April 14, 2024

Paddling with Manatees in Cape Coral, Florida


Paddling with Manatees in Cape Coral, Florida

Todd Swank's Diary Entry for April 14, 2024

It was vacation time last week so we headed to Cape Coral, Florida with our good friends Karl & Tina Zitzewitz.  Technically we were going to go on our 30th wedding anniversary last February, but Miss Sheri's medical situation caused us to postpone.  Probably a good thing because the weather in Florida this time of year was absolutely beautiful.

The trip stared off pretty bumpy as we flew into some of the worst turbulence I've ever experienced.  Even the flight attendant said it was the worst she'd been through in her 8 years on the job.  As you can see from our flight plan, the pilot had to take an unexpected detour over the Atlantic Ocean to try to get around it.  It didn't help much and the large number of barf bags filled up were proof of that!

One of our favorite things to do on vacations to Florida is going critter hunting.  Lucky for us, Karl & Tina enjoy that activity as well.

Florida is like the critter capital of the United States in my experience.  There's so many snakes, alligators, lizards, and other creatures just waiting to be encountered.  We find that swamps are a pretty good place to start.

We didn't see many gators this trip, but this big guy was laying out in the sun on the other side of the pond we were exploring.  Probably a good thing he wasn't much closer than that.

I didn't do well spotting critters, but Karl & Tina are great at it.  Tina found this guy hanging out in a tree during one of our hikes.  I wasn't sure what kind it was, but ChatGPT says it appears to be a Yellow Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata). They're non-venomous and quite common in Florida, often found in trees as they are excellent climbers. They tend to be active both day and night, depending on the temperature, and are known to prey on rodents, birds, and eggs. Always a fascinating find on a walk!

We saw three different species of owls while there. A screech owl, several burrowing owls, and ChatGPT says this one is a Barred Owl (Strix varia), identifiable by its brown and white striped plumage and round head without ear tufts. These owls are quite common throughout the eastern United States and are known for their distinctive hooting call that sounds like they are asking "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" They're nocturnal, so seeing one during the day is a special treat!

Miss Sheri snapped this photo of a fish in the swamp which turned out cool. ChatGPT thought it could be a Mayan Cichlid, but wasn't positive. I like the Mayans so I'm going with that.

One of our goals for the past 2 or 3 times we've gone to Florida was to see a manatee in the wild. We came close before, but never had luck so this was a priority for the trip. Karl & Tina are very strong people and told us the best way to do this in their experience was on kayaks. I was a bit intimidated by this because God didn't really put me on this earth to paddle my fat butt around. Lucky for me, both Miss Sheri and Karl were willing to support my deficiencies as we ventured to explore some different waterways.

We scored a few different times! Again we were fortunate to have Karl along because he spotted most of the ones we encountered. Despite the fact these sea cows are huge weighing 1200 pounds or more, they often hang out below the surface. We almost missed them a couple of times.

Several were hanging out under the trees and sticking their snouts up to eat the vegetation. They're very gentle creatures, but Miss Sheri and I were still pretty intimidated when one of them swam right under our kayak. I'm guessing they have the power to flip us over at will, but thankfully it didn't happen.

Along with the sea cows, we saw tons of other birds, turtles, and other animals we stalked with our cameras. We found this little blue heron hanging out on a tree minding his own business. It's possible he was up to something nefarious, but he didn't hassle us at all.

This Iwo Jima Memorial is outside the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve so we stopped by to pay our respects. It's a great place to visit.

We're not huge beach people on vacation, but we did spend one afternoon getting sand between our toes. There were red flag warnings while we were there. The shuttle driver gave us a long lecture about the dangers of riptide currents so we stayed on the beach for the most part.

We'd wondered why we hadn't seen any large iguanas while there, but driving out of the beach we suddenly saw several trying to cross the street in front of us. A pickup driver became impatient with us stopping to take pictures and suddenly passed us in a rush which caused them to scatter and run away. Seeing these iguanas run is a pretty funny sight so we were all pretty happy that we annoyed him.

We rented a boat on Saturday so Captain Karl could take us out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a beautiful day for a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour.

Our destination was Cabbage Key. It's a beautiful little island spanning about 100 acres and hosts an inn, a restaurant, and some nature trails.

