Thanks for the gift, Mr. Rockefeller

Move over, Yellowstone, we have a new favorite U.S. National Park.

IMG_0732

Meet St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, the most tranquil, unspoiled spot in the Caribbean/South America. That’s thanks to Laurence Rockefeller, who donated much of it to the U.S. Government to create a National Park. Before that, the United States had purchased this 20-square-mile jewel from Denmark in 1917. (Note the year: it was when Germany was poised to overtake Denmark; imagine if Germany had achieved this foothold. Whew.) Before THAT, it was a haven for pirates. So what is not to adore about St. John?

Our cruise ship actually ported in St. Thomas, one of the four U.S. Virgin Islands.

Yay, our pilot is here. Oh, cool, hope Captain Jack Sparrow is here, too.

Once off the Oasis, we boarded the Island Girl with Captain Mike. It was a wild ride through once-pirate, still amazing waters, while Mike pointed out landmarks new and old with charming, entertaining stories.

IMG_0769
Madonna’s ‘lil spot on St. Thomas

 

IMG_0796
Joe and Jill Biden’s Water Island getaway.

And then, we arrived in what surely must be similar to heaven: St. John. On the short drive from the port to “our” beach for the day in our safari truck, each beach we passed was more stunning than the last.

 

Mr. Rockefeller’s home is still here, now as a resort, with remnants of a sugar plantation.

IMG_0692

Our destination: Trunk Bay, ranked in the World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches by National Geographic Society. We loved every grain of sand on it, from the velvet soft beach for long walks, to the underwater snorkel trail of coral and fish in the clearest waters ever. (We brought our GoPro snorkeling, too!)

After exploring this glorious place, we headed back on the Island Girl, really refreshed the way only Mom Nature and a National Park can do so… (with a little help from a local brew of course)

We’ll be back, St. John. Stay unspoiled.

trunk-bay-copy-550x367

Nice find, Ponce de Leon

Approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico by sea, it doesn’t look very welcoming.

Miles of stone walls and the Castillo San Cristobal fortress protected Spain’s critical settlement from frequent attacks, invaders who were after the gold, silver and other treasures from the New World.

Today, San Juan is an exuberant blend of colorful Latin culture. It was the very first time our ship had ported in this gorgeous city, and we loved every minute of exploring what is now a very approachable city.

Lucky us, our port side of the ship gave us a perfect view of arriving.

IMG_0595
A dolphin and her baby even escorted us into the port!

First stop? Birthplace of the Pina Colada, of course.

Then on to some sites–and sights–in our Latin whites!

IMG_0598
Doesn’t our Caroline look thrilled at another historical site?

Lots of cats in Old Town … probably not a rodent problem there, either, huh?

Knock, knock

It’s not just a gate; for centuries, this doorway, La Puerta de San Juan, served to keep invaders out of the city. And when Spainards arrived, they walked straight up this roadway to the Cathedral to, like good Catholic boys, thank God for a safe voyage.

Plaza de la Rogativa

Amazing views, both panoramically around the sea and up close in the plaza.

The bronze sculpture, “The Procession,” tells the legend of a Catholic Bishop and his companions during a British invasion on San Juan in 1797. The Bishop and his friends made a procession in faith holding crosses, torches and chanting. The British thought they were Spanish Army reinforcements and gave up on the attack. “Faith does move mountains,” huh?

What do J. Lo and Ponce de Leon have in common?

Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony here. Ponce de Leon’s tomb is here. It’s graceful Catedral de San Juan Bautist or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It’s also the second-oldest Cathedral in the Americas. Juan Ponce de Leon’s body is encased in a marble tomb here, but it wasn’t his original burial place. He was originally entombed in theIglesia de San José where his family worshiped. After 350 years in his original resting place, his body was moved to the Catedral de San Juan in 1912 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of evangelization. Nice resting place, Juan.

Seaside resting spot

Only Puerto Rico can make a cemetery extraordinary! Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis is elegant and beautifully perched on the Atlantic, radiating tranquility and rich history. The oceanfront location symbolizes the journey over to the afterlife, reflecting the Spainards’ superstitions and fear of death.

UNESCO says yes

A UNESCO site, Castillo San Cristóbal is a magnificent fortification. We visited on a Sunday, walking from the cemetery to the huge fort while people had picnics set out and were flying kites. So appreciate the Latin focus on family and fun!

