November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016 at the Farm in Iowa

Thanksgiving 2016 at the Farm in Iowa
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 27, 2016

On Wednesday night, we hopped in the car and drove to Iowa to visit Miss Sheri's family for Thanksgiving.  There was a rumored blizzard that was going to cause us possible problems, but the snow we received was relatively minor.

We love spending time with Grandmas Leona.  Lots of puzzles get completed when we are together.

Grandma lives on a farm in northwest Iowa and there's not much around at all.  It's always a time of peace and solitude for me.  Mainly because Grandma doesn't have internet access, cable TV, or satellite.  So I usually get a lot of reading done on these trips.

Blue and Sunny love going to the farm.  They can run as far as they want in any direction!

The only problem is that I have to keep a constant eye on them as they are always finding something interesting to put in their mouths and eat.  Lucky for Sunny and for me, it was only snow this time.

We like walking down the gravel roads also because there's seldom any traffic.  We occasionally have to dodge pickup trucks and tractors, but these guys are ready for that challenge.

Sometimes when I'm walking around the farm, I find myself really questioning my manhood.

Other times I just stare at the fields and wonder exactly what might be crawling around in that deep grass out there.

I try to drag the boys outside with me.  It's usually pretty easy since they don't have internet access either.

We tried taking pictures of Uncle Jerry's cows, but they had no interest in standing around and posing.

Sunny remembers a day when he wasn't allowed out of the back room when we visited Grandma's house.  Now the new puppy gets to sit on the couch and pose for pictures.  Things are so much easier for kids these days!

Thanksgiving dinner was awesome as usual and we had a wonderful time each night playing games and reminiscing with Grandma Leona, Uncle Jerry, Aunt Laura, and cousins Karli and Joey.  We don't get to see them all enough, but always have fun when we are together.

We also had the opportunity to connect with my step-sister, Martha Williams.  She lives in nearby Canton, South Dakota.  We went out and had burgers at Paul's Place and caught up on old times.  It was nice seeing Martha again!

November 20, 2016

Prior Lake Robotics 2016 Minne Mini Tournament

Prior Lake Robotics 2016 Minne Mini Tournament
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 20, 2016

On Wednesday night, we had the opportunity to see a sneak peek of the movie, Edge of 17.  I thought it was great.  It stars Hailee Steinfeld in a coming of age tale.  It really moved me and allowed me to get back in touch with the 17 year old girl that lives inside of me.  So that was nice.

I came home from work on Thursday night to find Miss Sheri high up on the roof hanging Christmas lights.  There was supposed to be a blizzard coming on Friday so she wanted to get it done before it got too slick up there.

This weekend brought us the 2016 Minne Mini Tournament for Prior Lake Robotics.  The event gets about 2000 visitors to come watch some exciting robot on robot action.

The tournament has 36 teams from around the state of Minnesota come to Prior Lake High School to compete in last year's First Robotics Challenge.  It's a nice way for the younger kids to get experience in participating in an actual tournament to help them prepare for the 2017 game which will be announced in early January.

Our high school team is KING TeC #2169 and they have had a very successful run over the years at competing in various tournaments.  These matches are a lot of fun to watch.

Avery is head of programming this year so it's his responsibility to make sure the robot responds to the commands given by the drive team.  It's usually pretty stressful getting the robot ready on the night before a tournament.

Avery also taught a couple of classes in Java programming  to students from the other teams before the tournament began.  He's taught these classes before, but it was my first opportunity to be a  student in one of them which I really enjoyed.  The content was all way over my head, but Avery certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.  I guess I'll probably never know for sure.

At the same time as the high school FRC tournament was happening, we also hosted a tournament for the First Lego League elementary school teams.

Luke is the captain of the Jr. FLL team which mainly consists of him recruiting and managing various volunteers from the high school team to help mentor the younger kids.  He and Avery spent most of their day acting as judges for the FLL tournament.

Prior Lake Robotics currently supports more than 350 kids in 5 different robotics programs stretching from kindergarten through the 12th grade.   It's an incredible program.

The best part of the tournament for us is that we get to hang out with a lot of really cool parents!

It takes a lot of volunteer hours to put together a tournament like this and these ladies put in a ton of effort to make it a success.

It ends up being a pretty long weekend, but it's good that we get to do it with a bunch of fun people.

We're pretty lucky to be in a school district that supports robotics as much as ours does.  This is the principal of one of our local elementary schools, the principal of the high school, our head coach, Mike Lins, the superintendent of schools, and a school board member who all came to the tournament to show their support.  We sure appreciate all that they do for us.

We also had Tony Albright stop by who is a recently re-elected member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and a friend of Prior Lake Robotics.  Thanks, Tony!

After the tournament, we went to our friends the Zitzewitzes for a Beer Tasting party.  We tried all sorts of interesting flavors.

This was one of my favorite beers.  I discovered that I'm pretty much an IPA guy and not too big of a fan of the stouts and porters.  I also learned that some of the IPAs are just like bunny rabbits on cocaine.  Pretty Hoppy.