They also have a water tower which is a pretty historic landmark. It was built in the 1930's and stands about 60 feet high. It's kind of unique in the fact that it's still standing while many similar towers on nearby islands were long ago destroyed by storms and hurricanes. This is a fact I pondered quite a bit while I climbed the wooden stairs to the top and wondered exactly how much would it take to snap one of those stairs and send me tumbling down.

We ran into a pod of dolphins on our way back to the mainland and they swam with us for awhile and even played in the wake of our boat. I was hoping one would come up to the boat and let us pet it, but no luck there.

This is our second trip to Florida with Karl and Tina. They're fun to travel with and we're pretty compatible for things we like to do on vacation. We discovered a bunch of great restaurants on the water and enjoyed many hours of good talks and good times together.

We had the joy of watching the Iowa Hawkeye ladies reach the finals of the NCAA basketball tourney while there. We were quite popular the day of the finals when we walked around wearing these shirts. Quite a few people made comments to us in support of the team or lamented the fact their team lost to them. It made for a fun day even if they didn't quite win the championship.

March 31, 2024

Happy Easter 2024


Happy Easter 2024
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 31, 2024

Ever since Miss Sheri's surgery in January, our neighbor has been taking Blue for long walks in the neighborhood along with her dogs who also happen to be his mother and brother.  This week she brought new outfits for their journeys.  They're such good puppies.

When I first started working at Oracle in 2015, we had two large offices in Minnesota housing hundreds of employees.  When I returned to the company after Covid in 2022, I learned that both of those offices had been permanently closed.  It's nice to work from home, but you do miss those water cooler type of conversations with co-workers.  I volunteered to be an Oracle Cultural Ambassador for Minnesota and we hosted our first Happy Hour this week at The Loop in Minneapolis.  We had a pretty good turnout with 9 people for our first event and it was a bunch of fun connecting with fellow employees from different parts of the organization.

On Friday night we hooked up with our old buddies, Karl & Tina Zitzewitz, at Giuseppe's Italian restaurant in Burnsville.  Mmmmm.  Spicy Sausage Pasta. 

On Saturday, we drove 8 hours to the farm and back to visit Miss Sheri's family for Easter.  Abby had never been to Iowa before which is pretty crazy considering she's been to like 46 other states in her career as a flight attendant.  I think she was pretty impressed with the Hawkeye state.  I mean how couldn't you be?

It was so nice to see Grandma Leona, Jerry, Laura, & Karli even though it was for only a short time.  We always have a bunch of fun when we're together.

I'd intended this to me my top photo for my blog post this week, but liked what Chat GPT gave me instead.  I asked for a photo to best represent a great Easter in 2024 & found the result to be pretty neat.

For Easter Sunday we thought it would be fun to attend Avery & Abby's church which is Eagle Brook in Apple Valley.  We were pretty impressed.

They have a beautiful building, a great auditorium, the music was very well done, and it was one of the most inspirational sermons I've been to in a long time.  I was really happy with the place and it made for a great Easter Celebration!!

Grandma Linda joined us for brunch at the Crooked Pint in Apple Valley.  It was the perfect way to finish Easter!  Good food and good times with family.  I hope you all had a wonderful Easter as well!!

March 24, 2024

The Valspar Golf Tournament in Tampa Bay


The Valspar Golf Tournament in Tampa Bay

Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 24, 2024

I went to Tampa Bay for a couple of nights this week.  It's a lot more green than what it looks like in Minnesota currently.

I stayed at a hotel called the Current.  I like to be on the beach whenever I get a chance.  Even though I ended up working in my room most of the time I was there, it was still nice to walk in the sand for a while.

I arrived a couple hours before my room was ready, but I heard a brand new rooftop restaurant had opened called Casa Cami.  They had good flautas and fries.  The view was pretty awesome as well.  

The hotel has a little private beach and I was surprised to see it was almost empty.  I figured work could wait a few minutes while I went down to check it out for awhile.

I was so excited walking up on a couple of horseshoe crabs laying in the sand.  My excitement quickly waned when I noticed neither one of them moved even a little.  I flipped the big guy over and discovered their shoeing horses days were over.  That made me sad.