The color of San Juan

…is anything but old. Strolling along cobblestone streets while the teenagers worked on their Spanish verbal skills with vendors, we soaked in the radiance of this marvelous Caribbean city.

We’re grateful you sailed into San Juan, Sir de Leon. And thankful for the vibrant history lessons and colorful day in today’s bright city! Thanks for making us feel so welcome.

Hi again, Haiti

The only “repeat” stop from our last cruise was this lovely private island, Labadee, in Haiti. Such a country of contrasts: gorgeous mountains, beaches, people and culture. Yet such a heartbreakingly troubled history–and present–laden with turmoil and hurt. With all this in mind, we appreciated our day in Haiti.

IMG_0450
Good morning, land! The very tip of Haiti.

 

IMG_0451
Early morning view of Haiti from our deck balcony.

Walking ashore, where it’s hard to decide which view from the walkway is more gorgeous.

The first beach you encounter has big oceanside waves, yet also ankle-eating rocks and coral. So it was our mermaid Caroline’s favorite playground! Julia and I were happier on the shore at this beach.

Haiti in the sand

IMG_0522

IMG_0511
Hi, Cara. Could you come in now? You’re making me a little nervous… my lifeguarding skills are a tad rusty.

 

The next two beaches are sandy and absolutely perfect for a beach day. Just the thing for this Midwestern American family. It was a day that brought us all peace.

As our feet sank into the sand, those early mornings of icy darkness as we all headed off to school and work — those sank away. As the waves lapped, those days of shoveling snow melted away. Under the Caribbean sun, the stress of tests and presentations and travel dissipated. Swimming, floating and playing in the salty waves, the chill of very late nights at hockey rinks washed away. In the wind of the palm trees, the tension blew away. And in the pages of new stories, the sting of that missed 27-yard field goal even faded. A bit.

We came out of the water refreshed, renewed. And hungry! With a steel drum band nearby, we enjoyed a yummy shore lunch. Caribbean jerk chicken, ribs, loads of fresh veggies and exotic fruits … and lemon coconut cookies. Love you, Haiti.

Thanks for starting our cruise port experiences off just perfectly yet again, Haiti.

Goodbye Haiti
Farewell, lovely land. We wish you the peace you so generously gave us.

Shipping the Hansen family

IMG_1147A 10-day cruise? Three full days of sailing? Whatever will you do? So asked one of our friends. We all smiled, a bit knowingly, since we’d been on the same ship, Oasis of the Seas, two years ago for Spring Break, and were all eager to get back onboard. (The one place we never did find: The Library.) Highlights of our second cruise on the Oasis:

Time together

At home, we have careers, jobs, school, studies, sports, volunteering…gosh we’re busy. Which means we’re rarely together. So the real value of this cruise was all the time together. Mostly laughing. Lots of great chats. And more laughing.

Family selfie in the elevator one night after dinner.
Family selfie in the elevator one night after dinner.

Exploring the ship

Of course the first place we found (just a few doors from our staterooms)? The Library!

Oasis of the Seas Library

Working out

A few laps on the track, more laps in the pool, Zumba!, weight lifting, dancing poolside. Ahhh.

 

IMG_1145
One lap to go | or maybe three | Tonight’s dessert | Will be guilt-free
IMG_1239
While our boys watched their UND hockey team win online, we went ice skating!

Some Vitamin D and “Sea”

 

Showtime tonight!

We took in at least one show every day, including CATS (yeah, it’s a weird musical), dive shows, an acapella group, a singer/comedian, ice skating show, Latin dance party, adult comedy (highlight = Jim David of Comedy Central in this election year!), international belly flop contest and Greg’s favorite (laden with BeeGee’s tunes): 70s dance party.

ice show

The Dreamworks characters were always around for some fun.
The Dreamworks characters were always around for some fun.
Yo, Alex.
Yo, Alex.

IMG_0445

 

IMG_1136

 

Movie night! We saw Creed and, finally, Mockingjay 2.
Movie night! We saw Creed and, finally, Mockingjay 2.

IMG_0666

Nice, Jules.
Nice, Jules.
IMG_1210
Groovy. The Village People showed up.

Hot-tubbin’

View of one of the hot tubs that cantilevers out over the sea, which we could see from our cabin’s balcony.

We relaxed in all of the whirlpools at all hours. My favorite: A late-night soak with Matty where we solved all the world’s problems under the stars.

