February 25, 2018

Saturday Night With The Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls

Saturday Night With The Minnesota Timberwolves & Chicago Bulls
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for February 25, 2018

Luke and Avery both came up from college this weekend and Avery brought his girlfriend, Emma, along for the adventure.  We braced ourselves for a good time.

 It started with a birthday celebration for our beloved Golden Retriever, Blue.  He turned 3 this week and was pretty melancholy while we sang him Happy Birthday.  He perked up quite a bit though when it was time to eat his muffin.  We were glad he allowed us to blow out the candle for him before he dived into it.

The boys told us they invited a few friends over Friday night.  We got a little nervous when the doorbell kept ringing and reminded them that our house wasn't their college dormitories.  Lucky for us, they are all good kids that came over to visit.  So we'll let the boys off the hook for now. 

Blue liked having all the company because it meant there was a whole bunch of people willing to pet him.  I was a little shocked when all of them went out to the hot tub and apparently were all able to enter it somehow.  It is only designed to hold 8 people so how they were able to squeeze 15 in there, I guess I just don't want to know.

Avery wanted to show Emma some of his favorite things we do as a family, so naturally we had to head off to the Minnesota Zoo.

We've been having a lot of snow lately in Minnesota, so we were a bit cold while going through some of the outdoor exhibits.  I'm sure the animals felt a lot of sympathy for us.

I wouldn't have thought we would have spent as much time touching the water critters as we did, but they just felt so squishy we couldn't resist.

The white-cheeked Gibbons are a lot of fun to watch.  This guy walked on a tight rope for us and jumped to the shore while the ducks were being fed in the water next to him.  He actually even swatted a duck that swam too near to him, but I'm going to assume it was an accident rather than branding him as being a violent offender.

I thought it was cute that these two were hanging out on the same branch with one another.  I mean it's a huge place with thousands of branches and they still choose to be right next to each other like this?  That's pretty cool.

On Saturday night, Miss Sheri and I drove through a blizzard to get to downtown Minneapolis.  It wouldn't have been too bad except the dang windshield wipers kept building ice on them and would stop working.  So there was quite a bit of cursing going on as we drove almost completely blind down the interstate.  The language became markedly improved after we pulled over to smack the ice off of them, though.

The Chicago Bulls were in town to take on Karl Anthony Towns and the home team, Minnesota Timberwolves.  

I believe this was Zach Levine's first visit back to Target Center since he was traded for Jimmy Butler last summer.  He was a great player for us and won the slam dunk competition twice while he was here. But Jimmy Butler is arguably one of the top 10 players in the league, so I'm still glad the Wolves pulled off the trade.

Zach must either be into that "Cupping" stuff I hear that athletes do or one of his team-mates must have come up and pinched him on his shoulder.  Either way, it looks kind of painful...

Speaking of Jimmy Butler, the team lost him to injury in the Houston Rockets game the previous night.  Shortly before tip-off, we heard he tore a meniscus in his knee and would be out at least 4-6 weeks meaning he may be able to come back and join the team if they make the playoffs.  This was actually good news, because the fear was that he tore his acl and would be out for at least a year.

No.  It is not OK if you run little race-cars through the lanes of my hair.

Freddie Hoiberg is now the coach of the Chicago Bulls, but he will always hold a special place in our hearts.  He grew up in Iowa and was a star player in Ames in high school and college.  He then came to play for the Timberwolves.  Eventually, Hoiberg discovered he had a heart defect and had surgery at the Mayo Clinic to correct it.  After this, he became involved with Camp Odayin which is a camp for kids with heart defects.  Luke and Avery actually met him there one summer while they were campers.  So we find ourselves rooting for Freddie whenever we can, except for when his team is playing the Timberwolves.

Halftime brought us this crazy dude who balances on rolling steel cylinders.  He kept adding more and more until eventually it seemed certain he would fall to his death.  But he didn't.  It only looked like the tower would collapse multiple times throughout his show.  That's gotta be a tough way to make a buck.

The Bulls played tough, but eventually the Wolves proved to be too much for them and won the game by a score of 122-104.  This puts their record at 37-26 and in 4th place in the Western Conference.  There's 20 games to go in the season and we will be playing most of those without Jimmy Butler.  I'm real hopeful we make it to the playoffs this year, but we will just have to see how things play out.

February 19, 2018

The Animals of Key West

The Animals of Key West
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for February 19, 2018

One of our favorite things to do on vacation is interact with the local critters.  Key West certainly has an eclectic mix of animals to make your stay more enjoyable.  Perhaps the one that seems most out of place is all the dang chickens who are roaming the streets.  Don't get me wrong.  I find them to be absolutely beautiful, they just doesn't seem to fit in with the island paradise motif.

Miss Sheri and I stalked them every chance we could get.  They're sneaky and would be hiding in all sorts of unusual places.

