When National Parks Become Monopoly Properties

Before our kids could read, they could play Monopoly. Recognizing the properties by their colors and learning to count the money, they loved to play, especially my oldest, quickly learning to bargain with other players and create his own monopolies.

We never played the Monopoly Junior version. Instead, we played National Parks Monopoly, where Yosemite replaces Park Place and Yellowstone takes over the Boardwalk.

With my canoe, bear, tent, or ranger hat token, I traveled around the board, from national park to trail to national monument, paying $75 to eat dinner at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Lodge or becoming park ranger of the year. Although equivalent to the least expensive dark purple properties, I couldn’t resist buying Mount Rushmore, but I always hoped to be the first to land on the magenta properties of Hawaii Volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier Bay.


Playing National Parks Monopoly is always an adventure. Once I stepped on a cactus at Saguaro National Park. Another time I got caught looting an archaeological dig and had to go to jail. But when I discovered fossils at Agate Fossil Beds, I got out of jail free.

So when our family was planning a drive from Colorado to South Dakota, we were excited to find Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, one of the red properties on our Monopoly game, located in the northwest corner of Nebraska. With only a slight detour, we spent a morning exploring the park.

Agate Fossil Beds

When we returned from our trip, we played the game with a renewed interest.

Playing  Monopoloy

Over the years, I’ve visited only 12 of the 27 properties on our Monopoly game board, but the places I haven’t been still intrigue me: the Everglades, Isle Royale, Mesa Verde, the Limberlost Trail. Which park, or which property, should I explore next?

Trip to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument taken in 2005.

Single in New York in 1954

When you want to be an actress, living in New York City is a dream, especially for a girl from the midwest. For Marialyce Tyler, moving from South Dakota to the Big City in 1954 was exciting. With a couple of college friends, she lived in two different apartments on the Upper West Side of New York, right near Central Park, on West 74th Street and West 68th Street.

West 74th Street

Rusty described the apartment on West 74th Street as the old Borden Mansion. According to Rusty, they lived in what was the old library.

We were on the first floor, a 14-foot ceilinged room with a huge marble fireplace, tall windows draped in dark red velvet and then beyond a huge room that had three twin-sized beds, a very large and long dark mahogany dining table, chairs, etc., a small one-person-at-a-time kitchen, and beyond that a bathroom that had been made out of a closet.

From The Tucker – Tyler Adventure, written by Katherine Tucker and Marialyce Tyler and edited by Nancy Cowan and Tara Taft.

Writing a Travel Memoir

I knew my mother had written letters home from her trip to Europe in 1954, but I had never seen them. In fact, I had no idea they still existed. Until one day in 2007.

With plans to rent a slide projector so that we could look at Mom’s slides of her trip, I asked her what it was like to be on the Queen Mary. I was looking for the details, and she referred me to her letters. Letters?! What letters? Much to my surprise, my mother’s letters were in a box in the next room waiting to be read. All 69 of them.

I began reading them out loud. Written on airmail stationery, in black or green ink (Mom’s favorite color), the letters were written to my grandmother back home in South Dakota. I stumbled over the words, squinting at her writing, and promised to type up the letters so that she could read them on her own.

TTA Letters

As I typed up the letters a month later, I was captivated. The letters were full of life and personality and included details of the people she met, the food she ate, the places she visited, and the unplanned events that just happened.

The following spring, I showed the letters to Mom and her friend, Kit. In 1954, Kit and Mom (or Rusty as Kit called her) traveled for 3 months together, from New York to Europe, calling their trip, “The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure.”

As I watched the two women in their 70s giggle at their memories, I began taking notes. I learned that Kit’s families had saved her letters as well, but it wasn’t until 2010, that I approached Kit’s daughter with the idea to put the letters of their trip into a book.

The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure, written by Katherine Tucker and Marialyce Tyler, with their daughters, Nancy Cowan and Tara Taft, will be published soon. For the next several weeks, I will include a few background details about their trip, extras that weren’t included in the actual book, and I’ll let you know when the book is available.

It’s 1954. Pack your suitcase and get ready to travel to Europe with Kit and Rusty aboard The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure!

The Lost Art of Travel Letter Writing

When I traveled for 3 months in Australia, I felt a little guilty. Not about the trip. I was happy to be there. I was in between jobs and paying my own way. I was in my 20s and without any responsibilities. But I knew I should be writing letters home. Descriptive and detailed letters like my mother had written to her mother when she traveled to Europe in 1954.

But it took so much time, and I just didn’t have the patience. It was all I could do to keep a journal and write a postcard now and then, and that was in the days before email and texting.

When my mother traveled throughout Europe in 1954, she wrote 35 letters home in just 3 months. Plus postcards.


Her writing was so detailed and descriptive that her hometown newspaper published excerpts of her letters (after her mother edited them, of course).

