29. July 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

First I’ll greet you with this super cool picture:

This is why it’s wonderful to own a Toyota Prius!

Yesterday and today I drove up to Long Island to pick up our boys from Dave’s parents’ house.  Since it was a quick trip and could pack lightly, I was able to take our Prius, and since the conditions worked out well enough, I was able to score over 50mpg today!  Yesterday, in the 100F+ heat coming up I-85 with full A/C and very little use of the brakes, the mileage was more like 46-48mpg.  Once I got on I-95 where you can’t just set the cruise control and the temperatures today were mostly in the 80s (it was raining most of my time in New Jersey).

I’m pretty beat from the drive, but not at all in a bad way.  I enjoy driving, and it was downright peaceful getting to enjoy the scenery with hungry, bored, or fighting kids.  I was pretty worried about making the I-95 trek from Petersburg, VA all the way to New York City…to the point I even asked some Facebook friends their opinions of using U.S. 13 up the Delmarva Peninsula instead!  According to Google Maps, taking US 13 would add about 60 miles and 70 minutes to my trip.  I left my stopover point (my sister’s house in NC) at the right time to go ahead and stay on I-95…I made it through (not around, through) Washington, D.C. around 11am, through Baltimore around 12pm, and through Wilmington, DE around 2pm.  I crossed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge just before 4pm…which is about when the traffic started getting bad.

I also want to write about the airliners I kept encountering on their final approaches (ATL, CLT, DCA, BWI and JFK), as well as the beautiful town of Eufaula, Alabama.  That’s for when I’m awake…

25. July 2011 · Comments Off on Pay No Attention, Nothing to See Here…. · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

This is just a filler post to run a fun little experiment.  I am going to compare RSS Graffiti with Networked Blogs and see which syndication posts to my Facebook page faster.

I’m leaning towards keeping RSS Graffiti because it didn’t require the widget on my site, nor did it require me to pick 5 blogs to follow like Networked Blogs does (note — I proceeded with the registration after only selecting two blogs to follow: Fotomom and Sergeant Major Mom).  If I keep Networked Blogs I will add more to follow.

25. July 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Who here is a fan of Groupon!  Go ahead, raise your hand!  Don’t be shy….

I started using Groupon in the Omaha area ($5 Omaha Lancer’s tickets!), but quickly transferred my settings to Pensacola when we got here.  I’ll admit that I don’t care about most of the deals that come our way (half price facials, $20 for $50 worth of pizza at a restaurant in Pensacola, etc.) but I’ve taken advantage of a couple deals that seem relevant.

Some Groupon tips:

  • Read the fine print CAREFULLY!  I saw a great golf deal that was only good on weekdays.  This golf deal only cost $2-6 less than if you played the course at regular price after 3pm.  I have two movie tickets in my account right now that are only good after 6pm.  Know and understand the limitations.
  • Note the expiration dates on the deals.  Sometimes you have quite a bit of time, sometimes you only have till the end of the month.  Remember that you’re pre-paying for the coupon, so if you miss out on the deal before it’s expired, it’s your loss, not the business’s.

The first one we got actually cash in on was a parasailing trip last weekend.  At Destin Parasailing, they offered $37 for one ticket on the parasailing trip, which is the 60-75 minute boat ride (time for 4 groups to go out) and 15 minutes up on the parasail itself.  These trips are typically $60-75 per person.

It was incredible!  Parasailing is VERY gentle, and Dave and I will both attest that riding in the speedboat while keeping the chute aloft is far more adrenaline-packed than riding in the chute itself.

Our boat (the red one).

Dave’s rigged up and ready to go!

This family is coming back in — Dad (an Army Soldier vacationing here from TX) is holding a camera in his right hand and I’ll bet he got some great pictures.  The girl in the middle is 11 years old and wasn’t much bigger than Jacob.  The first mate on the far right took the next couple pictures with my iPhone while we were up.

Seconds before we launched!

The launch isn’t what you expect: the boat pulls away from you and you’re essentially suspended, almost still.  All the motions are very slow, and the whole experience is VERY quiet.  So peaceful…

You start out not-that-high, it takes about 5 minutes for the chute to gain altitude as the boat pulls it, like running with a kite.

Our view of the Crab Island Bridge as the boat brought us back in at about 7:10pm.  

We got back just in time to enjoy a lovely sunset dinner at Poppy’s Crazy Lobster restaurant for steamed seafood.  I saw the Great Blue Huron eating fish while walking on the dock on the way to dinner.