I was a little surprised to see how aggressive the males were with their female counterparts.  There was more than one time where I felt it necessary to step in and tried to separate a rooster getting way too physical with it's mate.  In front of the kids even.  I don't know who's in charge of chicken domestic disturbances in Key West, but they are doing a piss poor job of getting that behavior under control.

Another unique creature you see all over Key West are the green iguanas.  These things are everywhere.

Apparently these guys aren't native to South Florida, but years of people bringing them in as pets and abandoning them have allowed their populations to flourish.  Our Uber driver told us she hears they even pay people to come in and exterminate them because they're such a nuisance.  I don't know, we found them to be pretty cool.

This guy lived under the pier at our hotel.  We liked to visit him before heading out for the day.  He seemed to like it also.

If you look closely, you can see him peeking his head out below me.  The Uber driver told us they could be pretty aggressive and not to get too close to them.  Although I approached several for pictures and they never seemed to be ready to confront me.

Of course there's a million birds there also.  We always like the ones who catch fish and give us a performance while doing it.

The pelicans were the best.  These guys fly all around and then swoop to the water like a missile ready to catch any unsuspecting fish in it's path.  

Of course when you see these guys, you instantly go into Finding Nemo mode and shout "Mine, Mine, Mine!" over and over again.

Some sweet pelican lovin' was happening in the harbor while we were there.

Of course, my favorite critters are the ones that can tear you apart.  Pay special attention to the glowing eyes in the water.  These massive fish are called tarpon and they are famous to come flying out of the water to attack their food.  We loved going down to the harbor when the fisherman were cleaning their catch because the predator fish were all over the leftover scraps being tossed overboard.  We even saw a 6 foot long nurse shark down there during the afternoon one day.  All I kept thinking was how bad it would suck to fall in the water to join these critters for a swim. 

A Ferry Trip to the Dry Tortugas

A Ferry Trip to the Dry Tortugas
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for February 19, 2018

On the second day of our Key West vacation, we took a ferry trip to the Dry Tortugas.  According to Wikipedia, "The Dry Tortugas are a small group of islands, located in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Florida Keys about 67 miles west of Key West."

We took a ferry charter called the Yankee Freedom III.  It's a 110 foot catamaran that carries up to 175 passengers back and forth to The Dry Tortugas main island every day.

The ride lasted about 2 hours there and the boat drove pretty fast.  They reminded us to take sea sick medication before riding because there definitely was the penchant for that.

That cloud in the air you see over the island contains some of the more than 300 species of birds that have been identified at one point on the island.   This is a great resting point for them during migrations.

Fort Jefferson is housed on the island.  According to this site,  the Dry Tortugas currently possess one of the richest concentrations of shipwrecks in North America. It is also because of these large reefs surrounding the Tortugas that the U.S. was able to establish one of the most strategic harbors in U.S. history, and Fort Jefferson was born. Construction of the fort began in 1846, and although it was never officially finished, it remains a historic icon of the Dry Tortugas and receives thousands of visitors yearly.

Fort Jefferson was a pretty imposing looking place.  It's crazy to think about the history of it.  Because England had such an incredible navy compared to the colonies, it was thought that we needed massive forts to hold off attacking forces from overseas.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to live out in the middle of the ocean like this and always wondering when the attack was going to come.  Talk about anxiety.  Not a lot of places to run here.

They seemed to keep it pretty fortified with heavy weaponry where-ever it could be placed and an intricate system for maximizing ammunition for when the time was needed.

I was a little nervous that these things were still loaded, but Ron gave me the all clear.  I was pretty paranoid that I would accidentally shoot one off or something.

The views were pretty amazing all over the Fort.  You have to be careful when enjoying them, though, because there's no rails or ropes or anything to prevent you from going over the sides.  I'm not sure if landing in the moat would have been safe or not, but I sure didn't want to find out.

The barracks feel pretty empty, but I'm sure there's some amazing stories that can be told for what went down here back in the day.

There's a lot of re-construction happening around the island as many of the walls and the lighthouse have certainly seen better days.  Pretty neat that people put in so much time and energy to preserve our history.  No way I'm gonna do it.

The fort is pretty big and there's actually people who live on the island full time to help to take care of it.  I asked the lady in the gift shop if she ever gets spooked out by living there.  She said she used to at the beginning, but now she walks all over the whole island at night without a flashlight.  I imagine it's pretty amazing.

There's a moat that surrounds the whole fort.  According to this site, back in the days when Fort Jefferson was being constructed black powder was used. Keeping black powder DRY was of utmost importance. As you might imagine, keeping that black powder dry while swimming across the moat and being shot at would be an extremely difficult thing to accomplish.

