Friday, June 20, 2014

Trip to MN: Just the two of us

During my three week visit to MN I shared many good times with family and friends, experience two great fishing trips, spend time outside taking pictures, played a round of golf with uncles, and went birding often. Birding and warblers will be the topic of a future blog post. Of all the activities, the highlight of my trip was taking a trip to the North Shore with Christine. Since the girls were born Christine and I have spent time limited time alone. This  jaunt to Lake Superior was memorable and therapeutic.

We left Friday morning for the North Shore with no destination, itinerary, or schedule. We hoped to sleep when we needed to sleep, stop for food when we were hungry, hike/walk whenever we could, and watch a movie if everything else fell through. Sunny weather on the drive taunted us to slow down and spend more time outside, as the forecast for Saturday was rain. Along the way we found a locked gate on what appeared to be through road in the MN Gazetteer. The backtrack took longer than desired and we chose to skip Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge all together. We mixed a few short birding stops throughout the four hour trip and stopped for supper at the Duluth Buffalo Wild Wings. Many mosquitoes greeted us as we set tent at Eckbeck Campground at dusk.

Alas the weatherman was correct and rain came in the middle of the night. With no kids, no agenda, and crappy weather outside we rolled over and went back to sleep a couple of times. Sometime late morning we finally got rolling in the drizzle and faced our first and perhaps most important decision of the day. Turn south on 61 towards Duluth and go watch a matinee or turn north on 61 with no goal or specific location in mind. I'm not sure if Christine shared her decision by the time I turned north, but the risk worked out.

The gondola ride at Lutsen Mountain sounded like fun but with precipitation the views were limited so we chose to continue north. When we reached Grand Marais we walked the break wall and trails at Artist Point. Ducks, mergansers, loons, warblers, a yellow-bellied flycatcher, and many cedar waxwings joined us as we explored the trails but we did not bring cameras with in the rain.

The cool wet air gave us the chills along the break wall.

To warm up we explored town by foot, finding a Bike Shop along the path to Subway. During an hour lunch the rain subsided and we decided to grab the cameras. We returned to Artist Point in search of Cedar Waxwing photos, below are some photos from the hour long excursion.

This view north across the bay from Artist Point is now our new blog background.
Christine frames a Cedar Waxwing in the camera while 13 of them looking on in the background.
This portrait of a Cedar Waxwing is my favorite from Christine's many sharp photos.
Even though Waxwings repeated the above task often, getting a good picture proved challenging.
This eastern chipmunk had no problem being within a few feet of me.

We made bookend stops at the self proclaimed World's Best Donut Store, which we can attest is worth the stop on any visit to Grand Marais, while walking through the classic car show and a few shops in town. With the sun attempting to poke through the clouds we left with high hopes from the above photo shoot and drove south along 61. The few stops searching for waterfowl did not yield much but the lake fog was cool to see. We then hiked Oberg Mountain. With the morning rain gone, we spent the better part of three hours listening, observing, and taking photos of nature.

Black-throated Blue Warblers are not one we often see.
An American Red Squirrel came close to check out Christine.
Honeysuckle, aka Red Columbine, were one of many wildflowers.
We liked the view away from Lake Superior  the best, with Oberg lake just peeking out here.

Blessings can come in many different forms and may even be unique across individuals. The time spent on top of Oberg Mountain was a true blessing for me. Taking photos in nice weather is often fun. Having warblers calling all around usually makes me happy. But the proverbial straw that tipped the scale was seeing Christine experience pure joy and peace that only happens once in a blue moon when everything clicks. I'm not sure if it was the sun, the animals, the Cedar Waxwing photo excursion, the wildflowers, having good donuts in our belly, the birds, or my Black-throated Blue Warbler happy dance but Christine was carefree and happy.  With no time to think, put a smile on her face or turn around, or remember our burdens or worries I sneaked this first photo by calling her name. It is possible that I'm the only one that sees a difference in Christine's smile between the first and second photos below, but when you see pure joy in someone you love it warms the heart. This one experience by itself was a true blessing, trumping all else that had  preceded it during the three week visit.

Seconds after seeing a Black-throated Blue Warbler. Lake Superior is under the fog bank on the right.
The picturesque view of Oberg Lake.

I woke up frozen Sunday morning and gave Christine my sleeping bag before going outside early to listen to the various dawn chorus bird songs of the campground. We stopped for a quick hike at Tettegouche State Park and with warmer temperatures we took a longer hike at Split Rock State Park. Taking photos of birds was our goal, but I'll save those photos for  later.

The weekend away was great, allowed us to connect, and left us with many photos. One the drive back we heard how Michaela, Danielle, and Grandpa and Grandma Gold liked Shrek the Musical. That call reminded me of how blessed I am by my daughters and supportive parents, and at least for this weekend jaunt I was able to experience just the two of us.

Split Rock Lighthouse.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day: A day at Union Station

This is Michaela's first post.

We went to the planetarium and saw HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2!  At Science City we dug up dinosaur bones!  We ate popcorn!  Danielle and I won at tog of war!  We had a lot of fun.  Mommy and daddy surprised us by taking us to the movie theater!  