Admiring the sculptures

Creations in our cabins each evening and at the towel stands made us laugh…

 

This was in the kids' cabin one evening. Our stateroom attendant kept the light on so they weren't totally freaked out.
This was in the kids’ cabin one evening. Our stateroom attendant kept the light on so they weren’t totally freaked out.

Exploring the ship

IMG_1114

IMG_1116
Because if there’s a carousel, you ride it.
m johnny rockets
And when there’s a Johnny Rockets, you go there. Best. Malts. Ever.
Order room service breakfast and eat on your balcony overlooking Central Park (the kids' cabin this cruise).
Order room service breakfast and eat on your balcony overlooking Central Park (the kids’ cabin this cruise).

 

Sipping in the Rising Tide bar, which goes up and down. Yeah, gimmicky. But yeah, cool.
Sipping in the Rising Tide bar, which goes up and down. Yeah, gimmicky. But yeah, cool.

And a late-night stroll…

IMG_1219

under a full moon, with people I so adore.

So that. That is what we did on our cruise days.

Air. Water. Food. Just gettin’ our basic needs met, Cancun style.

Like our friends and colleagues and relatives, our family runs in every direction, often at warp speed. It’s crazy good fun filled with love and laughs. But it’s also nice to get away a bit. So this Spring Break, we headed to Moon Palace in Cancun.

We went with a great group of fellow Minnesotans. Total of 14 adults; 13 kids, I believe.

Some old friends, some new. All amazing!
Some old friends, some new. All amazing!

Air

Matt got the most air, parasailing over Beach Palace one afternoon (looked like the jet ski ride out and back in to shore was quite a rush too!)

m parasailing

m jet ski ride in

Water

Our Caroline is a mermaid. We all joined her, too. How could you not? Fifteen pools (most with swim-up bars; all with water polo, water zumba, water volleyball), miles of beach (albeit not real swimmable, so our day at Beach Palace’s turquoise waves was a treat).

IMG_8497

 

c and v at beach palace

 

IMG_8513

IMG_8501

4 of us at swim up bar

me and g

IMG_8529
Swimming laps in the Olympic pool was more fun with a swim up bar at one end. Pina coladas after every lap!

 

IMG_8607

 

IMG_8612

IMG_8540

IMG_8532

a moon 1

a moon 2

“Pets” at our favorite pools

The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
Iguanas - up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
Iguanas – up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
IMG_8555
Another reason we also ordered the Fish Tacos at Los Tacos. Plus, they were delish!

 

Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Thanks for the fish tacos...
Thanks for the fish tacos…

Food

It’s a good day when your biggest decision is where to go to dinner that evening…

I think we tried ’em all. Seafood? (The first night, Julia ordered baby octopus with “I think I’ll like that.” As they served it, she saw it really was baby octopus, suction cups and all. “I can’t eat this,” she admitted. Lesson learned for our Midwestern girl!) Mexican? Italian? Room service (why order 30 chicken nuggets? Because you can.)? Steakhouse? Hibachi? Japanese? Brazilian steak house:

IMG_8594

IMG_8595

IMG_8602
Mayan coffee!

IMG_8603

IMG_8604

Love those Mayans
Love those Mayans

Treats at every turn…

IMG_8672

 

dessert

crepes

IMG_8681 IMG_8682

A few other surprises:

Coconut milk outside our front door

IMG_8557

IMG_8558

IMG_8556

“Fresh Catch” one afternoon

Apparently this only happens once a month (we got lucky!). Fresh grouper, octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams and more, caught then grilled up on the beach.

IMG_8573

 

IMG_8578

 

IMG_8583

IMG_8584

IMG_8592

 

IMG_8588

IMG_8587

IMG_8586

Swing bar

We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours!
We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours! We heard tales. Probably not all of them, but enough!
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with...
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with… (Alas, no Captain Jack…)

Early morning beach walks

(just Greg and me) – note earlier info about teenagers at the swing bar!

IMG_8932

 

IMG_8933

Love

Most of all, it was time for us, together, unplugged. That is really all we need.

IMG_8895

IMG_8910
Look! She got out of the water (for a little while).

 

Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.
Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.

MCancun

fam last night

 

Our baby with a dolphin baby

Caroline was in her element.
She Swam with Delphinus (dolphins) at Xcarat in Cancun.

