December 10, 2017

Christmas Break 2017

Christmas Break 2017
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for December 10, 2017

Luke was close to finishing his first semester at college this week when he and some of the students from his floor at Minnesota State Mankato decided to make a road trip to Mystic Lake Casino.  Since that is 5 minutes from our house, they decided to stop by and say Hi.  Blue was pretty excited to see them.

We had a much better turn-out at this month's Prior Lake Empty Nester Club meeting.  We switched it up a bit and went to Bowlero in Lakeville for some drinks, appetizers, and competitive bowling.  Just kidding about that competitive part, but there was bowling.

I love bowling with people.  There's something special about having conversations, laughing, and telling stories together all while wearing shoes that have been worn by 100 people before me.  It just makes me feel kind of warm inside.  

We had our first decent snowstorm this week and a bunch of cold weather came with it.  The lake seemed to be pretty frozen, but Miss Sheri wouldn't let us go out to test how thick it was.  She can be pretty mean like that.

Luke finished his finals and came home on Friday.  He's now free from school for a month and gets to do incredible things like go to the dog park with us.  It's pure excitement. 

On Sunday, Luke and I went to play in a poker tournament with one of my friends from Oracle, Aaron, as well as a few of his friends over in Stillwater.  As would be expected,  Luke did better in the tournament than I did.  

The host of the tournament had two big Great Danes that were really nice.  And really huge.  I had a buddy in high school with a dog that looked just like this, but he could be mean sometimes.  It was pretty scary.  It's almost like having a vicious horse coming after you.

December 3, 2017

2017 Christmas By The Lake in Clear Lake, Iowa

2017 Christmas By The Lake in Clear Lake, Iowa
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for December 3, 2017

On Saturday, Miss Sheri and I drove down to Clear Lake, Iowa.  On our way into town, Miss Sheri suddenly had inspiration to go and visit the memorial for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper who died in a plane crash in this cornfield outside of Clear Lake back in 1959.  Holly's famous glasses mark the spot on the side of road where you walk in to see the memorial.

The memorial is relatively new and this was the first time we'd seen it in person.  When I was in high school, me and some other crazy kids came out to this field with a Ouija Board and had kind of a freaky experience.  We asked who we were talking to and it spelled B-O-P and my friend who wasn't using the board said The Big Bopper.  Now I had never heard of the Big Bopper up to that point, so I know it wasn't me who spelled it.  I don't remember what happened after that, but we probably got spooked and left.

After arriving, we stopped by and picked up my old buddy, Krazy Kory.  We were looking forward to spending the day together.

We walked across the street to the lake.  It's been unseasonably warm so it wasn't frozen yet, but there wasn't much activity happening out there either.

We stopped by a local elementary school's nature center to see some swans and ugly ducklings.  

Eventually we made it to downtown Clear Lake for their annual festival called "Christmas by the Lake."  It was great to see several old friends while we were down there.

The action really started after sunset and the lake was looking especially beautiful while we waited for that to happen.

There was a nice Christmas parade where all the floats and vehicles were decorated in Christmas lights.  It really put me in the Holiday Spirit!

Eventually, we tracked down Krazy Kory's dad, Mean Gene Madson, who was one of the main people responsible for this festival being created many years ago.  

Gene recruited us to help with crowd control for the fireworks display which allowed us to have a front row seat.  They do a phenomenal job with fireworks in Clear Lake complete with a few barrel bombs that got exploded during the show.  Quite impressive!

After the  fireworks, we went to celebrate the birthday of our old pal, Jason Bradshaw.  He and Jeff were especially festive for the party!

We had a great time seeing old friends like the Wagler Family.  

We stayed there for the rest of the night and had quite a bit of fun.

Happy Birthday, Jason!

November 26, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 26, 2017

We were so excited for the boys to come home for Thanksgiving!!  Apparently so were their friends as they ended up having a bunch of people over for a party on Thanksgiving Eve.  This photo was taken at about 2 in the morning after I woke up and decided to walk downstairs to check on how things were going.  I used to be able to stay up this late for fun, but not so much any more.

Grandma Linda and her friend, Mike, came over for Thanksgiving dinner and to watch the Minnesota Vikings game with us.  It was nice to have the chance to spend the afternoon with them.

Miss Sheri made a turkey and Grandma Linda brought sweet potatoes.  The boys and I brought our appetites and we had a very pleasant Thanksgiving celebration!

On Friday night, the boys asked if we could go to their favorite restaurant, Benihana.  I was happy to oblige.

I didn't remember Benihana being such a violent place, but apparently you're encouraged to carry a sword while you protect your lady friend.  I didn't have a sword, but I held my keys in my hands very tightly in case I needed to fend off an attacker.  

Here comes the choo choo train!

On Saturday,  we took Avery back to college to attend the last football game of the season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  They had a chance for a bowl game if they would have beaten their opponent, the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers.  We didn't have much faith it was going to happen.

The Gophers record before the game was 5 and 6 before, but they only had 2 wins in the Big 10.  Wisconsin was 11 and 0 and was ranked the number 5 team in the country.  The odds were pretty stacked against us.

We tried to make loud noises as the sign instructed, but it didn't seem to help much as the home town team was spanked by a score of 31-0.  It was fun making the loud noises, though.

The worst part about going to a game between Wisconsin and Minnesota is the plethora of fans in attendance rooting on the other team.  This lady sitting next to Miss Sheri was very nice, but she just kept cheering at all the wrong times.  It was kind of annoying.

As a matter of fact, as I looked around the stadium I noticed there was an awful lot of red attire in the stands.  I think there were just as many Wisconsin fans there as there were Minnesota fans.  The same dang things happens at the Vikings and Packers games.  So much for the home team advantage!