Fort Pierre Times

I still keep a written journal when I travel, though I usually start out strong and by the end of the trip, I’ve slowed down or even stopped; the details of the last few days left only to memory.



Though I blog about my travels, and document the details with photographs, letter writing is a more intimate mode of expression. There’s a difference in the process as well as the outcome when typing and using a mouse to record travels vs. the hand to pen to paper approach.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to share your travels? Or even kept a journal?


An Insight into Lesotho

Visiting a place and getting to know its people makes the world smaller and increases our sense of community, even when that place may be far away. Or at least it does for me. My family visited the tiny country of Lesotho (pronounced li-soo-too) just three years ago.

Highway in Lesotho

So last week, when I heard of Lesotho’s attempted military coup, I could picture the people and the place, a country where over 90 percent of the women are literate, according to UNESCO, but half the population lives below the national poverty line, and 40 percent of the people suffer from malnutrition.

Village People

Lesotho housing

For more photos and travel stories of our trip to Lesotho, check out these blog posts:

Adventures in LesothoSleeping in LesothoEating in LesothoOrphans in LesothoVisiting Our Sponsored Child in Lesotho, and Washing Clothes by the River.

Trip taken August 2011.

Rockets in Huntsville

Drive down Highway 565 through Huntsville, Alabama, and you’ll get a clue as to why so many PhDs reside in its city. An illuminated rocket stands tall against the sky, and through glass, you can see the Saturn V Rocket.

Illuminated Rocket

Home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Redstone Arsenal, the sprawling city of Huntsville is located in northern Alabama, just a 2-hour drive from both Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s the home of Space Camp, and the home of Earth’s communication with astronauts doing research on the International Space Station (ISS).

Residents may drive by it every day, but to tourists like us, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a big draw. On past trips, we’ve spent hours reading displays, watching an Omni film, and taking photos outside next to some of the rockets. This trip, instead of entering the main museum, we took a bus tour ($12 in addition to the price of museum admission) of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at the Redstone Arsenal.

ISS Sign

After showing our identification, we boarded the bus for the Redstone Arsenal, a short drive from the museum.

Tour Bus

During our 2 1/2 hour tour, we saw and visited the test launch sites of the first rockets.

Historic Sign

Redstone Test Site

Through glass windows, we watched employees of the Huntsville Operations Support Center (aka Payload Operations Instruction Center) and learned that they are NASA’s primary science command post with the ISS.

Payload Operations

We learned more about the astronauts and their habits in space.

ISS Model 1

After the tour, we stopped at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration and checked out a real Saturn V Rocket.


If you go, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time. It would be easy to spend a full day at the museum, including the displays, a tour, the rides, and a movie.

Trip taken December 2013.

Reveling in Cambridge

I traveled to Spain the other night. To a place called Galicia. I traveled down an ancient road, the Camino de Compostela, with the singers and dancers and actors of the Christmas Revels at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. It was my first experience with the Revels – watching and then participating, singing along with the cast and the audience, holding hands with the people next to me, and watching other audience members dance around the theater at intermission. It was fun and joyous. I will go again.


Trip taken December 2013.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon. The space or line where the sky meets the earth. 

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

According to Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Perhaps that’s why I love to travel. To see beyond my own boundaries, to meet new people and encounter new places, to experience life from a different angle.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree

According to the dictionary, to be carefree means being free from anxiety or responsibility. Perhaps that’s why, when I think of my most carefree moments, I am on my own, exploring or trying something new: I’m kayaking in the ocean or scrambling up a mountain; I’m walking on the beach or meandering through a farmer’s market; I’m making chocolate chip cookies or staring at the ocean.


When are you most carefree?

Hurry and Slow Down

Have you noticed? Everyone is always in a hurry and on the go; impatience rules and tempers are quick to rise. People honk at me if I drive the speed limit, in spite of the several cars in front of me. Where do they expect me to go?


A truck swerves into the oncoming lane to pass not just me but the car in front in order to make a left turn. Pedestrians yell at me when I don’t stop while they attempt to jaywalk across a busy street.

In this time of Google – when information is at the tip of our fingers, when technology keeps getting better, satisfaction is lean. There’s always something better. We rarely have to wait anymore … for anything. So when we do, we tap our fingers at best, road rage at worst. Yet amidst all this anxious hurriedness appear random acts of kindness, the term now so trite, the acts seem no longer quite as random.

I discovered one random act at the local library last week. Someone sent a box of colorful bookmarks, handmade with ribbons, quotes, and pictures of flowers.

Basket of handmade bookmarks with note.

The librarians displayed the bookmarks in a basket on the front desk, encouraging patrons to take one or several. I did and shared the story as I handed a few to friends. The act made me smile and reminded me to slow down.


Trip taken May 2013.