festivals, and a new (to us) library, but our big adventure was going to Rochester, MN for a day. We went to visit my brother who just had surgery so I suggested to my husband that we find a place to hike while we were there.... move our legs a bit after a long drive. "What's in Rochester", my husband asked with a tone of disbelief that we could find anything remotely interesting there. He loves the North Shore so it's a little hard to convince him that there are other awesome places within Minnesota, especially south of us. I took his comment as a bit of a challenge and found Quarry Hill Nature Center to explore.

Besides having a nature center where you can see various animals (fish, turtles. birds, bees, etc), they have quite a number of trails. They have them nicely broken up into various types of trails so you can determine which is best for you. We were mostly on the family trails, but also found ourselves wandering through other trails such as the stream trail, and the savanna trail. If we lived closer, we'd totally take advantage of the programs they have such as the cave tour and the kid's classes. While we were there, we saw kid's from one of their programs feed minnows to the big fish.

As the name suggests, the Quarry Hill Nature Center used to be a quarry, but it also belonged to the state hospital. They had a farm there, and used local caves to store the vegetables they grew. Apparently, one of the patients, who was a poet, led one of the cave crews and his poems can be found carved into the cave walls.

In the end, my husband totally owned up to how much he loved Rochester and this park. He even joked that he could be convinced to move there. I'm not quite ready to move, but I do look forward to the next time we can visit this place. 

And that is how we explored Minnesota during the month of June. Make sure to check out where Erin from Hello Photo explored this month and follow the circle around.

July 4 on 4

Each month I join a group of talented women from Clickin Moms to create a 4 on 4 blog circle showcasing 4 of our favorite images from the last month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.


Riley loves the library, but one day this month she begged me to take her to the library to specifically pick up some science books. Who am I to deny her this request? We live within walking distance of a library, but I took this as an opportunity to visit one of the somewhat newer libraries in our state, the Brooklyn Park Library. I might have to make it a habit to visit libraries in nearby communities because it was fun to explore a new space. 

This library has fun things to climb on inside and out. The play area inside is amazing and was being utilized by many little ones. There is a huge globe, and an even larger wall map where we spent time finding our loved ones homes. There were just so many places to be inquisitive and explore. 

And of course, there are a lot of books.

Task accomplished. We got books about dinosaurs, Alexander Graham Bell, and an interesting book about intangible items.

Next up make sure to check out Chrissy Mazer and continue the circle around.

San Diego

Once upon a time, I almost moved to San Diego.

I'd just finished grad school and was looking for a change... a fresh start. I was drawn to the year round perfect weather in San Diego and had a friend and an aunt that lived there. But, in the end, I chickened out. I can't imagine living far from my dad, plus there are some awesome things about Minnesota that I worry I won't find elsewhere. The weather isn't one of them, but trust me... lots of great things about Minnesota.

I've come to accept that I will be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future. And, I'm glad I didn't move since it was in Minnesota that I met my husband... and then had my daughter. I can't imagine an alternative life without them. So you could say that it all worked out in the end. 

Jesse and I talk about moving to Oregon, and I hope one day we have the guts to do so, but San Diego still speaks to me sometimes. I once had a massage therapist that didn't really know me, and yet seemed to know me so well (if that makes sense). She told me that she sensed that I need to be by the water. She was right - I've always felt that pull. Perhaps that is why both Oregon, and California appeal to me. I find so much peace and comfort in the warmth of the sun, the sand under my feet, and the sound of the waves washing upon the shore.

In the meantime, since I won't be moving anytime soon, I visit these places and take a gazillion pictures as if they could help bring me back there, reliving a brief moment in time.

I'd been trying to plan a family vacation with my husband and daughter to San Diego, but it didn't work for this past year. Instead, an opportunity arose recently to go with my dad to see my aunt and cousins. My 89 year old dad wanted to see his little sister and isn't one to travel such distances on his own. As soon as he mentioned it, I offered up my traveling companion services and off we went. 

We stayed near my aunt's nursing home which meant we were a good 20 minutes from the beach, but we drove to the coast (or nearby) each morning to get in a walk and take in the scenery. I couldn't go to San Diego and not see the ocean. My dad loved it. I loved it. After four days of this schedule, I have to admit that I miss my morning walk with my dad, ocean or not.

After our daily walk, we'd visit with my aunt all day, head back to our hotel and walk to a local restaurant for dinner. The evenings were often capped off by sitting on the balcony, or in my dad's case, walking it from one end of the hotel to the other. We went out to eat with my cousins and I got to connect with a friend I hadn't seen in 15 years... since my last visit to California. I thought five days for this trip might feel too long, but I was wrong - I could have stayed much longer.