We made pictures of trains.  Me and Danielle tried to copy the man and woman dance.  We saw Tomas and Percy!  The ceiling was in a cool shape.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trip to MN: Bird Feeder Photos

One of the downsides of living in a Kansas City apartment is the lack of bird feeders. We have some outside on our deck, but the variety and number of birds is quite small.  After seeing many excellent photos shared on Facebook and reading about taking photos at bird feeders, I tried it at my parents feeder station.  

I found a couple of sticks and stuck them in the ground, placing the feeders on the ground next to the sticks. I hoped that birds would land and sit on the sticks on the way to the feeders and initially sat outside waiting for a bird to show-up. When one did I would move the lens to where that bird was and quickly snap a few frames. After only a couple of birds I was reminded how still one must be in order to get close pictures, so I changed my tactic and laid down on the grass closer to the sticks (this was before the first MN mosquitoes hatch). This worked better than before but I soon got tired of holding the lens and needed to change once again, this time I grabbed the tripod to support the camera and laid behind.  I had such a comfortable setup that I could lay my head on the tripod legs while waiting for birds to arrive.

The photos are from this learning attempt and a similar setup used the next morning. I was lucky with the bit of species variety that stopped by, but missed the Gray Catbird and male Indigo Bunting that I was hoping for. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Purple Finch
Female Purple Finch

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

Baltimore Oriole 1
Male Baltimore Oriole

Indigo Bunting
Female Indigo Bunting

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Zoo: Short but sweet

We planned to take Dad on his first sky tram ride at the zoo yesterday, but somehow we got delayed by stopping at the recycling facility to drop off cans. We also thought the zoo closed at five, only to find out it actually closed at four on weekdays. It's alright though, as we had a blast with the half hour zoo visit.

The day was perfect with high 70s and sun, but by the time we got home the pool water was cold.

We think it will be fun to post more of our stuff on this website for everyone to see.

Enjoy the videos and the Kansas City Zoo!

Michaela & Danielle

Friday, June 6, 2014

The story of a rod: Fishing Report Spring 2014

For much of the last decade, one of my regular activities has been fishing Lake of the Woods with my father (Mike or Dad) and others during Memorial Weekend.  This was the first opportunity for me to see Dad's new motor in action, which not surprisingly was quite expensive. With a smaller than normal group this year, we all fished in one boat.  Warm calm days made for easy fishing conditions, and we were fortunate to catch many fish: multiple 13.5 inch Perch, 16 inch Black Crappies, and of course Walleyes.

Having fished with my father on many occasions, I expect him to catch more fish than me more than half the time.  On this trip however I caught not only more but also bigger fish each of the three days. Some of the walleyes were quite finicky and biting light. At the same time, Dad was telling of other fisherman that can tell when a Walleye actually bites rather than nudging the bait. If I was ever able to put into words how grateful I am for my father's Memorial weekend invitations, all the fishing and hunting trips together, or for his regular car and home improvement projects I may have had a different epiphany.  As it was, I knew I needed to buy my father a nicer fishing rod.

Christine, who has a unique talent of price shopping, found what I wanted and I made a mid-week road trip to have a medium weight fast action G-Loomis GL2 for Dad to fish with the next weekend.  My parents went north to Lake of the Woods after work Friday while a friend from Winona and I drove up early Saturday morning. As soon as we got out of the car we were greeted with this photo of Mike's first fish on the new rod!  A 27-inch walleye!! This fish was larger than all caught the entire previous holiday weekend and in many years is the largest walleye of the season for my parents. Could the fishing get better for the new rod?

We had great fishing on Saturday May 31st. Calm warm weather allowed us to go wherever we wanted on the lake, with the only downside being that mosquitos would find us if we got to close to shore. By late afternoon we had approximately 20 walleyes between 17 and 23 inches, but no more big ones.  Dad decided to try another spot, where he had previous success. After catching a few nice ones, Dad said I'm going to slide the boat up into the little hole and catch a 30 incher. Babe Ruth's prediction and calling his shot was more believable, as he had hit many previous home runs.  Dad had never caught a 30 inch walleye before, but drove the boat when I had caught one about 8 years before.  Within 10 minutes however he hooked this walleye, which just happened to be 30 inches.....his largest walleye ever! The Great Bambino had nothing on this prediction.

We ended with over 100 fish that day, mostly walleyes with double digits of both northern and small mouth bass and only a few crappie and perch. The two fish that stuck out however, the first fish on the rod and largest walleye ever.

A weather system came through that night and Sunday fishing was slower.  We ended with 30 fish in the boat for all four of us on Sunday.  Dan caught his largest walleye ever, a solid 26 inch beauty that bested his previous largest of last year by an inch.  Somehow I felt too tired to celebrate as much as I should have, being with Dad when he caught his big one made everything else seem small.

Dan's largest walleye ever, 26 inches.
Malcolm's 25 inch walleye.

A few other photos from the fishing trip are below.  

Mom's Smallmouth that was just under 20 inches.

Dad with the 30th fish of Sunday.

The rod will never be able to truly reveal all of my positive emotions toward my dad, but sometimes we need something tangible to speak what our mouths are unable to express.  Just writing these words have me choked up and struggling to type.  So I look forward to every time I hear about their fishing exploits as I remember the rod, the memories and all the other things that make my father the wonderful, supportive father he is.  I guess this is an early Father's Day tribute, but timely after an enjoyable time spent back home in MN.  Thank you Dad for another year of memories and helping me figure out who I truly aspire to be.