Mississippi River Adventures

Last Friday Aaron and I road-tripped down to Wabasha, MN to see two friends embark on a sailing adventure that started in a tiny Wabasha marina and will end in Belize, Central America (You can follow the adventures in photos and written stories at their website, Sailing to Belize). We left at 4:30am and rolled into Wabasha at about a quarter to seven. We got a tour of the boat and were treated to a really beautiful sunrise. The goodbyes wrapped up and the guys set sail. Those of us who had traveled down to see them off headed into town to warm up and get some breakfast.

After that Aaron and I split off to explore some of the landmarks along the Mississippi River. We started at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It’s a very pretty building with several exhibits that educate about eagle habitats, behavior and representation in current and historical cultures. The highlight of the museum is a viewing area with five of the center’s permanent eagle residents. The viewing area is open air; the eagles are tethered to an small area around their perches and visitors stand behind a low barricade only feet away from the birds. The eagles – four bald eagles and one golden have all been injured and are unable to be returned to the wild.

This eagle had been hit by a car and never regained his ability to fly. The National Eagle Center gives him a home and helps people learn about eagles.

Next we crossed the river into Wisconsin and drove south to Alma where we visited Buena Vista Park. It shelters many different kinds of songbirds and is kind of breathtakingly gorgeous.

Just a little pretty. Panorama stitched together by cleVR. Click to enlarge.

And since we were there we made a quick stop at Lock and Dam #4 in Alma. We were hoping to see some bald eagles hunting the fish that get injured by the dam, but all we got were a bunch of ring-billed seagulls. Pbth! But I did get cool shot of the dam.

Chatty three-eyed aliens!

The next stop on our list was Rieck’s Lake Park, which is north of Alma and not quite to Nelson, Wisconsin. It is a large lake and flat, open marsh. We saw tons of Canada Geese,  Mallards, and Teals, but weren’t lucky enough to see any Tundra Swans. The view, however, was incredible.

Ducks and Geese hanging out in the lake.

Some small mammal hut – muskrat? Reick’s Lake houses beavers, mink and muskrats.

View from the Reick Bridge site.

After that we went in search of Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife area. Tiffany Bottoms is largely undeveloped and has a great and varied population of birds. We found a parking lot a few miles past Nelson on Highway 25 and started hiking. We never made it to any of the rivers that run through the area (other than the Chippewa, which our path ran parallel to), and we didn’t see a lot of birds, but we found some other forest inhabitants and a set of overgrown train tracks.

Fall Forest Trail 

Eastern Comma Butterfly

Dragonfly

Leopard Frog

Overgrown Train Tracks

After Tiffany Bottoms we headed back to Minneapolis. We had been up since 3:30am and the day’s adventures did us in. We did stop for dinner in Stockholm, Wisconsin on the way back. What a cute touristy town! We walked around a little and shopped at the trinkets stores. And then we went home. What a day!

Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure

On Saturday I participated in the Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure. I posted about the race last week, and since then I’ve had people emailing me for more information. Apparently the race is going to be held in several cities across the U.S., and enterprising individuals are looking for clues or trying to decide if they want to get in on the action. I’m not going to share specific clues that we given here on the blog, but I’ve made a couple of lists about my experience with the Minneapolis race.

Top Ten Highlights

1) It was FUN. I had a really good time.This was an enjoyable scavenger hunt, especially for someone like me who enjoys logic games, friendly competition, a little exercise, and exploring.

2) Well-organized start. The starting location was huge and there was plenty of room for people to leave the park at their own pace when the race opened up. There was no craziness or fear of being trampled as people raced out of the area. Not getting trampled was a nice way to start the day.

3) The clues were really quite well done. I was worried that the challenges would either be too easy or impossible, but the people who were responsible for creating the clues for Minneapolis managed to make them challenging without being frustrating. We didn’t have to know the city to figure out the clues, but it did help to have a general sense of direction of where we were and where we were headed.

4) We got some exercise. My partner and I walked several miles on Saturday, which was lovely because the weather was PERFECT – sunny, a gentle breeze and somewhere in the low 70s.

5) I love group activities. The organizers handed out pale pink shirts with the logos all of the supporters written on the back. When we were walking around the city we’d run into each other and there was a sense of camaraderie. Also, there was a bit of hint-helping – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. No one that we ran into were super-competitive jerks, and most of the teams were smiling and laughing. It felt nice to be part of the group. And one amusing thing about 500 people running around the city in pink shirts was that it confused the crap out the cabbies and other downtown Minneapolis regulars.