We came home refreshed and comforted. We got to see our family and experience what a nice place my aunt is living in. The weather was perfect (while it was 90 and stormy back in Minnesota). The people of San Diego were so friendly everywhere we went. Seriously, everyone was so nice. And I got to spend quality time with my dad. I feel so grateful that we can take trips like this together still - I hope we have more adventures in our future.

Before I left on this trip, my husband reminded me that our plan is to move to Oregon one day and that I am not to fall in love with San Diego again. He knows I have a fondness for this place. If I can just get him to visit with me next time...

My Minnesota - May

I'm joining up again with my fellow Minnesotans to highlight places we've explored in our state this past month. Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post to follow the circle around.

May found us exploring all sorts of places that really aren't far from home. It seems a shame that we hadn't explore some of these places before since they are so close to us, but better late than never. 

First up is Centennial Lakes In Edina. Last year we went paddle boating here, but I'd never walked around it before (they also have lawn games and a putting course). I dropped Riley off at a Birthday Party near this lake and decided to stick around. I took a leisurely walk, picked up lunch at a nearby grocery store and sat in peace, by myself, eating my salad. It's tucked between retail shops, corporate buildings and apartments... and you'd never know it was there if you didn't hear about it from someone or happen upon it when you were dropping your kid off at Chuck E Cheese. 

After the party, I wasn't ready to leave so Riley agreed to explore one end of the lake with me. I'm sure it won't be the last time we check out this area this summer as I've promised my daughter that we would go paddle boating again soon. 

Next up was an area we've visiting before and has informally become our mother's day weekend spot: Bass Lake park and Wolfe Park in St Louis Park. We started with a walk at Bass Lake and then headed over to the playgrounds at Wolfe Park. I'd just set Riley up with my old Nikon D80 and she proceeded to take about 250 pictures on this outing. Always interesting to see her perspective, but I have to admit I'm deleting most of the pictures so far. Shhh, don't tell her.

At any rate, it was just the Mother's Day morning I wanted... time with my family while enjoying the beautiful weather. Later, when we went across the street to Wolfe Park, I noticed notes hanging off flowering trees. They said things like "I am grateful for my brother who taught me to stand up for myself", " I'm grateful for my friend Veronica because she made me more aware of Human Rights" and "I am grateful to have dreams again". I have no idea how they got there, but wish I had a pen and paper to add my own.

Lest you think that May was all gorgeous weather and beautiful flowing trees, mid-month we dealt with rain and chilly weather. It happened to align with Art-A whirl and St. Louis Park's Ice Cream Social which was unfortunate, but we weren't going to let some slightly miserable weather keep us from having fun. The Ice Cream Social was paired with the grand opening of the Recreation Outdoor Center so there was a lot of activities to watch and partake in. We ran into several friends (Riley's friends, that is) and even though it was chilly, we made sure to get some ice cream. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband went on a camping trip with friends in South Dakota while Riley and I had a fun filled girls weekend. I decided to rent a 24 - 70 mm lens over the long weekend to see if it's a lens I want to purchase (the jury is still out on this one)  and figured this was the perfect opportunity to explore places we've never been before.

Riley and I started our weekend off on Friday night by checking out a local park. There are 35 playgrounds in our city and, starting last year, we've been checking them one by one off the list. This one had a bonus pond nearby that we slowly strolled around. Oh, and the pond provided another bonus as it had a Little Library along the path. My kid loves books so this was an exciting find even if it didn't result in her taking a book home.

The next morning, I pulled up Google Maps and scrolled around to find someplace nearby to explore. Cedar Lake is fairly close to our house and yet I've never been there. So many gems so close to home! I found an area with a path and beach access that seemed perfect for this morning. We recently had some Robins nesting in a tree right outside our kitchen window so Riley brought along a notebook that she'd already researched and written down the Robin's life cycle in. As we walked, we stopped and looked at Robin's and she tried to draw one based on our unknowing bird models that skittered about us.

The beach wasn't anything fancy... in fact there were a lot of tree roots and such, but that didn't matter to Riley. I didn't think it was quite warm enough for beach weather, but that didn't matter to my kid. She played for quite a long time while we watched a group of people training for a triathlon. Apparently, the thing to do on this lake is canoe and kayak as there were a steady stream of people paddling about the lake.