The reason for my trip was to attend the first day of the Valspar Golf Tournament.  It's held at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course and is billed as the most colorful PGA TOUR® event. Honestly I think they say that because it's sponsored by a paint company. I looked around and it looked to be the same colors as any other golf tournaments I've attended.

I went to the tournament to host my customer, Troy. Troy is always very easy to find in a crowded room. Between us is my co-worker, Michele, who coordinated this amazing event for us.

We were in the Snake Pit Club which overlooks the 18th Tee. It's really tempting to yell out the word "Noonan" during the golfer's backswing, but I contained myself as I'm sure that wouldn't come across as being very professional.

We also were able to sit right next to the 17th green. It's always amazing watching professionals play and witness some of the incredible shots they make.  
@toddswank Birdie Putt! #valspar #golf #birdie ♬ original sound - Goldenfilmz🎞🌼

 We also had a chance to visit the ZOA tent to get some Big D Energy.  Big Dwayne Energy that is.

On Saturday we had the honor of attending the 80th birthday of one of the greatest neighbors out there.  Happy Birthday, Jim Ingvalson!

March 17, 2024

A Visit to Hoċokata Ṫi

A Visit to Hoċokata Ṫi
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 17, 2024
We were driving by Canterbury Downs in Shakopee and saw a large construction site actively at work.  I wasn't aware what was being built so I asked ChatGPT who told me the following:  
The big brick building being constructed near Canterbury Downs in Shakopee, Minnesota, is a new outdoor music venue. This open-air amphitheater, with a capacity of 19,000 seats, is part of a larger project expected to open in the summer of 2025. The project is being funded by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and PCL Construction Services Inc. They are collaborating to develop a $400 million entertainment district in the area. Besides the amphitheater, the entertainment district will include a casino expansion, a hotel, a golf course, a water park, a multi-sport dome, retail spaces, and restaurants, aiming to create a comprehensive entertainment and leisure destination.
I had no idea this was coming to the area, but now that I do know I'm excited for summer of 2025 to get here.
Speaking of our local Native American Tribe, Miss Sheri had been asking to make a visit to Hoċokata Ṫi which is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s (SMSC) cultural center and gathering space.  
It opened in July of 2019, but we'd never been here before.  We wanted to see their 3,805-square-foot public exhibit, Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake, which their website says provides visitors with a cultural experience that enhances their knowledge and understanding of the Mdewakanton Dakota people and their history.
The beginning of the exhibit features a small theater with a neat multi-media set-up around a fake fire which makes you feel like you're in a teepee hearing stories from your elders.  It features tales of how the universe and human beings were created as passed down over the centuries from the tribe's ancestors.  I honestly found it to be pretty inspirational and very well done.
Miss Sheri is a big fan of eagles and always excited whenever we see one in nature.  So she was thrilled to see their display featuring an eagle's feather.  I'm not sure what they said about it as I forgot to read the display explanation, but I'm sure it was fascinating.

  Their pamphlet said the Dakota used canoes for travel and for Psinjhnaketu otherwise known as wild rice harvesting.  This dugout canoe was found in Lake Minnetonka in the 1930s and is almost 300 years old!  I'd sure like to ride in that thing.

I've always been fascinated with arrowheads, so this display of many of their hunting tools caught my attention.

 This book was pretty troubling to read.  It showcases the history of the land in Minnesota they once owned and how it was subsequentially "Negotiated" away from them throughout history through a variety of treaties with the US Government.  Pretty eye opening stuff.

 Before the age of Indian casinos, they didn't have a lot of money in their community.  They had an old trailer set-up to represent this era with a radio playing stories as told by tribe members for how they were treated in the community back in the day.  It was pretty powerful stuff.    

It's not a huge museum, but I was pretty impressed with it.  It does a nice job telling about the Mdewakanton Dakota people and their history.  If you're in the area and have an hour or two to kill, I'd recommend checking it out.  

On Saturday night, we connected with our buddies the Browns and the Zitzewitzes for an early St. Patrick's Day celebration.  They were serving corned beef and cabbage at the Savage Legion.  I draw the line at green beer for my celebrating, so enjoyed watching those who partook in that menu choice while I ate a burger instead.

Miss Sheri took this sunset picture earlier this week.  If you squint you can see a couple of trumpeter swans in the distance under the majestic hues painting the sky.  Ha ha.  I said hues.