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As the kids start their first day of Christmas vacation, I realize what I’m looking forward most to during this time is just spending time with them. Between two kids playing basketball, school activities and having a Jr. in High School, there are days when we only see each other briefly in the morning and again at night.

Note to the older wiser parents who warned me this would happen you were right. When they were young and under my feet and testing my patience, I wished for them to be not quite so close. When they couldn’t stop chattering and I needed just a moment of silence, now I have to find them to ask questions about how their day went and what’s happening.

I’m not the only one looking forward to a little peace, quiet and relaxation over the holidays. The kids are too. I know that they get tired of late nights, early mornings and running around.

So we’ll take advantage of our time together and make fudge, caramels and other Christmas goodies. We’ll gather around the TV and watch our favorite movies. We may even play Monopoly and let Brett beat us again for the umpteenth time. No matter, we’re together and that’s what counts.

Merry Christmas to Everyone!

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Dale had barely put his tools away from the nursery barn project when the kids descended upon him with the next project, a chicken coop. For the last few years we’ve been discussing (joking around) about getting some laying hens to free range around the yard. The challenge is we don’t have a warm spot to keep them during the winter and we also have a Boxer who most likely doesn’t like the idea of chickens roaming around her yard.

The joking turned to reality as Adam became involved in FFA and needed a SAE project. I know; lots of letters but basically he needs a self-directed educational project. Suddenly the idea of fresh eggs gathered every day by the kids was becoming a reality. Dale, ever the practical farmer, decided that the chicken coop should be large enough to house a couple of mother rabbits when they have their babies during the winter. He’s tired of sharing his shop with them and I don’t blame him.

As you can see by this picture the inside of the feeding shed has been cleaned out and a small chicken coop has been framed up. For those of you wondering what do chickens and rabbits have to do with Pork Power, well in this case it’s not the power of pork but rather the power of a parent and his kids working together. Anytime you give a group of people the opportunity to think, work and make decisions together, that’s a powerful experience. Stay tuned.

I feel the last sands of summertime slipping through my fingers. Even though the temperatures today are predicted to be 90-95, I can tell summer is winding down and it makes me a little sad. Last week we were at the State Fair. The boys did well, especially on their interviews, but the State Fair signals the close of summer.  Soon the the carefree days and unstructured schedules and lack of homework will be replaced with school schedules and nights of homework. Campfires will be less frequent and we’ll actually need them to keep warm, instead of just roasting a marshmellow.

Then again, the kids are ready to go back to school; they’ve even admitted it in public. They’ll enjoy being with their friends more reqularly. Cross Country has started and the thrill of the competition will once again be felt every week, which the boys enjoy.

I’m going to enjoy every last minute of summer that I can.

Our weekend in Duluth for Grandma’s Marathon was successful on many levels. First, as pork producers we were able to interact with people at the health fair. This allowed us to share information with them on preparing pork, especially how to avoid overcooking it. The moist juicy pork samples they tasted were a great example of how cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145° and then holding it can create product that is enjoyable to eat and packed with lean protein and vitamins. Many were surprised that we were actual farmers and running races during the weekend. Yes, you can eat pork and run.

 The second success was our actual races. Everyone turned in great times. It seems all of us felt better prepared and perhaps more at ease since this was our second year of competing. Many times we talked about the challenging weather we had to train in these last few months; rain, wind, cold, heat and if you go back far enough, blizzards. The discipline to train during the rough weather definitely helped. As I faced the wind on the back stretch of my race I thought, “This is just like running against the wind on our road. I can do this.”

 Finally the third success was the power of friends coming together and sharing their life experiences.  Saturday afternoon as we strolled along Superior St. we not only reflected on our races but what was happening with our farming operations, our kids and ourselves. It’s important to have the support of family and friends, to have someone grab our arm and help us when we waiver.

 Thank you to everyone who has helped this year’s Pork Power team be a success, not just as athletes but as people working together to promote pork, family and friends.

Last night was our end of the season track awards ceremony. The coach uses this time to recap how the season went and then spends a little time acknowledging each team member. The senior members of both the boys and girls team also have the opportunity to get up and say a few words.

USC was fortunate enough to send to athletes to the State Individual track meet. Our discus thrower placed 7th in his event and our 800 m runner placed 7th in her event. What I found interesting and heartwarming was that while these two individuals commented that being at state was a great experience, they placed greater emphasis on the support they received from team members, parents and the community. My interpretation was that while being at state was great, having the love and support of family and friends is even better.

As other kids spoke during the evening, their message was similar. The support of their coaches, teammates and parents directly contributed to their success.

These kids get it. Each one of us enjoys having the spotlight shined on us occasionally, but what gets us through the ups and downs is the love, encouragement and occasional kick in the butt, from those around us. We are better when we surround ourselves with good people.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.

          Michael Jordan

Track is an interesting sport. Most of the events, except for the relays, are judged on individual performances. Yet, at the end, it’s the collective scores of these individuals that decide which team has done the best.

All season Adam has been running the 3200 m. run. His times have improved and he’s set some pretty aggressive goals for himself. Therein lies the challenge. For the True Team meet, the one that decides which team gets to go to the state tournament, the number of entries is limited. In order to get the best team score, the coach must choose the individuals that can run the fastest, even if it means some of these guys are running multiple races like the 800 and 3200, which they don’t often do during the season.  

