31. July 2009 · 4 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

1.) Stand in the CENTER of the step.
2.) Stand STILL!

28. July 2009 · Comments Off on "We Hold the World Ransom For….FOUR…BILLION…STUDS…." · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

We have a Nintendo Wii. Some of you know that already…Dave got it as a graduation gift last summer when he finished his PhD. But of course the kids have all-but-taken-over it with some of their games.

From 2008 06 13 DavePhDDefenseWii

As a family we have a great time playing games on the Wii. We have a modest selection of games, most of which are family-friendly…the grownups can have just as much fun with Boom Blox as with Rayman’s Raving Rabbids.

Before our move from NC to NE last summer, after Jacob had a such a great time playing on his friend Daniel’s Wii last spring, we let Jacob take his own money and choose a game. He chose Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Last summer we were outright worried about Jacob, he seemed obsessed with the game, and it wasn’t till he started school in August that his attention was diverted enough that we didn’t have to seek outside help. All he wanted to do was play Lego Star Wars, and he didn’t seem very happy with the world otherwise. I think it was his way of coping with the move. It wasn’t easy for him.

During the school year, the boys are only allowed to play Wii on weekends and holidays, and we’re usually pretty busy on weekends and holidays, so it wasn’t often at all. I think that helped Jacob come off this “I’m only happy when I play video games” phase.

Fast forward a year, and Jacob is still working on that same Lego Star Wars game! Unlike last summer, Jacob isn’t obsessed with it, but he still enjoys completing one or two tasks at a time that would eventually lead him to “finishing” the game: earning 160 gold bricks and all the cool bonuses. He doesn’t fuss anymore when we tell him he has to stop playing to do other things.

As of this morning, Jacob was at about 140 gold bricks, and was about 85% finished with the entire game. This has been about 300 hours worth of play time over the past year (the game tracks this for you, aren’t they kind?)

Timmy decided he wanted to start his own game. On occasion he’d play with Jacob, you can bring up a 2nd player to “help out” with tasks, and when Jacob was in a patient mood, he’d let Timmy participate. This week Timmy was delving into his own game, and he’s about 5% through with lots of help from the rest of the family. Timmy isn’t bad, he just misses some of the finer points.

Then the unthinkable happened this morning: Timmy started another game today and accidentally saved it over Jacob’s 85% worth of work! I was sitting right there next to him advising him NOT to save it in the game-save space that Jacob already occupied, and he did it anyway.

Jacob’s year of hard work is now gone. I checked online: once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Every single character: gone.
Every single spaceship: gone.
Every single minikit: gone.
Every single Power Brick: gone.

(Did you realize that the video game tops out at 4 billion studs? You can’t get any more than that.)

All he had left to do were the Bounty Hunter missions and a couple of the bonuses.

While there’s part of me who is thinking “It’s only a game…”, to a 6 1/2 year old, this is going to be a HUGE deal! Jacob comes home from camp in an hour and I know there will be tears flowing, angry language and (if I’m not careful) punches flying. I’m dreading this like you wouldn’t believe —

I had called Dave in a panic, he and I discussed a punishment for Timmy — while it was indeed an accident, Timmy didn’t listen to Mommy when she was helping him. He’s been on a somewhat stubborn “I can do it myself” phase, and hopefully today he’s learned that sometimes he should listen to the grownups.

Timmy’s punishment: he won’t be playing Wii until Jacob has caught up. Jacob will not take anywhere near 300 hours to get back to where he was, thanks to cheat codes and completion guide websites that we can access to help us remember how to complete all the tasks. But it’ll probably still be several weeks.

If I had backed up the saved games, there might have been hope, but I honestly didn’t give thought to doing such a thing till now.

Lesson learned: for those of you with Nintendo Wiis, use that SD card slot on the console to SAVE YOUR WORK! You can back up your games. Just follow the instructions here, where this parent had a similar incident 1 1/2 years ago with Super Mario Galaxy.

If you’re wondering what that title means, just hit play here:

26. July 2009 · Comments Off on Pumpkin #2 · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

No other female flowers pending at the moment.

23. July 2009 · Comments Off on My Next Patient… · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
From 2009 07 21 Garden

This one will be ready to open up on Thursday morning, with plenty of male buds also ready to pollinate!

22. July 2009 · Comments Off on Pumpkin and Hops Updates · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

First of all, a week after the artificial insemination, here’s what we have for a pumpkin so far:
This is about 1.5 lbs. and about 10″ circumference. I’m so excited at this!

Unfortunately, the next several female flowers haven’t been opening up, but they can be really sensitive to amounts of water it receives. There are 4-5 more buds pending, and I’m keeping tabs on it…

Someone on Facebook commented about the breed of pumpkin he was growing, and it wasn’t till then I realized I don’t know what breed this pumpkin is going to be. It could be a pie pumpkin, a jack ‘o lantern pumpkin, or maybe one of those state fair pumpkins?

We’ll all just have to wait and see….

Break break.