November 13, 2016

An Orlando Tour of Prior Lake, Minnesota

An Orlando Tour of Prior Lake, Minnesota
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 13, 2016

On Thursday night I stopped by to see Meatsauce, Mike Morris, and Greg Coleman talk Minnesota Vikings at Mystic Lake Casino.  Our Vikings have been having a tough few weeks, but I'm hoping they figure things out and get the season turned around soon.

Friday morning brought us to see the new movie, Arrival, with Amy Adams.  It was an interesting take on aliens being smart enough to figure out how to travel to earth, but not being smart enough to have a plan for how to communicate with us.  So Amy Adams comes to the rescue with her translation skills and a message about why being nice to the aliens is better than being mean to them.

It's been an unseasonably warm November in Minnesota, so Miss Sheri and I took the dogs down to the lake to go swimming.

We don't do this nearly as much as we used to because our young pup, Blue, has not been very kind to our 11 year old retriever, Sunny, when they play this game.  For the longest time, Blue thought the game was for us to throw the ball in the water, Sunny would then retrieve it, and Blue would attack Sunny in every way possible as he tried to get out of the water.  Poor Sunny.

But they're actually getting better at playing this game together.  We have to time things right so each of them gets a ball thrown to them so they can get it instead of the other dog.  Then convincing them to bring the balls back to us rather than leaving them out in the water is another challenge we have.  But all in all, they're doing pretty good.

My buddy, Orlando Mazzolini, stopped by for a Saturday afternoon roadtrip.  Before we left, he asked to see the progress on the porch that Miss Sheri has been re-building.  She's come quite a long ways so far, although she still has some things that need to be completed.

Orlando has lived in Prior Lake longer than I have, so I asked him to take me to some places I've never been to before.  We started out at Cedar Lake Park which isn't all that far from my house, but for some reason I've never been there before.  Orlando tried to tell me he'd actually never been here before either, but I'm not sure if I believe him.

It's actually a beautiful park and lake out in the middle of some cornfields.  We talked about that being one of the nice things about living in Minnesota among it's 10,000 lakes.  There's so many dang parks like this that are around us, you can always find a new one to explore.

I thought it was pretty funny to see this sign before going on the dock to check out these two kids fishing.  They didn't seem to be too worried about breaking the rules, though, because I walked back and forth on the dock and they just kept right on going.

We had to leave after Orlando started getting klutzy and fell backwards down some stairs.

Orlando then took me to a couple of local bars I hadn't been to before.  They were both also in the middle of cornfields in the middle of nowhere.  This was St. Patrick's Tavern and they had really good burgers.  I had the St. Patrick burger which included Canadian bacon on it.  It was pretty darned good.

We then stopped by a little bar called Daugherty's which looking at it from the outside was pretty unassuming, so I figured there wouldn't be anyone inside.  It was actually quite hopping.

Coincidentally enough, one of our co-workers from Oracle, April, happened to be there which was a pleasant surprise.  I guess you just never know who you're going to meet when you go on an Orlando Tour of Prior Lake!

November 6, 2016

Prior Lake Band Concert - November 1, 2016

Prior Lake Band Concert - November 1, 2016
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 6, 2016

Our week started at Prior Lake High School to see our son, Luke, perform percussion in the band concert.  

Luke played a variety of instruments during the concert.  Mostly stuff he could hit with sticks.  Here's some clips:

Grandma Linda joined us at the concert.  She has a new friend so we don't get to see her much any more.   So we always try to come up with reasons like these so she has an excuse to visit us.  

On Friday night, we decided to be really crazy and went to the local Costco to start a new membership.  Lynette was really friendly and talked us into an executive membership.  She basically said we'd be stupid if we didn't go this route and I sure don't want anyone to think I'm stupid, so I stepped in there.  Now I feel like a real executive.

If I would have known I could have experiences like this, I would have joined Costco years ago.  I couldn't believe they actually let me ride this guy for free!

After we went shopping, we went to one of our favorite Sea Food restaurants, Red Lobster.  I wanted to throw my new "Executive Status" around a bit and see what kind of leverage it would give me.  I told all the people who worked that I was now an executive and I think it helped a lot.  They even gave us free biscuits which was a nice little perk.

On Saturday, Luke and Avery helped run an FLL robotics tournament.  FLL stands for First Lego League and it's geared for elementary school kids.

The game consists of running the Lego robot through a variety of challenges and the high scoring team wins. 

Luke and Avery helped judge the tournament.  I try to tell them to not be judgmental, but I guess in this case it was OK.

Lisa Maldonado runs the FLL and Jr FLL robotics program and has been a magnificent mentor for the boys.  She helped them be mentors for the younger kids in the robotics program and also helped them come up with their Eagle Projects for Boy Scouts.  We certainly appreciate all that Lisa has done for our boys!

The kids really enjoy helping the younger kids with their robotics program.  It feels like just a short time ago where we were the young ones and looking up to the older students.  How time flies!