33

 

 

The best part was the baby dolphin who wouldn’t leave Cara’s side:

37

As the mom and friends did their interactions, the baby tried every trick she knew to get attention (aka fish). We tried to find out the baby’s name, but there wasn’t much English spoken at the park. So we just call her Baby.

Thanks for letting your Baby play with our Baby, Mama Dolphin.

More great playtime shots:

9

 

18

Dolphin “water skiing:”

5

 

1

24

10 11 12

13

Splash party!

20

38

 

Jump for joy!

 

14

15 31 34 39 40 41

 

31

 

Happy Halloween! Our 10th Annual Bash

Our Dad/Grandpa, a retired longtime teacher, loves to party. Each year, we get together at his home to celebrate Halloween! This year was especially awesome, with some clever costumes, creative pumpkin carvings, beautiful day … and a full theatre presentation of “The Greedy Goblin” by the grandkids! Some highlights…

The teenagers.
The teenagers.

IMG_7775

 

IMG_7778
A little football.
The bone hunting game is always a hit!
The bone hunting game is always a hit!

IMG_7785

IMG_7787

IMG_7795

Standing Ovation for our theatre stars!

Happy Halloween, all. Make it safe, sweet and full of laughs.

The most Superior campground amenity

We’ve camped at spots with golf courses, mini-golf, pools, rivers, tubing, boating, kayaking, waterslides, horses, wagon rides, theatre, live music and, yes, pet shows.

But our most Superior campground amenity (so far): the biggest, deepest, coldest, most dangerous of the Great Lakes. Lake Superior!

The Boys. Matty, Revi, Justy. (aka Matt, Rev, Justin)
The Boys. Matty, Revi, Justy. (aka Matt, Rev, Justin)

It was literally our back yard for 5 glorious days of our annual Kind family camping trip. Bonus: We had a bigger, deeper, warmer and more fun group than ever, when the Day clan from Illinois (some via South Africa) joined us!

More posts later on our other North Shore adventures, but for now, some images of this Superior amenity.

We waded in

jumped off cliffs in

the dogs and crazy Cara swam in

hiked in and around this lovely waterway

All just steps from our campsites at Burlington Bay Campground … Ahhh …

cara on water

matt and rev1

 

care and howie

 

Bro-in-law Eric. Nice form for a Packers fan.
Bro-in-law Eric. Nice form for a Packers fan.
cliff 2
Our Cara, after her umpeenth jump in. Mermaids are not quite as affected by 61-degree water…
So fun! (Not bad form for a Vikings fan, eh?)
So fun! (Not bad form for a Vikings fan, eh?)

dogs 1

 

rev

 

matt on rocks

Our last night there, as the campfire turned to coals and everyone tucked in, Greg and I took a hike to the point under the Super Moon. It was a little scary (okay, a lot), but so beautiful. Thanks, Lake Superior, for amazing memories…

 

 

Lean in, young lady: Take our daughter to work day

Since my main office is a home office, I feel like our kids are with me at work every day. Especially in the summer.

But today was a rare chance to take our youngest to one of my company’s offices, and I hope she learned a few things. Look out, world, this generation of women will change us all…for the better.

1. Go ahead, be assertive

So what if some call it bossy? She picked our breakfast and lunch locations. A lovely walk to Dakota Harvest Bakery for cinnamon rolls. Then Rhombus Guys’ rooftop, on a gorgeous summer day!

photo 1

rhombus-guys

2. Take credit for your accomplishments

Cara mastered the label machine, re-organized the office supply room, created “Best mom in the world” awards and a sweet packet of notes and pictures for her Gram, Gramps, their dog and cat. She proudly distributed them in person.

photo 2

3. Be bold

Apparently my powerpoint presentation was “boring,” since she turned to her iPad instead. But she did comment that she liked the colors I chose.

 4. Own your space

Take a seat at the table–or the pilot seat of a rocket ship. Listen, tune in, then contribute. And make others feel part of the action. Way to go, Cara! You’ll be a great colleague someday. Today, you already were. Rock on and lean in.

diet coke break

My bucket overfloweth: MLB All Star Week

One of the events of MLB All Star Week has been on my bucket list: See the Home Run Derby live. But after this week, my bucket list is overflowing with other amazing adventures. What a great show, Minnesota. So proud of you!