I also realized I need to stop wearing my favorite winter coat to the games.  It's red colors matched the Badgers fans just like it matched the Nebraska fans a couple of weeks ago.  It caused me some pain when I went in the bathroom and wasn't thinking about the fact that my coat was all the way zipped up. Some drunken Minnesota fan was walking by me when he suddenly looked at me and yelled "Cheaters" right in my face.  By the time I unzipped my coat to show my Minnesota sweatshirt underneath, he was already gone.  It kind of hurt my feelings.

Thanksgiving is over and now Christmas is in the air.  I went outside and took this picture of our house last night.  I especially like this photo as I noticed two things in it afterwards.  First, the moon looks like some kind of a special star as it shines through the trees in my backyard.  Second, my dog Blue is staring at me through the front window probably thinking "How come you didn't take me outside with you?

November 19, 2017

Richard Petty Driving Experience at Texas Motor Speedway

Richard Petty Driving Experience at Texas Motor Speedway
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 19, 2017

Miss Sheri and I got a sneak preview of Wonder Tuesday night. Loved it. Best portrayal of being part of a special needs family I've ever seen. And it does a beautiful job of portraying the challenges of being a special needs kid. l will admit, I cried several times and laughed quite a bit also. It had a really good message. After the movie was over, I leaned over and told Sheri that she is very lucky to have someone like me in her life.

It was back to the airport on Thursday as I was flying down to Dallas, Texas for a couple of nights.

I was going to Dallas to visit some of my customers for my job at Oracle.  We were sponsoring an event with the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

My co-worker, John Eder, and I work together on several mid-market accounts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  John is the field rep while I primarily work with the accounts remotely from Minneapolis.  John invited me down to help with this event and have the opportunity to meet some of our customers in person.

He was also kind enough to invite me to spend the night at his house and meet his family.  I had the opportunity to meet his wife, daughter, parents, and his wife's aunt & uncle.  They were all wonderful people and I found them to be so considerate for accommodating me like they did.  It was a very pleasant evening.

On Friday, we went to the Texas Motor Speedway.   We had about 25  customers and partners in attendance.   The plan was to have lunch then do our customer presentations, and finish with the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

John asked me if I'd like to do the presentation with him and I was happy to help.  We spent about a half hour talking to the audience about our Oracle cloud solutions for SAAS applications in areas like ERP, EPM, supply chain, & logistics.

The audience seemed pretty riveted with what we had to say if I do say so myself.

John and I were partnered up with three of our customers from Farmer Brothers Coffee.  We had just done some business together back in September, so it was really nice to get to meet these guys in person.  Especially while participating in such a thrilling experience.

This was our driver Jim.  He told us about his many years of experience driving race-cars and that today we'd be exceeding speeds of 160mph.  Sounded good to me.

We divided into 5 teams and we all got to ride for 6 laps while "Racing" against 4 other teams including pit stops where we each had to perform various activities like refueling and waving the sign at the driver so he knew where to stop.  

The most challenging part of the experience was swapping riders and making sure that people could get in and out of the car quickly while also being sure to have everything strapped and buckled properly.  Much more difficult than it sounds.

If you are claustrophobic, you might not enjoy this.  The helmet is incredibly snug and you can't hear much while wearing it.  You also have to wear some kind of shoulder pads that attaches to the helmet.  Then when you get in the car, you have about 5 different straps to hold you in the car in various ways.  It makes you feel safe and secure, but it's not very easy to turn your head or anything to look around while you are riding.

The ride itself was amazing.  I was the first to go in our group and we did 3 or 4 laps with the pace car before they dropped the hammer and started going really, really fast.  I was pretty amazed by the pressure of the G Forces pulling at me as we zipped around the curves at 160mph+.  I got to do that for 6 laps and we passed a couple of other cars while I was in there.

On the first lap where we started going fast, I noticed my driver was trying to pass one of the other cars on the inside and suddenly the car we were trying to pass, accelerated and cut us off pretty hard.  I wondered if we had a close call and asked my driver about it after we were all done.  He told me "Yeah, that was a pretty sharp cut.  I didn't mean for that to happen and I was a little nervous we were going to wind up in the infield."  I'm glad I didn't know that while I was riding with him because I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed the rest of the 6 laps like I did had I known that.

Here's a short video that shows what it was like when taking off in the vehicle...

Both of my sisters live in Dallas.  So when my work obligations were complete, I was able to go spend the evening with my sister, Tracy, and her husband, Dave.  We went out to eat in Grapevine, Texas and set ourselves up for a night of fun.

We dropped in for a quick little visit to the concert of Zuriel Merek.  He is an electronic violinist and was playing a concert at the Palace Theater.  It was some pretty surreal music.

You can get a taste of how the music sounded here.

We stopped at several other establishments on the streets of Grapevine.  It was fun seeing all the stores and locations decorated for Christmas.  It got me in the Holiday Spirit!

On Saturday, we connected with my other sister, Tammy, her husband, David, and three of my nieces.  It was great to have a chance to see all of them!

It was Tammy's birthday recently and she was just dying to show me the new hat she bought to celebrate the occasion.  I thought it was a bit much, but I guess that's how they do things in Texas.

We had a few hours left before I had to go back to the airport, so we went to Six Flags holiday in the park for some fun.

The place was packed so we only got to go on one ride after waiting in line for an hour.  But the ride was well worth it!

I was hoping to get a ride back to the airport with Dave & Tracy, but they came across this mistletoe and started making out.  I couldn't catch their attention and after a half hour, I thought it would be a good idea to just grab an Uber.  It was a fun couple of nights in Texas, though!