I’m not sure whether I’d mentioned it on my blog, but we are also growing hops in our backyard. We ordered some rhizomes this past spring from American Brewmaster, the store that Dave frequented for his beer-making supplies while we were living in NC. After consulting billions of websites (here’s one) looking for how hops are grown, we learned that Nebraska is at the ideal latitude for growing them, and if the soil is good, and they’re planted in the right place, we could get enough hops to nicely augment Dave’s homebrewing.

So Dave ordered two rhizomes of Centennial hops this past March (at $4 per rhizome, this seems a much better deal than $4 per ounce for hops cones themselves!), and we potted them in pots in April to give them a head start. This is from April 9th.
The first week of May, Dave rigged up the trellising and we put the hops in the ground!
There was little progress for a month or so, Dave and I got a bit worried. By Memorial Day, nothing was climbing…

Picture from May 26th.
Just before our vacation, we saw evidence of some real climbing, and by the time we got back from our vacation, the vines had reached the tops of the trellises! From June 29th.
Just after July 4th, flowers started to appear up at the topmost parts of the vines, and I’ve been having a pretty hard time getting good pictures of them…here’s what I got today (July 21):

We weren’t expecting flowers this year. Hops are perennial vines that usually use its first-year growth to focus on strengthening its root system and establishing itself. But whatever we get will be great, and can be preserved for future brews. We’re just starting to see the flowers, flowering is allegedly going to continue through late August/early September, so I foresee plenty for at least one batch for Dave and his friends to enjoy this fall/winter.

After all, the world is just coming off of a hops shortage, and the homebrewers takes the brunt of such shortages….

Cheers and happy gardening!

19. July 2009 · Comments Off on A Barenaked Ladies Concert · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

Many of you saw the photo I’d e-mailed out yesterday — you can quickly post to your blog with your telephone and that’s what I did.

“What’s the big deal? So it’s a blurry picture of a bunch of guys playing on a stage….it could have been anyone”

You’re right, it could have been the band that was playing earlier, lots of classic rock covers…not bad. But it wasn’t, it was the best I could do with my phone camera. If you want better pictures, I’ll steal these.

Five years ago, Dave and I had tickets to see the Barenaked Ladies in Orlando. Unfortunately, I got really sick and Dave ended up going with one of our friends, Andy, instead. Dave is the bigger fan, but the concerts are a lot of fun and I’m sorry I couldn’t go.

While we were on vacation, we were listening to one of Dave’s live tracks from an “Everything to Everyone” concert and Dave said, “Boy, I wish we could see one of their concerts again, it’s a lot of fun.” So one day on the internet during our vacation, I checked their concert schedule and there it was: Council Bluffs, IA on July 18th. Whoa…that’s SOON!

With some further investigation, I learned that BNL was playing at a Ribfest outside of the Mid-America Center to launch the RAGBRAI bike ride event which started in Council Bluffs this year. And that if you used the promotion code “RAGBRAI” on Ticketmaster, the tickets were half price (although, with all of Ticketmaster’s fees and charges, it ended up more 2/3 the price). Whoo hoo!

Dave and I went and had a great time, enjoying some Tennessee ribs — some of the best I’ve ever had — and then finishing up just in time to get a decent view of the concert! BNL played for about 90 minutes, and by then many of the people were taking off to prepare to start their ride (I guess folks were free to start at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning). We debated sticking around afterwards to meet the band, but we couldn’t figure out where on the Ribfest ground the band would be afterwards, so we ended up just leaving.

From 2009 07 18 RAGBRAI_Ribfest_BarenakedLadies

Their concerts are fun — a lot of improv and fun banter. Of note was Ed Robertson picking on the sign language lady standing in the front row with her very own spotlight, signing the entire concert, songs and all. He was trying to talk really fast, or use really strange words to try to challenge her. He then lauded her for doing so well with their two “brand new” songs that Ed claimed he didn’t even know the words for :-).

I was tickled at all the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese pasta that gets tossed up onto the stage during the song “If I Had $1000000”.

From 2009 07 18 RAGBRAI_Ribfest_BarenakedLadies

PS: I don’t get to go to music concerts a lot. I guess I average 1 concert per place I’ve lived, but I don’t even think I saw any when I was living in FL. In Ohio Dave and I went to a Stone Temple Pilots, Godsmack and Disturbed show that had us fearing a random urinalysis for the next 48 hours or so. The last famous act I got to see live was Harry Connick, Jr. in Cary, NC 2 years ago. That was amazing.


17. July 2009 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I consider this a success:


From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination


From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

If the pollination hadn’t “taken”, the bulb behind the flower would have yellowed and fallen off the vine by now. This was about 52 hours after the pollination, and the bulb has at least doubled in size.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress on our pumpkin!

14. July 2009 · 18 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I have this incredibly HUGE pumpkin plant taking over my backyard…

From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

And that’s just the part of the one plant that’s come through the fence and is actually bleeding into the front yard!

Anyway, I’ve grown pumpkins in the past and the best I traditionally do is 1…at most 2…pumpkins! This time around, I’m going to try my hand at (drumroll please!) hand-pollination!

I’d read that those enormous pumpkins you see winning blue ribbons at county fairs are typically hand-pollinated. And those who are super-serious will even use plastic bags to ensure the male and female flowers keep as much of their pollen on hand as possible!