Midwesterners are paranoid about two things: Our losing sports teams. And our weather. It rained Monday, delaying the Home Run Derby by 1 hour. But then this gorgeous rainbow appeared and all was right with the world!
Midwesterners are paranoid about two things: Our losing sports teams. And our weather. It rained Monday, delaying the Home Run Derby by 1 hour. But then this gorgeous rainbow appeared and all was right with the world!

First up: Futures game and Celebrity softball game

Sunday afternoon, good old Tom Kelly, Bert Blyleven and Tony O managed the “Futures” stars in a World vs. USA game. This was, surprisingly, one of my favorite things about the whole weekend. Amazing young talent!

Has Bert mentioned he's Dutch? This is what he wore to the pre-first-pitch meeting at home plate. Go Netherlands!
Has Bert mentioned he’s Dutch? This is what he wore to the pre-first-pitch meeting at home plate. Go Netherlands!
Loved seeing TK manage again.
Loved seeing Tony O manage the World Team.
Skipper Tom Kelly, back in action!
Skipper TK, back in action!
Lucky for baseball, that NBA gig didn't work out for a couple of the guys.
Lucky for baseball, that NBA gig didn’t work out for a couple of the guys.
The Clydesdales did a lap. The Dalmatian came to MN, too!
The Clydesdales did a lap. The Dalmatian came to MN, too!
The Twins' Kennys Vargas can play! I slept better that night, knowing we DO have a first baseman. Hopefully he is up here soon.
The Twins’ Kennys Vargas can play! I slept better that night, knowing we DO have a first baseman. Hopefully he is up here soon.

Softball is tougher than it looks: Celebrity softball

After an encouraging afternoon with Futures, it was time for Legends in the Celebrity softball game. We laughed nonstop at these antics. Our fave moments:

Larry Fitzgerald and AP. Wish they were BOTH Vikings!
Larry Fitzgerald and AP. Wish they were BOTH Vikings!

 

All the teams sent their mascots! Several danced in our section and on top of the 3rd base dugout, right in front of us. I was partial to Rose (Reds). Matt liked the Marlins fish. TC Bear was clearly a great host!
All the teams sent their mascots! Several danced in our section and on top of the 3rd base dugout, right in front of us. I was partial to Rose (Reds). Matt liked the Marlins fish. TC Bear was clearly a great host!

IMG_6021

IMG_6022

 

Jack Morris vs John Smoltz. Again. With a little (!) less on the line than Game 7 in 1991. Gave me chills to see them both on the mound again.

John Smoltz actually took himself out of the game and tapped Jennie Finch to take the mound.
John Smoltz actually took himself out of the game and tapped Jennie Finch to take the mound.
Jennie is an Olympic Champion softball pitcher. AP is a MVP NFLer. He came up to bat and asked her to pitch as she really would. Those pitches SMOKED by him! Just as he smokes by linemen all NFL season...
Jennie is an Olympic Champion softball pitcher. AP is a MVP NFLer. He came up to bat and asked her to pitch as she really would. Those pitches SMOKED by him! Just as he smokes by linemen all NFL season…

Monday: Home Run Derby

This is one of my favorite TV shows each year. It’s an event, even more clear when you go to this show live. But so fun to watch this power, especially guys from the National League who we rarely see at Target Field. Brian Dozier and (former Twin) Justin Morneau were crowd favorites, but my pick was Cespedes. We still have no idea how to pronounce his name, but he won the slugging title this year — again (he won last year too).

Mike and Mike (from ESPN), emceeing the action as eventual winner Cespedes steps up.
Mike and Mike (from ESPN), emceeing the action as eventual winner Cespedes steps up.

morneau.jpg

 

Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton had some record long balls in our Target Field. He's a slugger with an attitude!
Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton had some record long balls in our Target Field. He’s a slugger with an attitude!

 The ultimate party

Tuesday was Target Field’s night to shine. We saw All Stars past (Hank Aaron was there!) and present. And probably future. I must admit I didn’t take many pictures. I was soaking in every second of this magical night!

IMG_6088

IMG_6087

jeter

 

flyover

 

The Clydesdales (and the Dalmatian!) came back for the Big Game.
The Clydesdales (and the Dalmatian!) came back for the Big Game.

An aerial shot from the NY Times that still makes my heart swell with pride. Way to go, Minnesota. You’re the true all star for hosting an amazing party. Happy I could be there. My bucket overfloweth.

Photo from NY Times.
Photo from NY Times.