Despite Adam’s improvement, he’s not one of the fastest 2 guys on the team. In his heart he knows it’s best for the team if the other 2 guys to run, but he’s still crushed by the fact he couldn’t run fast enough.

As we discussed this the other night, my own heart was breaking. Adam is unselfish and he wants the team to do well. Yet you could see the disappointment in his face as he realized he wasn’t going to be the one to run that race to help the team. He had given such a great effort, yet in his mind he fell short.  As I repeatedly told him how proud I was of him, I also reminded Adam that he’s an 8th grader and that the other two guys were a Jr. and Sr. He’s done quite well and his time will come.

I know that Adam will use this as a learning experience and it will motivate him to run even better. Perhaps one day he’ll be on the other side of the fence and as a Jr. or Sr. he’ll be looking into the eyes of an 8th grader and remembering that he was once in that spot.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it”

          John Wooden

Saturday morning Beth woke up giddy and talkative. Despite the gray overcast day, she was full of excitement and the main reason was Easter and coloring Easter eggs. Our kids are old enough that you wouldn’t think it mattered that much to them anymore, but it does. Saturday afternoon, Brett, Adam and Beth took time to color Easter eggs.  There were plenty of ooh’s and ahha’s as the colorful eggs emerged from the cups. Blue seemed to be the best color this year.

It’s still a tradition to hid eggs on Sunday morning. In the past this was my job but since the kids are older, they take turns hiding the eggs for themselves.

I’m glad the kids can find joy in the simple things. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and forget to just stop and enjoy what’s happening. I also appreciate the traditions the kids want to keep.

Easter turned out to be a beautiful day. The kids spent plenty of time outside in the afternoon playing with their younger cousins, helping them find Easter eggs. The sunlight and warm weather gave us a boost of energy and the hope that spring will finally come.

I’m sure many parents can relate when I say I spent all of last weekend in the gym.  Of course I wasn’t working out.  I was sitting on the bleachers, cheering on my children in their respective sports.

On Saturday  morning Madison had to be to her basketball tournament at 7:30am.  I found a spot on the bleachers next to some other moms and spent the next four hours chatting and cheering.  You get to know the other parents really well after spending that much time with them!  I didn’t get to watch the entire basketball tournament, because I was off to my next destination.

I went home next to pick up Kendrah, who was now finished working  in the barn.  We picked up one of her friends and headed to Rochester to the National Volleyball Center.  Kendrah is on a JO volleyball team that plays volleyball January-May.  I do have to say that I prefer watching volleyball over basketball, but that’s just because I prefer playing volleyball over basketball.  We arrived home that evening around 7:00pm and I felt exhausted from sitting all day!

On Sunday morning we headed to Cannon Falls with Max for a wrestling tournament.  More bleachers, more cheering, more sitting.  The Goodhue Elementary Wrestling Team ended up taking first in the tournament and it was an exciting day for everyone.

It’s easy to spend an entire weekend sitting, but it’s important to make time for yourself and get moving.  Whether you enjoy walking, running, cycling, or skiing, it doesn’t matter as long as you move.

Winter has not even officially started, yet we’ve had enough snow to make most people ready for it to be over. Cold temperatures and icy winds have added to the mix and we’re already talking about what it takes to be a “hardy Minnesotan”.

What should we do? Well, when you’re 13 year old son asks you to come outside and have a snowball fight, you put on your winter gear and get involved. The snowball fight turned into a “King of the Hill” contest that pitted Adam and Brett against Beth and I. Thanks to the huge snow piles that Dale made from all the snow so far, we had an awesome hill to claim.

Fortunately the boys have enough respect for Beth and I that they don’t use all their strength. I use my “experience” (isn’t that what we say when we get older and less agile?) to try to outsmart them. We try to stop the game before someone gets hurt, which isn’t always easy since Beth always seems to catch a flying boot or knee.

Not everyone has a nice yard or big snow pile to play on. But as the saying goes, life is what you make it. Winter looks like it’s here to stay for a while and we can either try to find some enjoyment out of it or be unhappy. Snowball fight anyone?

Everyone has their own way to signify the start of the Christmas season. For some it’s shopping on Black Friday, for others, making cookies and treats. For me, it’s making Chex Party Mix. Growing up, we only had Chex party mix at Christmas time, so now, I’ve continued the tradition.

Today Beth and I made 5 batches of party mix. We’ll be lucky if it lasts until Christmas. Some people have a sweet tooth, my family and I have a “party mix” tooth. I can walk by the candies, cookies and fudge but show me a bowl of party mix and I’m all over it.

I make my party mix the old fashioned way, which mean I bake it in a 250º oven for one hour, making sure to stir it every 15 minutes. So that means setting the timer and keeping track with hash marks so I know how long it’s been making. I know all this probably sounds odd, but I just can’t risk the taste not being the same by microwaving the Chex cereal.

Chex Cereal-$2/box; Peanuts- $2.89/jar, Pretzels- $2.50/bag. Expression on the kids face as they take their first bite of party mix…. Priceless.

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