How does this work? Well, for those who didn’t realize, plants in the squash family — to include cucumbers and pumpkins — have both “male” and “female” flowers on the same plant. Male flowers are typically bigger and are on a longer stem, while female flowers will have a bulbous piece just behind the flower…which is what eventually becomes the squash itself when pollinated. On a pumpkin, the first you’d see male flowers — LOTS of male flowers — and then after several weeks (at least 4 weeks in my case), you will see female flowers appear. I’ve had less than 6 so far.

Here’s a male flower. Note the thinner stem and the stamen in the center:

From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination
From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

And the female flower. The bulb behind the flower and the multiple “stigma”…with an opening in the center for? You guessed it — the male flower’s pollen!

From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination
From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination
From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

So here’s the deal. You have to do this early enough in the morning that the flowers are all still open. Most pumpkin flowers will shrivel up by mid-day, especially on warm days. You pick a male flower off its stem, and pluck off the petals, exposing its “manliness”:

From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

Then you rub the male and female innards together…this is rated NC-17, sorry!

From 2009 07 14 Pumpkin Pollination

Now…some folks who have tried that have reported that you’ll see evidence of success in as few as 12 hours — the bulb will begin growing. In an unsuccessful pollination, the flower would fall off and the bulb will turn yellow and shrivel off the flower.

I’ll check tomorrow morning for evidence of success/failure of today’s pollination. There should be another flower ready to attempt tomorrow.

We’re looking to replace our time-tested, wonderfully reliable 2003 Honda Odyssey. It’s a great van, we love it still, it took us from here to the east coast and back last month without incident, which was great! But it’s starting to get a bit old, and every trip to the dealership for an oil change ends up uncovering numerous other problems.

Here’s a shot of Old Faithful when she was just a pup, still in the lot at Space Coast Honda, Rockledge, FL, on March 17, 2003:

From HondaOdyssey

I love the Odyssey for its smooth ride, spacious bucket seating for the boys in the middle row, and the option for a 3rd row of seats when you want to carry EVERYBODY, such as my boys and my 3 nephews on a road trip with my sister to Florida in 2007:

From 2007 08 03 VollmerBabaTriptoOrmondBeachFL

Dave loved that when the 2nd and 3rd rows of seats were removed, he could transport his train layout:

From HondaOdyssey

Cool, huh?

We also like having the flexibility to tow stuff, if need be. We’ve used the van to tow trailers, including this nifty camper last September:

From HondaOdyssey

(Mind you, it was horrible not being able to see behind us for the 4-hours-each-direction drive between Omaha and North Platte.)

But I have to admit, I’m getting a bit sick of driving a minivan. It was fun for a bit, but I’m not sure I want to continue. Those newer vans are pretty nice, though — perhaps I can stick it out for one more vehicle cycle? Bottom line, the minivans can hold Dave’s layout for a train show, and that’s a very convenient thing for our family. Not to mention transporting the boys’ friends around if need be.

What if I didn’t have to get a minivan again? What do I want? THIS! The Hybrid version. I had a chance to ride in one earlier this year — thanks Louise — and it was so so so so nice!

Pros of a Highlander Hybrid:

1.) It’s a sexy SUV. I don’t have to feel quite so — um — matronly driving around town.
2.) It’s a hybrid — what can I say? We absolutely love our Prius and might be willing to invest in another Toyota hybrid.
3.) It has an option for a 3rd row of seats, many SUVs don’t have that…
4.) We can still tow stuff with this particular hybrid, up to 3500 lbs. on a Class II hitch…not all hybrids can!

Cons of a Highlander Hybrid:
1.) Price — the version I’m interested has 3 rows of seats, and it’s the “Limited” version. Of course it’s the most expensive…it’ll hover right around $40K. We haven’t had a car payment in quite a while, so we need to make sure we can sustain the payment with our budget.
2.) Having a hybrid, as great as it is for the environment and gas budget…takes a certain amount of faith. Thanks to years of watching my Dad with tinker with his ’70-something Honda Civic, I know minimal amount about automobiles. (Don’t look now, but that’s my 1989 MULLET!)

From HondaOdyssey

But with a hybrid, so much of it is computerized, you can’t merely open the hood and see/smell/hear a problem. Instead, you have to take the vehicle to the local Toyota dealer and pay for a “diagnostic” test. Where the maintenance guys merely plug in the vehicle to a computer and the computer tells him/her what the problem is. With our Prius, we would get this red exclamation point that indicates a host of problems…only this “diagnostic computer” will tell us the real problem. That type of troubleshooting isn’t necessarily for everyone.
3.) We’d get the 3rd row of seats and a towing capability with the Highlander, but we’d lose the immense cargo space. That’s something Dave and I have discussed quite a bit — how many more times does Dave intend to show his layout? He’s in the midst of expanding the layout, meaning his ability to transport the layout in the back of the van might have some problems soon…who knows?

Running a close 2nd behind the Highlander Hybrid (in my opinion) is a 2009 Odyssey. Yep. Another minivan. I think Dave is leaning more towards the Odyssey — after all, we love the one we have, why change, right?