6) Seeing the city with new eyes. I’m pretty familiar with downtown Minneapolis, but I discovered new parks, landmarks and stores that I had never noticed or paid attention to before participating in the race.

7) They planned ahead with the no-bike rule. The organizers did not allow bikes or other wheeled transportation (with the exception of medically necessary wheelchairs). There were up to 500 people racing around crowded downtown Minneapolis on a Saturday afternoon. I am so grateful that no one from our group was on bikes; that would have been a nightmare with the pedestrian and car traffic.

8 ) Well-organized ending. When the game was over, the app and text number were disabled. It was a very clear message that the game was over and it was time to head back to HQ.

9) Treats and Prizes! At our game the organizers had a bunch of different kinds of granola bars, fruit snacks, candies and water waiting for us at the end of the race (totally not expected as we hadn’t paid an entry fee). And at our location, one of the local radio stations helped sponsored the event and handed out some swag by random drawing. Finally, the organizers awarded tickets for local events, an MP3 player and a couple of digital cameras to the top eight finishers. I’m not sure what the first runner-up won, but…

10) Someone actually won a freaking car! As I mentioned in my earlier post, the details for the race were quite vague. There was a statement about how participants might win a new Chevy Sonic. My partner and I thought maybe the top winner would get entered into a drawing, or maybe someone would have to hit a certain number of points to win the car, but no. At the end of the race they actually gave away a car to what I’m assuming was the team who ranked the highest in points. That was really neat.

Top Five Disappointments

1) Crowd control during registration. The race was advertised as starting at 11am. We showed up at 10:30 to register and were told that registration didn’t open until 11am (oh, that’s what they meant by starting at 11am). There was no help for queuing up, so at about 10:50 everyone started bunching up and pressing into a huddle around the reg tent. When emcee announced that registration was open the crowd surged toward the table. A couple of orderly lines eventually formed, but not without some shoving, nudging, elbowing, grumbling and generally jerkiness. It took the organizers over an hour to register everyone and we didn’t leave the park until sometime after noon.

2) Runners had the advantage. The name of the game seemed to be hit the most number of clues (and correctly answer them). Those who were able to keep up a steady jog made it to more places. I’m not saying that it was unfair, but those who were used to walking or jogging for long periods of time definitely had an advantage.

3) SCVNGR sucked it up BIG TIME. Don’t get me wrong – the SCVNGR app is really well designed. We pulled it up at the start of the race and all of the  locations were mapped out and the clues were all listed. We planned a route that would cover the greatest number of points in the most direct lines. The app was beautiful. And then the f*cking thing crashed. They weren’t ready for the traffic and we ran into many groups who were having trouble getting the map and clues to refresh or open up. We eventually switched over to the text mode of playing, but we lost a lot of time and a few clues in the process, and…

4) The text message mode of play is at a big disadvantage to the SCVNGR app. The text message mode of play was more reliable than the SCVNGR app for us, but WAY more inefficient. With texting we were sent to one location at a time and we couldn’t pick or choose which location it would send us to. We were sent back and forth across several blocks and had no ability to plan our route. E.g. – it sent us to 7th Street, then up to 10th street, then back down to 8th Street, then to 10th street again. That was frustrating. If they wanted to make the race more even, they would limit everyone to use of text messaging.

5) Battery Life!!! My phone had a 2% charge left at the end of the race. If it had gone any longer we would have had to stop and charge up or throw in the towel. All answers were tied to one phone – not an account that you could log in to from anywhere – so once we had started answering questions, we needed to keep using the same device.

Conclusion: DO IT.

Overall it was a GREAT day and I would recommend the race to anyone and everyone who likes this kind of competitive gaming. The few annoying things were not enough to ruin the overall awesomeness of the event. The thing that made participation a no-brainer for me was the free entry. For $0 from all of us the organizers provided a wonderful afternoon of entertainment, plus a free t-shirt, snacks and prizes.

I would suggest getting a bunch of teams together that all know each other. My teammate and I didn’t know anybody else, so we were our own little world of two. Teams were strictly limited to two people, but there were a couple of larger groups of two-person teams who all sat together before and after the race, and I imagine they had fun running into each other downtown and competing against each other.