Choose your poison…we ordered a “Category Three” to share.  

I’m very glad we shared it!

Dave got steamed shrimp, which he has proclaimed was the best restaurant shrimp he’d ever had!

Meanwhile, I enjoyed some snow crab legs!
24. July 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 15: Great Blue Heron in Action! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

First of all, I learned that it’s “heron” and not “huron“.  Oops.  I was wondering why my Google searches kept directing me to Michigan-related websites…

Last night Dave and I went on a good old fashioned DATE!  The kids are visiting grandparents in the northeast through next weekend, and even though Dave’s hard at work these two weeks, we had a fantastic weekend!  Yesterday we went tubing on a creek in the northern part of the Florida Panhandle, then we went parasailing and wrapped up the evening with a delightful steamed seafood dinner.  I’ll be blogging about our parasailing next, but for now I wanted to share this cool series of iPhone pictures I took of this Great Blue Heron* enjoying some fish.  I didn’t have my good camera with me, since I didn’t want to lose it on the parasailing boat.

I thanked the family who bought the fish feed that lured the fish for the bird to eat…

*Yes, I’m capitalizing the full name of this species of bird, per this journal article.

He started out on the dock, staring intently at a patch of water near the public fish food machine.

Staring hard…

Now he’s on a floating platform just below the fish feed machine…he moved to this spot after a kid put 50 cents in the  machine and got a handful of fish food.

Splash!  He quickly darts his beak into the water as the fish come up to get the feed.

He got one!

After swallowing the first fish, he’s immediately on the lookout again…

Splash!

Another one!

You can see how the fish has enlarged his neck.
21. July 2011 · 5 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Last Friday was Dave’s change of command.  He took command of the 2d Combat Weather Systems Squadron.  For any no-longer-actively-serving-in-Air-Force-Weather types, the squadron stood up in early 2010 combining personnel from the AF Combat Weather Center at Hurlburt Field with the Weather System Support Cadres from Robins and Tinker AFBs.

Both sets of parents, Dave’s brother and our niece came into town to see the ceremony.  It went off without a hitch, and here are a few pictures of our day.

I think I’m looking at someone else taking a picture of me, but I wanted to show off one of the pretty corsages all the ladies in our family were wearing.

Dave presented me flowers.  He called it an advance apology for late nights and changes to weekend plans.  🙂  He knew to get me a mixed bouquet instead of roses or lilies, which are typically what one sees given.  That mixed bouquet is still looking like it was just picked 5 days later in a vase on our kitchen table 🙂
The boys each got one of these coins.  A great gift!  Good job Dad!  We’re so proud of you!
20. July 2011 · Comments Off on Spawn of the Pond · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Last week I talked about bringing 3 tadpoles into the house as a mini-science lesson for the boys.  Those tadpoles spent the weekend in a glass mixing bowl while all of our visitors were here.  They swam around, eating fish food and leaving plenty of algae-green-colored droppings.  You could see visible changes in their eyes and by the end of the weekend, the telltale legs had sprouted on the two largest ones.

July 13th

July 18th

On Monday I went to the local pet store and picked up a medium-sized “Critter Carrier” and set up some rocks on one end.  This will be an area for the tadpoles to start hanging out once they figure out what to do with their legs 🙂

You can see one of the tadpoles in the center foreground, and there’s one in the center of the pack of the tank.

In other pond news, I got some good pictures of what I assume is the tadpoles’ mother:

This son-of-a-gun is LOUD at night.  My condolences to all our houseguests who have to sleep in Jacob’s bedroom whose window is right next to this pond.

And the fish in the pond seem happy.  Unlike the two sets of koi we had, these folks come crowding over when I stand nearby, they know where their food is coming from, ha ha!

19. July 2011 · Comments Off on Not-Quite-Boston Baked Beans · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:
Boston Baked Beans with a Southern flair….

I’ve been rather scarce, busy with our visitors this past weekend (that’s for another blog post which is forthcoming) and now that the extended family is now all safe and sound back home, I have some time to play catch-up with the household and some of the administrative pieces of my life.  I can also catch up some blog posts on my mind….

While we were visiting my parents in June, they grilled steaks and burgers for us.  They also served up some delicious homemade “Boston Baked Beans”.  My Dad had made them from scratch (he loves to cook!) from a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s Cook’s Country magazine.  Since the recipe is copyrighted and you have to pay to see the recipe online (or at least sign up for the 14-day free trial), I’ll point you to the website, but won’t reproduce the recipe here.