This wall used to go around the whole fort until just recently.  Hurricane Irma came through and destroyed a chunk of it.  Although I'm pretty sure that any fish who were previously trapped in the moat were probably pretty happy about it.

We were excited to walk to the part of the island with the cloud of birds hovering above it, but when we walked down the beach there was a sign that said area closed.  I guess the birds really like their privacy.

I think I found a new Happy Place to go in my mind for when I need it.

The Swank Vacation to Key West

The Swank Vacation to Key West
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for February 19, 2018

On Tuesday, we decided to escape from the sub-zero temperatures of Minnesota and head to one of our favorite states - Florida!  We wanted to try a place where we'd never stayed before and headed to Key West.

Miss Sheri and I were celebrating 24 years of marriage.  Hard to believe she's put up with me for so long.  I guess I'm just really, really lucky.  Thank God for that!

Our vacation-mates were Sue & Ron Korkowski.  They are a ton of fun to be around and help add to the excitement of exploring new places.  We have similar senses of humor and adventure so that makes us very compatible as travel companions.

After our flight arrived, we headed down Duval Street to explore the area.  What an incredibly vibrant community!  It's like an Adult Playground.  There's some kids around, but we really found ourselves hanging out with a bunch of fun people our age. 

Sloppy Joe's ended up being our first restaurant choice and was it ever a good one!  I never would have thought I'd enjoy ordering a sloppy Joe in a restaurant, but I guarantee if I ever end up going back there in my life...I'm gonna order another one!

I never had much of an appreciation for Ernest Hemingway, but that guy was a major Baller.  He spent a big chunk of his life in Key West and wrote most of his work while staying here.  We learned a lot about him and are finding ourselves now wanting to go back to read some of his stories.

After dinner, we rushed out of the restaurant and down to Mallory Square to see it's world famous sunsets.

We were not disappointed.  Holy Cow.  It truly was one of most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen in my life.  It's just amazing to track the sun as it scoots down it's last steps of the sky and then smacks into the horizon.  It's so mesmerizing and then in what seems like seconds, it disappears below the surface of the ocean.    And then about 24 hours later, it does it again.

After the sun went down, the street performers started to shine and were doing all sorts of interesting tricks to try to garner tips from the throngs of tourists.  It's gotta be a fun place to work.

We stayed at the Southermost Beach Resort.  It's about 90 miles north of Cuba and has beautiful trees strewn throughout the area.  People who worked here told me this club used to be pretty crazy back in the day.  Clothing optional and all that kind of stuff, but it appears the world has become a lot more conservative these days.  

There is a fabulous cafe on the beach where we awoke to bacon-laden Bloody Mary's and lobster omelettes before going on our first day adventures.

This marker for the southernmost point in the continental USA was a few blocks away.  It is also how I figured how far our hotel was away from Cuba.

My skin has been very white and sushi raw for a long time, so I went to the pool to add a collection of 3rd degree burns to my body before all of our long walking excursions.  I'm a pretty good thinker when it comes to that kind of stuff. 

I don't get the privilege of seeing Miss Sheri wear dresses very often so I'm really complimentary when she does.  I'm especially complimentary when she stands in front of the TV and won't move out of the way until I give her a compliment.

Eventually she gets me away from the TV, though.  I promise when that happens I'm much better at giving compliments without needing to be prompted.

We enjoyed a sunset cruise on our second night in town.  This was probably the night we let it loose the most.  It also probably explains why I have the most amount of pictures that Miss Sheri won't allow me to publish from this night either.

We had an incredible time with the captain and crew throughout our cruise.  They were pleasant, hard working, and played some of the best tunes I've heard in a long time.  Great work, Sebago Watersports!!

On our last day in town, we ate breakfast at an incredible little restaurant called Blue Heaven.  The food was great and the staff were very nice people.  Thanks for all the good Key West recommendations, Will Easton!

I debated going to the Hemingway House all morning.  When I found out it was going to be $14 each to tour some old house in the middle of the island, I nearly walked away.  I'm glad I didn't.  It actually ended up being one of the most inspirational parts of my trip.  I had no idea really who Ernest Hemingway was before we came here.  He was a rugged dude who loved to go deep sea fishing and party while writing stories about the people he met in life.  He won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes which led him to incredible success and hanging with the ultra elite in society.  

The house was owned by him and one of his wives.  It is beautiful and completely over-run by 54 cats who live on the premises.  Most of the cats have 6 toes.  I really appreciate a place where there's respect given to creatures who have a different number of digits than the norm. 

Next to the Hemingway House is a massive lighthouse where they let you go to the top to see incredible views of Key West.  The thing they don't tell you before you buy tickets, though, is that they don't have an elevator.  That's a lot of steps for a fat guy like me!   But I made it.

The view was worth the climb.

On our last day, we had to get up pretty early for our flights and learned that Key West has pretty incredible sunrises as well.