And, you actually have a pretty decent chance of winning a car. In Minneapolis the challenge was limited to 250 teams, and one of those teams won a car. If you consider that some of the groups that pre-registered probably didn’t show up, that means each team had a better than 1:250 chance of winning the grand prize. Those are better odds than most of us will probably ever have of winning a car in other types of contests (radio call-in contests, raffles, etc.).

There are photos and video of the event over at the official Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure website. And knowing what I know now…there are some clues about the types of questions and answers you might expect if the Chevy Sonic Adventure comes to your town!

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

A friend of mine invited me and the Hubby to spend this past weekend in Wisconsin with her and her family. They have a GORGEOUS  house on a quiet lake in the Northeast corner of the state. We went tubing, jet skiing, boat cruising around the lake and flying through the woods on an ATV. We played board games, had tasty adult drinks and ate incredible meals prepared by her mom (her mom bought all sorts of gluten-free goodies just for me, including brownies, spice cake and ciabatta rolls!). We packed a lot in over 30 hours. Oh, and we saw a frickin’ black bear as we were driving home!

Tubing on Crane Lake
Me tubing!

Photo Contest

I could use your help. I’m submitting three photos to a gallery at work (just a showing, not a contest) at one of our upcoming site-wide celebrations. I’ve picked out my top thirty favorite photos and placed them in a flickr set. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to have your help in narrowing it down to the three winners. Here’s how you can pipe up:

Oh, and did I mention that there is a contest associated with this? I love contests. If you vote you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a set of prints of your three favorite photos, even if they aren’t the three that I use for the gallery showing. I’ll chat printing options (size, finish, etc.) with the winner. 

Thanks for any votes, thoughts or advice!

Off to Cozumel!

I’m leaving for St. Louis tonight after work.  I’ll stay overnight and then hop on a 6:30am plane that will take me and Mom down to Cozumel, Mexico.

We’re staying at an all-inclusive resort and don’t have a lot of plans. We’ll sit on the beach, swim in the ocean and pools, drink yummy alcoholic beverages, eat delicious food, maybe venture into town to walk through the markets. I’m going SCUBA DIVING (omgomgomg – first *real* diving since I was certified!!!!) and Mom will hit the spa. And I’ll probably take about 1000 photos. Literally.

It’s gonna be all like

and like

and then like

and some of this

and maybe some of this

And I’m going to LOVE IT because right now in Minneapolis it’s all like:

All image sources are linked in the photos above.

And speaking of vacations…

Does anyone have suggestions for an elderly friend of mine who really wants to go on a big fancy vacation (not another road trip to a local getaway), but can’t because she panics in large crowds AND she has a sensitivity to perfumes, shampoos, lotions, etc which causes her  breathing distress (gasping, coughing, can’t catch her breath). Plane travel is pretty much out for her – even first class. She’s considered doing a train tour of America - she could have a private sleeping car. But she’d really like to do a tropical vacation and right now her only option would be to drive for days. If you have any thoughts could you leave them in the comments or email me at bio_dork (at) hot mail dot-com?

Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival 2011

Late Report!  This was actually two Saturdays ago, on January 8th, but there’s been so much cool stuff going on…okay, I was just lazy.  Oh, naughty Zeus!

*****

Recently the Hubby and I went to the 2011 Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival.  I learned about the event over at 22 Words and at the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation website.

Previously on the blog I’m complained expounded on my general disdain for winter activities because…umm… you have to frickin’ freeze to enjoy them.  BUT I am pleased to announce that I had a really great time.  There were no clouds in the sky, the sun was shining and we bundled up to stay warm.  I bundled up a LOT.  I had on gym leggings, jeans, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a coat, hats, gloves and my warmest boots.

We arrived at the festival around noon just as things were starting up.  There were already a few people on the ice and maybe 4-5 kites were up.  It was a pretty nice set-up.  There were several tents and stands and the organizers had arranged a free marshmallow roast, free hot chocolate and cider, they were giving away little plastic kites to kids and they were well-staffed with volunteers.  Pssst: Click on any photo to make it crazy big.

 

The wind wasn’t being all that cooperative, but we managed to get our little kite up for a few minutes.

Okay, I may have been optimistic when I said we got the kite “up” for “a few minutes”.

After the kite flying we headed over to the Minnesota DNR tent where they were holding ice fishing demos.

