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Book Review: A Journey to the Center of the Mind (Book III)

Dear Diary,
It started with this Facebook post ...

You see, we had become fans of this particular documentary and I had posted this prior to starting one of the episodes.

Then this happened ...

James R. Fitzgerald, the FBI profiler who caught The Unabomber and whose memoirs inspired Manhunt, announced I had won a signed copy of Book III.

Side note: after an incredibly long dry spell, I managed to win quite a few online giveaways. It was odd but nonetheless, I was grateful to such have had a silly string of good fortune.

Did this mean I was ready to jump inside the mind of the man who journeyed inside the mind of a domestic terrorist? Truthfully, I was apprehensive at first and I was concerned it'd become a bit of a mindf*ck. In the end, as with everything, curiosity got the best of me. Criminal Justice is a long-held fascination, after all, and who better to discuss the process than the man who lived it?

With each turn of the page "Fitz" went from a TV character to a real-life human being, and if I am being honest, an arrogant one at that. Perhaps that is a requirement of the FBI though - I mean, if your career is hunting monsters, you ought to have a higher level of confidence and emotional stability than the rest of us. Unfortunately, his career was also the wedge in his family.

I cannot imagine coming face-to-face with someone like The Unabomber ... someone who spent decades sending bombs through the U.S. Mail, terrorizing the country because he was against technology. (Can you imagine what Ted Kaczynski would do if we told him about the phone you can unlock with your face?) Three people were killed, many more were maimed. And to then profile such an individual; I can't imagine walking away from something like that without it having some sort of effect on you, mentally.

Only the last 100 pages or so touch on his work with The Unabomber Task Force, and the memoir was an interesting reflection of that. Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be associated with the criminal justice field. After receiving such insight from the written words of Fitzgerald, I'm perfectly content to merely read about it instead. And it is for that reason alone (gaining this perspective) that I would recommend this book.

Paradise In The Pines: The First Projects

Dear Homeowner Diary,
The first "projects" and work done to our house and surrounding property were maintenance-related. Nothing too exciting, and certainly not worthy of a pretty reveal post, but is something I wanted to document as part of the process. With winter approaching, we prioritized these projects to secure the house as best we could.

FIRST: Septic Pumped
I know, EWW. But certainly necessary. I've made mention that I feel like we're off the grid out here, considering the property is quite self-sufficient (i.e., a well-disguised propane tank, well and, of course, the septic). Nick took point on this task.

SECOND: Driveway Sealed
This was another maintenance-related project that needed to be addressed before the snow fell. The kids had a really smooth surface for bicycle hot laps, basketball, hoverboard cruising and general shenanigans.

THIRD: New Water Softener
As previously mentioned, we're on well water out here and one day, we noticed something was off. Once the new water softener system was installed, everything was back to normal. I think the seller mentioned it was the only "utility" original to the house. The furnace, water heater and A/C were all replaced within the last two years or so.

FOURTH: Replace Madelyn's Window
We hosted Dino's lacrosse team and their families to celebrate their successful summer season. And let's just say, kids know how to party. Observe -

Unfortunately, Madelyn's window was broken.

Secondary to this, we learned during the inspection that the windows would need to be replaced sometime during our tenure of homeownership. Given the home is 23 years old, we were not deterred by the news. The windows on the lower level had some rot, and given the cracked pane, Madelyn's window moved up on the list to receive a bit of a band-aid. (Note: only the pane and sash were replaced here. Nick and I haven't decided on the direction we'll take with the full replacements.)

Much better! I was joking with the crew, because they came to do the repair on Friday the 13th. Broken glass, superstitions ... I hope they didn't feel apprehensive about the job! Apparently I was the only superstitious one.

Madelyn has a lovely view, doesn't she? The home has a lower-level walk-out, and though she enjoys a more spacious bedroom, this is the trade-off. I have been wondering if there are pretty window clings of a forest or something that I could hang and give her something more pleasant to look at. But that's tabled for another time.

Like with all transformations, we have to start somewhere. This is ours.

And with that said, I am emotionally unprepared to deal with the snow.

Lacrosse and Dino's News ...


Hello? Is anyone there?

I apologize for my unintended radio silence here. Though I was *slightly* better at posting on my Instagram, the reason for my absence was out of respect for a request my son made.

It made me realize something. Dino is our first born, the first grandchild and the first great-grandchild on both sides of the family. It’s been difficult to disassociate these “first baby” affections with the fact that he has entered his pre-teen years.

When Dino took the initiative and told Nick and I he wanted to try out for a selective, travel lacrosse team, we told him we would support his efforts. But, we said, this fell on his shoulders. He had to work for it, to prove to the coaches on this team that he deserved to be a part of it. It helped that a large motivator in his mind was a trip to California to play lacrosse on a national stage.