Jacob and I are the only bean-eaters in the family, which is unfortunate, because beans are so stinkin’ (pun intended) good for you!  Low fat, high fiber, flavorful…

Dad gave me a printout of the recipe from the magazine (which he could do as a paid subscriber) and I made up a big pot of them the day after I got home from our trip!  Except, I didn’t make them exactly as in the recipe, since I had some ingredients on hand that I thought would make reasonable substitutes….

…starting with the salt pork.  I had a HUGE package of ham hocks in the freezer.  After all, this is the south and ham hocks are WAY easier to acquire than salt pork…Emeril Lagasse has a ham hocks and beans recipe that will seem similar to mine, except I’m keeping the molasses and brown sugar from the Boston baked beans…

…and the Dijon mustard.  If you open our fridge, you’d be greeted with four bottles of mustard: two bottles of French’s yellow mustard, one bottle of Gulden’s brown mustard, and one bottle of Zatarain’s Creole mustard — hands down the best mustard EVER!  I had a hankerin’ for the Creole mustard…

Dad told me that Boston baked beans, by definition, has molasses and salt pork or pork fat, so my substitution of something other than salt pork would make them migrate away from their Bostonian roots.  And then I can share the recipe!

The other point to make here is that this is a “quick cook” beans recipe.  Boil the beans with some baking soda for 20 minutes to soften them.  After some prep cooking of the meat and veggies, you simply bake the beans for about 2 hours — having just-like-cooked-overnight beans in a fraction of the time!

Patricia’s Not-Quite-Boston Baked Beans – inspired by “Quicker Boston Baked Beans” recipe in June/July 2011 Cook’s Country magazine.

1 lb. dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1 Tbsp. baking soda
2 large ham hocks, slice as much meat off the bones as possible; keep the bones
1 onion, chopped fine
3 c. water (4 – 4 1/2 c. if you use a Dutch oven)
5 Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c. plus 1 Tbsp. molasses
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp. Creole mustard
2 tsp. cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 350F.  Make sure oven rack can accommodate your Dutch oven.  Bring 3 quarts water, beans and baking soda to a boil in Dutch oven over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-high and simmer for 20 minutes.  Drain beans, rinse excess cooking water.

The skins will peel back from the beans, this is a good thing!

2. Return empty pot to medium-high heat.  Cook the chopped ham hock pieces w/ the bones until well-browned, about 10 minutes.  Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in water, beans, sugar, 1/4 c. of molasses, Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp. of the mustard, vinegar and 1/4 tsp of pepper and bring to a boil.  Cover, transfer to oven and cook until the beans are nearly tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Chopping meat off a ham hock isn’t that easy, but will help things cook down better while in the oven.
Brown the pieces.
Don’t be afraid to let the pieces stick to the bottom some…that’s the good stuff!
Combining everything.
Don’t be afraid to throw in the bones.  The meat and fat there will flavor things up nicely.

3. Remove lid and continue to bake until beans are completely tender, about 30 more minutes.  Stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp. of molasses and remaining 1 tsp. mustard.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The same ham hock bone after cooking.  Pick out the bones before serving!

A great main dish!

YUMMMMM!
16. July 2011 · Comments Off on Howie – Our Photographic Challenge! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
Photo by Fotomom.

While Maryann AKA Fotomom was here visiting last week she took a really sweet picture of Howie in our kitchen.  After she got home this week, she took some time to dress up the picture and wrote a lovely blog post about him and how she made the great picture!

Photographers have been challenged many times with Howie.  Here are a couple of the not-so-great professional family pictures with Howie.

November 2002.

October 2005.

Howie does a good job with sitting still and letting the camera do his thing (hint: just say the magic word, “WALK?” and he’ll look right at you attentively!), if only he showed up better-looking…Maryann got it right by taking advantage of the white-colored setting.

14. July 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,

This week I put away the “kitchen laptop” once and for all.  We got our weather webcam working again with Dave’s old PC laptop that had been sitting in our front office unused since we moved here.

With no kitchen laptop to occupy my time reformatting and partitioning, I’ve taken on a new hopeless project.  Wasn’t sure whether to call it my Waterloo or my Achilles’ heel or what, but it’s effectively taken the place of the kitchen laptop.