It was kind of funny to watch; there was a lot of activity inside the tent, probably because it was heated.  There was one guy who looked SUPER into the whole ice fishing deal; he would glare at the hole in the ice and look up in frustration every time a kid would squeal or somebody would brush by him.  Also, we witnessed the amazing flash transformation of super-excited kids into super-bored kids.  They were practically jumping with excitement as they were handed the short ice fishing poles and the line dropped into the water, and after about 30 seconds of not catching anything they’d start to get fidgety, and then the complaining started.  I couldn’t blame them – that’s pretty much how I feel about ice fishing.

Ice fishing holes!  The first picture is of a hole that was drilled outside of the main tent.  The second picture is of an ice fishing hole that was drilled inside a small black tent.  It turned out to be accidentally cool and Tron-esque because of how the low light in the tent, the bright sun shining in from the open tent bottom and my confused camera worked together.

The other thing happening at the DNR tent was snowshoeing!  The tour guide helped the Hubby and I and another couple with two small boys get our feet into the snowshoes, which was not as easy as it might sound.  But eventually, we did it.

 

And then we were off.  We walked across the ice to a bird sanctuary located on the north end of Lake Harriet.  The guide lead us off trail so that we could experience snowshoeing through fresh snow.  It was a neat feeling; I sunk down further in the snow than I thought I would, but the broad, flat shoe distributed my weight so that I didn’t sink down to my knees as I would have in regular boots.  And, I only fell once.  Ta-da!

The snowshoeing tour was about 30 minutes long.  After we got back to the DNR tent we walked around and did a little kite and people watching.

And to end the day we roasted a few marshmallows:

There were a ton of people with some very pretty cameras on the ice that day – gigantic lenses and camera bags galore!  These websites have some fancy pictures that I suspect were taken with SLR cameras that had…like…zoom…and adjustable apertures…and stuff.

Star Tribune

CityPages Blog

This Flickr Stream

An awesome video that was filmed with an old-timey effect.

Off to see President Obama!

I’m so excited!  I’ve never been to a political rally of this magnitude!

The Hubby and I are leaving here in about 10 minutes (as soon as he can rip me from the computer) to go down to the University of Minneapolis East Bank.  We’re riding our bicycles down to the campus because parking and traffic are going to be atrocious.  We’re going to mill around the Field House where President Obama is scheduled to speak at about 3pm, hopefully snap some pictures of the crowds.  Doors open at 12:30pm  Mark Dayton will also be speaking.

 

Sever’s Corn Maze

On Sunday the Hubby and I went to Sever’s Corn Maze in Shakopee, MN.  The weather was beautiful – sunny with a clear blue sky, and a cool nip in the air to give it that perfect fall feeling.

This is a view of this year’s corn maze, Vikings 50th Season (the Vikings are the MN football team for you non-native, non-sports readers), from the air:

The maze itself is gigantic – it took us about two hours to wander through it and find all 26 of the hidden signposts that were scattered throughout the maze.  That little tan board to the left of the picture above is actually a bridge where probably 40 people or so can stand side-by-side and look out over the maze.

At Sever’s they have pony and camel rides (yes, camels in freaking Minnesota – right der alongside dah corn, eh!).  They’ve got an area where an old-timey band plays and visitors can buy “state fair food” like corn dogs, cheese curds, roasted corn, and fresh-squeezed lemonade.  There’s a petting zoo, a corn “pool”, hayrides, a miniature hay bale maze for the younger kids, a pumpkin patch, magic shows, carnival games and all sorts of other entertainment.

We had a blast.

Uptown Adventures

Yesterday was a really good day. 

I left work a little early, made it home by 4:15pm and I dove right into chores.  I spent about an hour and a half washing dishes (the correct response to the fact that I had to spend an hour and a half cleaning dishes for a two-person family is “ewwwww”), I did three loads of laundry and I picked up the living room.   After all of that I had earned myself a guilt-free evening.  I could sit staring at the wall for the next three hours and be fine with it because I had Done The Housework. 

But I didn’t sit and stare at the wall for three hours.

According the the forecast on MPR, the temperature is supposed to be taking a nosedive any day now.  So when the Hubby got home at 6:30pm, we decided to take advantage of the currently perfect 70°C weather with a walk to Uptown for dinner.

Along the way from our place in LynLake we passed a new theater under construction.  Huge Theater is going to be all improv shows and workshops.  I’ve seen a couple of their Show X performances at the Bryant Lake Bowl theater, and those were always fun.  It’s cool that they’re getting their own space.  When I was doing community theater, finding performance space was always a big topic of conversation.  

