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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

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.

It’s seems timely that the first snowfall of the season falls on the start of basketball season. Today Beth’s 5th grade girls’ basketball team had their first practice. As the coach, I told the girls I had two goals for them this season, which really are the same as last season; to have fun and to learn and improve.  

For those of you that have followed this blog, you know that Power Power has not only dealt with what we do, how we eat and how we train. It’s also dealt with what we think and how will feel. For these girls it’s just as important to have a positive self-image about themselves and confidence in what they do, as it is to make a basket. I also like to stress teamwork and supporting and encouraging each other through the games.

I enjoy coaching and have been fortunate to coach a number of the kid’s teams in a variety of sports. It’s not just the winning, although I am competitive. I enjoy watching a group of kids work together to accomplish common goals. I love to see the “Ah Ha” moment on their faces when the things I have been telling them finally make sense and they actually do them.

So stay tuned, basketball season has started and we’re in for a fun time.

Last Thursday the boys had their final cross country meet, which was Sectionals at Blue Earth. Only one USC runner, a member of the Girl’s team, will be advancing to State. All our runners did well, but the Waseca and Fairmont teams are pretty tough competition.

Brett and Adam did well this year, both showing great improvement in their running times and meet experience. Running, like most sports, is exhausting both mentally and physically. You can see on both of them that while physically they are in good shape, mentally they’re ready for a break.

Saturday night the boy’s team was over at our house for an end of the season party. What continually impresses me about the cross country team is how well all the age groups interact. I participated in sports in high school and I’ve seen how rivalry can develop between grades but in the case of our team, everyone, not matter what grade, seems to genuinely support each other.

So we move on to another season. Brett will be doing some winter running to stay in shape for spring track. Adam will be playing basketball. In a couple of weeks I’ll be coaching Beth’s basketball team. The fields are turning black and the weather is cooling off. Snow can’t be far behind. The end of one season leads to the start of another.

That was the comment Dale made after Adam rounded the corner, passed the number one runner and headed towards the finish line of his Jr. High Cross Country race. He could see the determination and desire that Adam had to win this race. Standing closer to the finish line, I saw it too; Adam wasn’t going to let this one get away from him.

Cross Country season is underway and it’s been fun to cheer on the runners, no matter what their age or which race they are running. I’ve enjoyed watching the expressions on the faces of the runners, especially as they near the finish line. Last week in Montgomery, the kids had to go up a hill and then run about 60 yards to the finish line. I watched many of the runners’ faces as they went up that hill. A number of kids looked strong and determined. A few looked uncertain and there were some that looked tired. Our team has been doing more training on hills and when I watched them, I thought they looked confident that this hill was something they could run.

Dale and I both noticed how one of our 8th grade girls is running with a more confident look on her face. Last year, she ran like she wasn’t certain she could make it. But this year, even running at varsity level and a longer distance, she has the look of “I can do this”. It’s great to watch kids progress not just physically, but mentally.

Communication is both the words we say and our facial and body expressions. Running is a tough sport and when you’re using your arms and legs that leaves mainly your face to communicate how you’re feeling.  I love seeing that look in the eyes of a runner who’s determined and confident. No matter how they place, I know they’re giving it their best.

“The apples are ready”, Dale calmly proclaimed to me the other day. Every fall we make our own applesauce, but this year, the apples are about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. “Really?” was my reply as I went through the checklist in my mind of all the things I needed to get done over Labor Day weekend. Let’s see, Cross Country Ride and Tie and Potluck, laundry, cleaning, another trip to the State Fair for Brett and Adam’s presentations and project judging, a bike ride and more cleaning. Yikes, no obvious open time slot for making applesauce.

But on the farm, when the produce is ready, you make time for it. It’s probably the hunter/gatherer in us that drives us to fill our pantries and freezers before winter arrives. Our inner voice also says we need to take care of them all, no matter how much we already have. Even if our freezers and cellars are full, we try to make room for more. This summer the tomatoes came right during State Fair and even though I did my best to make soup, sauce and stewed tomatoes, I just couldn’t get them all. As I walked through the tomatoes, spotting the ones that were pass their prime, I felt bad I couldn’t get to them all. Let’s see, if I would have pulled an all-nighter, I could have made sauce and used some of these tomatoes…..

After finishing some morning bookwork, my sights were set on the apples, with my trusty helper Beth at my side. We began peeling the apples. Fortunately, I have the best Mother-in- Law in the world (Thanks Celie!) She came out and helped peel for about 1 ½ hours which really saved time. My taste tester Beth helps determine how much sugar to add. We also needed to be careful not to have the heat too high and scorch the bottom of the pot. We want nice colored applesauce, not jars with brown flecks in them. (Sounds like something a judge would say).

Three hours and three pots of cooked apples later; we’ve processed 14 quarts of applesauce, which will last us almost a year. I’ll make more applesauce later to freeze and I’ll also slice some apples and freeze them for pies and crisps for later this winter.  

So the apples called and I responded. When I put the jars in my fruit cellar and see them lined up with my peaches and tomatoes, a faint smile will come over my face. Yes, it’s hard to explain the call of the fruits and vegetables, but well-stocked stocked shelves tell me the hunter/gatherer in me did alright.

 Our family vacation this summer was to Washington D.C. We haven’t taken a big trip for a few years, so we were pretty excited. Fortunately the trip lived up to all our expectations. The kids really enjoy history, especially American history, so it was rewarding to see the excitement on their faces when they were actually able to see many of the sights they’ve read about.

 We stayed in a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the White House, so we walked just about everywhere. On our first day as we walked to the Capitol for a tour, Brett turned to me and said, “Now I know why they call it Capitol Hill.”. Yes, you do walk up a hill to get there. As we toured the Library of Congress, Adam was impressed by the fact he was looking at books that actually belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

 The kids will probably say that the monuments were their favorite and they truly are awe inspiring. We saw them during the day and at night. I think nighttime is my favorite. The lights shining around and through the memorials make them even more impressive and add a certain serenity to them. It seemed like no matter where we went, you could see the Washington Monument, which is fitting for our first president and the city named after him.

 One of the highlights had to be viewing the original Declaration of Independence. That really made history come to life for the kids. For those of you that have seen the movie National Treasure, you know the Declaration of Independence has a role. The kids commented on how the actual room where the Declaration of Independence is kept is not as well lit as in the movie. Ah movie magic.

 I feel fortunate that we were able to take this vacation. Our kids grew in their knowledge of our country and its historical roots. They had experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Vacations are important not only for what we learn, but for the time we’re able to spend with each other as family. As I turn the page on the calendar, there is only one month of summer vacation left. But what a great summer it’s been.