And most importantly, he asked that Nick and I remain silent about it. He didn’t want anyone to know, because this was something he wanted to do for himself, unless it came to the point where he had news to share.

I respected his wishes, putting his request above anything else including posting here, which has been a valuable tool in mass communication with our family.

On Tuesday, we received word that Dino has earned a spot on the 11U Minnesota Chill Winter Lacrosse Travel Team, and on October 30 will begin training for his tourney appearance in California this December.

He was so proud of himself, and smiled. I could also see the confidence in his expression, realizing he believed in himself during this process. And since he had this news to share, he spent Wednesday evening balancing homework and dinner with calling his three sets of grandparents.

The excitement was shared by all, and Dino then permitted me to post his achievement to Facebook for everyone else to see. He has/is inviting all to come out to California to cheer him on.

Later that evening, after hanging up he sighed. “I really hate talking on the phone, Mom,” he admitted. I’m the same way.

This is a new experience for us as ‘sports parents.’ Up until this point, we registered our children in youth sport rec leagues where try-outs weren’t necessary. The intent of these leagues is to get kids interested in the sport first without added pressure. It hung in a delicate balance of society’s judgment of “handing out participation trophies,” and “needing to build attendance in our youth programs.” Dino did get a taste of what it meant to “earn” something with hard work when his team went 5-0, took the number 1 seed and won a local tournament title this past summer.

And now, he learned what it was like to earn a spot on a team regardless of whether or not we paid a registration fee. He saw the difference between relying on his skills and knowledge of a sport and relying on Mom’s checkbook, which I do feel contributes to a more balanced experience as he grows.

Nick and I have remarked many a time that as soon as a particular sport or activity stops being fun, we’ll walk away. There are so many parents who push their kids to continue with something for the sake of their own ego, rather than what benefits their kid. It’s a very fine line between supporting and encouraging their potential, and then doing something for the wrong reason.

So far, lacrosse remains fun. And with Landen having so much ownership over this new role, it has boosted his confidence in not only himself, but also as a player.

Up next … California!

Legends National Cup
Saturday & Sunday, December 16-17, 2017

Late Summer Trails

Dear Diary,

Change is in the air.

Since we moved in back in June, I was curious about what the changing season would do to our property. We are experiencing brief glimpses of fall, as evidenced here.

One Sunday, Madelyn and I went for a walk on our trails. Fallen leaves crunched beneath our feet, trees are starting to turn, yet the warmth of the sun alerted us to the fact it was still technically summer. Change can be hard, but when you let go, beautiful things can happen.

('Tis a b-black river ... yes, it's time I watch my favorite movie.)

Madelyn found "wish flowers" and wasted no time.

27 Ideas for Your Bucket List

Dear Travel Diary,

I started Brianne, Herself as a knee-jerk reaction to a text message asking, “what have you been up to lately?” As this round-up serves to prove, a lot actually … there’s a lot we’ve seen and explored, and plenty more I’m curious about.

This post is long, and catalogs all of the sites we’ve toured that were first posted here. Perhaps it incites your own curiosity too? Perhaps you will soon find yourself near one of these places? Allow yourself to be inspired to get out there and explore!

1. Edwards Apple Orchard, Poplar Grove, IL
I’ve yet to find another fall destination that’s a festive as this orchard.

2. The Air Force Academy Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
The Chapel is the only building on campus that is open to the public, and is best described as a must-see.

3. The Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
The beauty of this state park is unsurpassed.

4. Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, IA
Dubuque holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I met my husband. It’s where he proposed. It’s where we graduated with our Bachelor’s degrees, rented our first apartment and brought our first child into the world. The museum covers the historical significance of this river town, while celebrating the iconic Mississippi River and showcasing its wild life.

5. The Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN
The Twin Cities are home to two fantastic zoos, and the first of which I've featured is located close to our house. 

6. Moon River Brewing Company (& Ghost Tours), Savannah, GA
Moon River is a lively bar located in a very historic building. I was drawn to it immediately. We were able to go into the basement (with permission from the hostess), and I wanted so badly to explore the upper floors which were off limits to the public. I heard the upper floors served as a makeshift children's hospital during a yellow fever outbreak, and fortunately, I found a ghost tour that granted us the access I sought.

7. Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN
Twice I visited, and both times the Falls roared from the melting snow. This alone is a major draw to the park, which is also home to a few historic sites including a rail depot. 

8. The Crayola Experience, Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
There are numerous Crayola Experiences across the country, and I highly recommend purchasing tickets through the Groupon app. It was fun to explore with our children, but I don't think it was worth paying full price.

9. The Muskie Museum, Hayward, WI
One of the oddest roadside attractions, we climbed up the giant Muskie statue into the fish's mouth, which serves as an observation deck.

10. Stihl Lumberjack Show, Hayward, WI
Lumberjack shows are very interactive, which makes this experience one worth checking out. My children volunteered to take center stage to cross-cut a log with the pros.

11. Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse Memorials, South Dakota
South Dakota's monuments are seemingly patriotic, but beneath it's surface, there is a lot of controversy. Twenty years separated my visits to these sites, and I was surprised to discover one is in need of conservation and the other has made little progress.

12. The Badlands, South Dakota
Mother Nature is one hell of an architect, and its evident at every scenic outpost within the boundaries of this state park.

13. Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, Hastings, MN
I believe this is more of a local attraction, and it's quickly become a holiday tradition. There's just something about dressing up like a marshmallow, standing in the snow awaiting for a festively decorated train to arrive and being treated to a concert of Christmas carols.

14. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, HI
... And then to escape the harsh Minnesota winter with a trip to paradise.

15. The Ice Castles, Stillwater, MN
You get to live out a scene from Frozen.

16. The Hoover Dam, Boulder City, NV
Here, I was able to accomplish a goal on my bucket list - to stand in two states at once (Nevada and Arizona).

17. Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, NV
I don't dare pick a favorite state park because they're all breathtaking in their own right, but Valley of Fire lives up to its name especially if you visit at dusk. It's a welcome retreat from the chaos of the Vegas Strip too.

18. The Delta Air Lines Museum, Atlanta, GA - here and here
The Delta Flight Museum is located on the Atlanta airport property, and is worthy of a visit to explore the timeline of this iconic airline.

19. The Wormsloe Historic Site, Savannah, GA
This property dates back to the 1700s and had a hand in the formation of the state of Georgia.

20. Glacial Potholes, Interstate State Park, Taylors Falls,WI
This state park is unique in that it spans across two states. The main draw is possibly this remnant of the Ice Age.

21. Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, TX
A quick drive from Houston proper, the Kemah Boardwalk is a fun retreat. With rides, a midway, restaurants and an aquarium located along the coast, it's an must-see.

22. ValleyFair, Shakopee, MN
ValleyFair has an on-site water park, transforms into ValleyScare around Halloween, and is a fun backdrop for family time.

23. Mellow Mushroom Restaurant, Atlanta, GA
I thoroughly enjoyed the creative, eclectic atmosphere of this locally-owned restaurant chain that I've since heard has locations all over the country.

24. Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, GA
It's interesting to consider this park as the catalyst for the transformation of downtown Atlanta.

25. College Football Hall of Fame, Atlanta, GA
Any fan of college football needs to pay a visit.

26. Skyview Atlanta Ferris Wheel, Atlanta, GA
This massive ferris wheel offers breathtaking views of downtown and the surrounding areas.

27. Space Center Houston, Houston, TX
With NASA based in Houston, the museum and educational center located on its sprawling campus offers insight into our history of space exploration.

What do you think? Did it give you some new ideas? I look forward to adding to it and exploring more of the obvious and the weird, the faraway and the nearby.

Here's a pinnable image - 

Space Center Houston - Houston, Texas

Dear Travel Diary,

While our visit to Space Center Houston took place in October 2015, I felt I had done the experience a disservice by not discussing it at length. I posted a round-up of our trip to Houston here.

More than 18 million people have visited since its opening in October 1992, and the facility hosts more than 1 million visitors annually. Upon entering the site, you're greeted by this replica. When we visited, it was not yet open for tours, so it means we're due for a return visit.

At over 250,000-square feet, the complex is massive. It's also a Smithsonian Affiliate, with its mission as an educational center to highlight all eras of U.S. space travel via exhibits, tours and attractions. Naturally, it's focus is on STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and utilizes space exploration to inspire interest and wonder in these subjects.

Space Center Houston features more than 400 space artifacts, including the world's largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples.

Of course, I was drawn to the chronological history of the U.S. space program.

There are two tours offered at an additional charge - one takes you through an active work shop, a rocket graveyard of sorts, and the location of the Saturn V rocket; the other is of Mission Control. Due to a time restriction, we opted to not participate in the tour of Mission Control, so we have another reason to return.

(This and the following sequence of photographs were taken in the active workshop we toured.)

(The rocket graveyard ...)

(The Saturn V is so huge, it's impossible to get it all in frame.)

I will never forget how small I felt standing beside this behemoth, simultaneously in awe of the fact that this touched our atmosphere and outer space. Does every kid dream of experiencing such a thing? To this day, the idea still ignites my curiosity.

To have this access to the NASA Johnson Space Center was very interesting.

A brief history - first established as the Manned Spacecraft Center in 1961, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) is responsible for the design, development and operation of human space flight. For more than 40 years, JSC (the name was changed to this in 1973) has been the leader in human space flight operations for NASA.

Currently, it is the training base and home for our nation's astronauts and the site of Mission Control. Space missions are launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, which I had the opportunity to visit and tour when I was 14. I would highly recommend experiencing both.

If you go:
1601 E NASA Parkway, Houston
Tickets: $30 Adults, $25 Children