Later on our walk we passed by a retail space turned art gallery.  Through the all-glass window front we saw a hoity-toity art show in progress: Lots of open space, bright lights, abstract paint swirls on canvas, and lots of people milling about wearing natural fiber clothing and balancing glasses of red or white wine in their palms.

We decided to eat on the rooftop of Stella’s Fish Cafe.  Yummy – I had cornmeal-crusted catfish and the Hubby had fish and chips.  We managed to resist the calamari and crab-stuffed mushrooms because we know from experience that the portions at Stella’s are gigantic.  Sure enough, we still had leftovers from our entrees, even without the appetizers.  During dinner we had lively debates about religion, the tax-free status of churches and charities and whether charities should be allowed to endorse political candidates, and elder bugs.  Also there were fart jokes. 

From the rooftop, the Hubby saw a motorcycle in the parking lot of Cowboy Slim’s that appeared to be glowing.  After dinner we took a stroll over and found three HUGE Boss Hoss motorcycles.  One of them had neon lights flickering on the dash and the  in-laid lighting on the gas tank that the Hubby had spotted from Stella’s.  This beast had a 632 cubic inch engine; the water-cooled radiator was bigger than my torso.

We didn’t get a photograph of the Boss Hosses that we saw last night, but this photo gives you an idea of how freaking huge these bikes were.  Lookit that engine!

On the meander home we stopped at a store on Lake Street called Monkey Business.  The place screamed new, small-business, what with the limited furnishings, the mix-and-matched store fixtures – and probably most telling- the only store clerk was also the owner of the shop.  The place had rockabilly-style clothing, body jewelry, a wall of goth baby jumpers and other novelties (goth oven mitts, lol!), and another wall of neon-striped knee socks and funky tights.  There is a back-room consisting of smoking supplies and sex toys, but for patrons who don’t want to see these products the back room is clearly marked “18 and up” and is curtained off from the rest of the store.  We chatted with the owner for a bit, and she was friendly and engaging…especially so close to closing time!  We wished her luck with the store and continued on our way (after I pointed out a few earrings to the Hubby with a reminder that Christmas is a mere three months away). 

After that we walked by Bryant Lake Bowl and heard the quote of the night: “Remember when we were in Thailand and you got that tattoo?” 

And we had almost made it home when we were drawn into the brand new Lake Wine and Cheese.  There were people at the register, so we decided to go in and explore.  A few feet into the entryway, one of the owners hurried over and told us that they weren’t actually open yet – their grand opening is today!  But then the owner told us we could look around, and he could open the register for a credit card sale if we wanted to buy anything, which I thought was very nice of him.  There were still boxes everywhere, and most of the products hadn’t yet been labeled with prices, but the place looks nice.  They have a browsing-friendly store layout and the ceiling is high, which gives the store a very open feel.  There is a separate glassed-off room where they sell fancy cheeses (stupid no liquor sales in grocery stores law!).  And they have the best liquor store chandeliers ever. 

We’re going back for the grand opening tonight – Lake Wine and Cheese is right down the street from our apartment and according to the owner they’re having INCREDIBLE grand opening sales this evening. 

We finally made it home, and were happy to discover that it was still only 9:30pm.  That means I cleaned the house, went wandering around Uptown and LynLake, had dinner AND I was able to watch two episodes of House before bedtime.  Score!

I <3 My Job

I absolutely love my job right now.  I may be mistaking stress and adrenaline rush for love, but I’m pretty sure that this is what the young kids call “having a blast”.  (Do the young kids say that?  Seriously, who says that?)

I’m working on more projects than a non-manic, non-drugged up person has any right to attempt, my calendar is filled with meetings, I’m reading product literature, I’m designing and running experiments, I’m making connections with people from other groups and I’m a researcher/developer who’s getting to learn more about the manufacturing side of my company’s business.

It’s ordered chaos, and it’s fun!

The more engaged I am, and the more responsible for retaining and applying knowledge to produce visible results, the more questions I get to ask and the more answers I get back, the more fun I’m having.  And I am grooving on my half-desk/half-lab job today.

But, **********, would you please finish up your review of my document so I can update it and release it?  Sometime this century???

Oh, not to worry, heckling and nasty-grams are just part of the fun.