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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

The Ghosts of Christmas 2013

Christmas Card 2013

Merry Christmas, my friends!

Bah, humbug? Not to 2013! No way. Once again, this was a wonderfully fantastic year for me when it comes to travel. There’s always a lot to be thankful for, but I’m feeling particularly fortunate this holiday season. Why’s that? Because of so many amazing experiences this past year…

I wasted no time getting away with three quick trips: Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Lanai, Hawaii.

Whale watching on Lanai, Hawaii

Whale watching on Lanai, Hawaii

Minnesota in January? Believe me, I know. I grew up there. Twenty-four years of frigid winters would normally be enough. But this was Minnesota v. North Dakota in hockey, perhaps the best rivalry in all of college sports. It’s something different, something special. And there was no way I was going to let a little cold get in the way of me seeing that game. A friend who has season tickets invited me home for the game and his birthday weekend. It was a quick trip, but well worth the fun in seeing my Minnesota boys whoop up on North Dakota.

Inside Mariucci Arena

Inside Mariucci Arena

Yes, I said whoop up. There’s no better way to put it when it came to that game – 5 to 1, Minnesota. The following night, the final game between the two teams as conference rivals, ended appropriately enough in a 4 to 4 tie. Now, with the creation of the Big 10 hockey conference, we won’t play each other nearly as often. When the games come around again, though, there’s no doubt they’ll be just as heated as they have been over the years.

Washington, D.C. was as inspiring as I had anticipated, more so even. Years and years ago, I was in D.C. while on a big family vacation. I remember very little of it all, since I was so young. About all that truly sticks is how we missed out on a tour of the White House for one reason or another. Well, mission accomplished. My wish of making it back and touring one of the most famous buildings in the world was granted in January.

The White House

The White House

I spent several other days wandering the Smithsonian Museums, touring the U.S. Capitol, heading out to the Arlington National Cemetery, and popping around to all kinds of other historical sites. I was in full geek-rager mode, and it was awesome. I could not have been happier, while also being so incredibly disappointed; a week is not nearly enough time to see D.C. and a few other things in the area. A month of intense sightseeing would be more appropriate, and then you’re still pushing the limits of fitting in everything.

The Washington Monument across the Tidal Basin from nearby the Jefferson Memorial

The Washington Monument across the Tidal Basin from nearby the Jefferson Memorial

People often ask me which of the Hawaiian Islands is my favorite. My answer is simple: All of them and none of them. It all depends on my mood and what style of Aloha I want during my trip. Before traveling to Hawaii, I was told each of the Islands was very different. I didn’t believe it – it’s all Hawaii, after all, how different can they be? – until I was there myself and saw it first hand. At the time of this trip, Lanai was just what I needed – some hardcore pampering and relaxation.

The incredible view from Lanai's Kaunolu Village

The incredible view from Lanai’s Kaunolu Village

Lanai gave me the opportunity to rest and get back that feeling of Aloha I’ve come to love and yearn for after so many trips to the Islands. I got it, too, once there, with amazing stays at three different hotels, awesome activities – archery, whale watching, hiking, and more – and some time simply spent relaxing and doing absolutely nothing on a beach…which happened right after my epic failure at snorkeling. After so much running around in D.C., this was exactly what I needed. OK. I’ll be honest. Hawaii is always what I need. There’s no lying when I say we stopped with them as the 50th state because we finally got it right!

So Minnesota, D.C., and Hawaii were all the early part of the year. Yeah, like I said, fortunate. At least two of those are trips-of-a-lifetime for many folks. So to do them like this was amazing. But I didn’t stop there…

The beautiful view from PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

The beautiful view from PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

To top off our fun experience in Minnesota in January, my buddy and I got tickets to the Frozen Four – college hockey’s final four. Like basketball, it’s in a different city each year. For 2013, it was held in Pittsburgh. I rolled my eyes several times over at the thought of traveling to Pittsburgh, but when we got our tickets it looked like Minnesota would make a run. They were the top team in the country. The championship was all but theirs. Or so I thought. (Insert bad buzzer noise here.)

When we finally rolled into town, I quickly realized I was wrong about two things…

1) Minnesota never had a chance at making the Frozen Four. There were too many things about that team that wouldn’t work for a championship run that helped the other teams get there.

2) Pittsburgh wasn’t a dump. Quite the contrary. I left chewing on my thought, more than a little impressed at our experience.