I’ve talked about the small pond in front my rental house before.  It’s pretty, and the cascading fountain is really really cool.  Most of the time my involvement with the pond isn’t the greatest.

The hose in the background is connected to our well pump, thus making it easy (and free-of-charge) to refill the pond with non-chlorinated water.

It’s too small.  I’m going to guess the homeowner doesn’t read this blog so I’ll just be honest here and declare that it’s almost inhumane to have tried to keep 4 large koi in that small space.  I’d guess it’s about 55-60 gallons.  Not enough for large goldfish.

I’ve been keeping notes of my “pond issues”.

  • At first there was a lot of splashing out of those cascading trays and when the sprinklers weren’t running in the winter, I had to manually refill the pond almost daily.  I recently rearranged the trays and virtually eliminated this problem.
  • The hose that runs up the center of the fountain often slips and without warning the water isn’t cascading down the trays.  I have to remove one of the trays to access the hose and thread it back up the center of the fountain.  Darned gravity!
  • As I had written about this past spring, I had killed all 4 of the original koi that were with the house when we moved here in December.  So I had replaced those koi with 3 smaller ones.  The day we left on vacation we had thunderstorms and the outdoor electrical circuit that includes the pond pump shorted out.  Within 24 hours, those new koi were dead.
  • The algae!!!  Once the weather started warming up the amounts of algae have been very difficult to control.  The pond is too small for a UV filter, which probably would solve all of our problems, so I’m trying humane methods to control the algae: barley straw packets and manual water changes.
  • There is a frog that lives in or near the pond.  He’s really loud.  My neighbors send me Facebook wall posts, he’s so loud.
  • Or shall I say…”She?”

Meet Mr. Tadpole, one of about a dozen living in the pond now!  Perhaps this picture is difficult to see?  I brought 3 of the tadpoles into the house to show to the boys.

So I now have 3 tadpoles in the kitchen swimming in a Pyrex glass and I’m not sure what to do with them.  I’m considering setting up a small habitat and seeing if we can see the development over the next few weeks…a cool summer science project, right?  After all, I’m the ant-farming, vermicomposting Mom, right?

Also, to replace the koi that died during our vacation, I bought 8 feeder goldfish from our local Wal-mart.  At 38 cents a piece, I’ve officially thrown in the towel on making large investments in this pond.

I tried to get pictures of the new little goldfish trucking around the pond, but the water is so incredibly murky from the algae, it’s been near impossible:

Do you trust me when I say there’s a goldfish in there?

Wish me luck!

12. July 2011 · 5 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
Hey — is this lady really juggling for you?  In my blog post draft this is animated!

Today I’m doing a “reset” of sorts.  As great a time as we had at Disneyworld, on our road trip, and hosting our North Carolina friends showing off the sights of the Florida Panhandle, I realized we were “on the go” for a solid MONTH!

From June 8th through July 10th!  Wow!  And then there’s GeekMom Jenny who’s currently halfway through a 40-day vacation!

So here’s our “reset”: The kids are taking it easy, we’re taking care of a few errands, cleaning up the house some, and we’re getting ready for this weekend’s next set of festivities.

My Dear Husband’s assumption of command is this Friday.  Dave will be taking command of an Air Force weather squadron, and I couldn’t be more proud!  The “change of command” ceremony itself is a pretty elegant affair, and much of our extended family is coming into town this weekend to see the ceremony and celebrate with Dave.

I did a cursory search for some easy-to-digest information to help define Air Force Squadron command to a non-military member.  I didn’t think I’d find it, but I found this recent blog post with exactly what I need!  An Air Force Colonel at Sheppard AFB, TX wrote about how squadron commanders are selected and what kind of job is ahead of the Air Force’s newest squadron commanders.  Wow!  How easy is that?  I’ll just link it for you here:

Sheppard Live: Squadron Command

I’m proud and excited for Dave, but also nervous about what impact squadron command will have on the family.  While part of me is dreading that I’ll never see Dave for the next 2 years, that his new wife will be his squadron, I also remember how it was when Dave first started his 3-year PhD program in North Carolina.  Several fellow Air Force PhD-student families warned me, “Kiss Dave goodbye for the next 3 years.  He’s going to be living at his office!”.

So. Not. True.  Dave did a great job managing his time and even though it was tough work, things didn’t seem as bad as I thought they would be.

We are looking forward to have all the parents in town for the weekend, along with Dave’s brother and our 16-year-old niece.