Riding the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh

Riding the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is beautiful, with lots of great parks and fantastic history. The restaurants and bars are good. And the baseball stadium is the best anywhere. While I’m not a huge baseball fan, oddly enough I’ve been to a bunch of stadiums. And PNC Park put the rest to shame. Not only are the sight lines fantastic, but the view of downtown is amazing, and the all-you-can-eat section is a big man’s dream! I left happy – not just the ballpark, but also the city – but with a slight regret of not having another day or two to see more, particularly in the region. There’s a lot to the area, and I was happy I went…even if my hockey team blew any slim chance they had at the start of the playoffs.

The Grand Teton

The Grand Teton

The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks followed Pittsburgh. And wow. What an adventure! I had been up that way before, but never appreciated it so much as this time. The abundance of wildlife and opportunities for hiking made it all worthwhile. It was exactly what I both wanted and needed after a few months in the office. Originally, this time away was intended for a travel blogging conference. But in hindsight, boy am I glad I cancelled on hearing the same speakers as the year before and truly took a time out, what I like to call a bio-break, to get outdoors for a while.

A momma black bear and her two cubs in Yellowstone

A momma black bear and her two cubs in Yellowstone

Milwaukee. I’ve passed through on occasion in the past, even stopped to see the Brewers play ball, but never thought of specifically traveling to see Milwaukee. Just like Pittsburgh, a big mistake. It’s a great town, with a fantastic history, and a lot to see – the art museum, Harley Davidson, and, most importantly, the great beer culture. OK. So it’s not just the beer culture, but the culture in general. It just has a lot to do with beer. It’s all great, and some place I’d like to return to someday. Thankfully my friend who I saw the hockey games with grew up just a short drive away from there!

Downtown Milwaukee

Downtown Milwaukee

The moon rising over Lake Superior

The moon rising over Lake Superior

Come July, I had a very special occasion to return home. So, back to Minnesota I went for my father’s 70th birthday. The best part? He knew nothing of it. Well, no, he knew he was turning 70. He just didn’t know I was coming home with my sister and her family. The lot of us, which included my brother and his family as well as my dad’s girlfriend, were all in on a big surprise for his birthday. We rented a cabin up on the north shore of Lake Superior, and had everything set to take him on a get away to celebrate his big milestone. All-in-all, it was a great weekend with the family, some short hiking, sightseeing, and a lot of relaxing. Dad and I also got the opportunity to talk about the next trip…

Dad and I ready for kickoff in London!

Dad and I ready for kickoff in London!

We headed off to London to see the Vikings play the Steelers at Wembley Stadium. The NFL likes to annually play some games across the pond, and we were happy to use that as an excuse for my dad to see another country and for us to see a friend of mine who lives in the area. We did a ton of sightseeing, which was great since dad and I are largely interested in the same things. I’d like to say I could pick out one thing that was particularly special – maybe the football game? – but we shared a lot of great experiences, so it’s hard to say. Most importantly, though, we were able to spend some quality time together. And that’s all I really wanted to do with the trip, spend some QT with dad.

Hanging with dad and my friend Stephen at Stonehenge

Hanging with dad and my friend Stephen at Stonehenge

At this point, I thought my traveling for the year was done. By all rights it should be. I had done enough for not just one year, but several. The thing is, though, I had one more trip planned: California’s Big Sur. I headed that way for the Big Sur Writing Workshop. I’m currently working on a middle grade children’s fantasy story, and was looking to bounce it off the writers, editors, and agents who were in attendance. The whole experience was amazing, and well worth the trip. But so was the scenery. Wow!

Looking south along the Big Sur coast

Looking south along the Big Sur coast

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The rugged coastline, the hills, and all of the redwood trees most certainly leave a lasting impression. In regards to the trees, author John Steinbeck, who grew up in the Big Sur area, put it best: “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

In all of that, I leave out all of the great times I had in Colorado this past year. There were a bunch, too, especially after I got Anna the Puppy. She’s been the biggest thing to happen to me in 2013, which is why I suppose she’s the lucky dog on this year’s Christmas card. I’m looking forward to a bigger 2014 with her. We’ve only had a few months together now, so a full year of shared adventures should be even better. Speaking of which, there’s a lot on my plate for 2014. What will it be? A return trip to the Big Sur? Somewhere else? Well, that’s all for next week’s post. Until then, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

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5 Comments on “The Ghosts of Christmas 2013”

  1. Traveling Ted (@travelingted) December 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    A great year and a great mix of outdoors, overseas, and city travel. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. Randy and Ellen December 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Jason, This was so interesting—-your Dad forwarded it to us….Thanks for sharing and let us know when that book is done…..Merry Christmas Ellen and Randy Hanson

  3. Marless Ninneman Cuperus December 25, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Hey cousin…. great pics and wonderful insights on the locations but nothing beats your dad in blonde braids…. Hope you had a great Christmas. Marless

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