05. December 2013 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 22: My last trip to Nebraska…for now. · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
The Historic Fort Crook Suites are on "General's Row" on Offutt AFB.

The Historic Fort Crook Suites are on “General’s Row” on Offutt AFB.

Just before Thanksgiving I took one last trip to Offutt AFB in Nebraska. This time I was signing out of my unit at STRATCOM. The folks in my office took me out for a nice lunch at Sinful Burger, and I even caught one last Omaha-Offutt AMS chapter meeting to see some of my friends from my time with that group in 2008-2010.

I had been traveling to Nebraska 5-6 times per year in 2011, 2012, and 2013 for my reserve work. Dave had received orders from Nebraska to Florida a mere 6 months after I had been hired locally.

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20. May 2012 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 21*: The Keystone Trail in Bellevue · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

* I plan to renumber/redesignate my Nebraska-sightseeing-related blog posts into something more mangeable for search engines. Stay tuned, if you subscribe via RSS you might get inundated with updates. I’m not changing the text of the posts, just the titles and tagging.

The Keystone Trail parallels Papio Creek in Bellevue.

On Friday I took a short run on one of eastern Nebraska’s awesome running trails: The Keystone Trail.  I used to run on this trail a LOT when we were living in Nebraska, and I’ve written previously about the great views it gave us of the Offutt Air Show in 2008.  This is how I did my 10K and 1/2 marathon training when I lived in the area.

From where I’m staying in Bellevue for my reserve work right now, it was about a 1/2 mile run to a trailhead off Capehart Rd.  It was so easy.  So I set my Nike+ for a 5K run and ran out 1.5 miles or so on the trail.  On the return trip, once my Nike+ told me I had run 5K, I stopped to enjoy the views.  I could take some pictures too.

The markers are approximately every tenth of a mile. They are a bit misleading on this marker: the "K" is for "Keystone" and not "kilometer". The numbers posted are miles.

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27. September 2011 · Comments Off on Wild Sunflowers Revisited (from September 2008) · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

When I was in Nebraska earlier this month, I was immediately greeted by the wild sunflowers that I loved all over the edges of the highways and empty fields. I had planned to take some pictures but forgot. Oh well. At least I have this blog post from September 2008 to remind me of how pretty they are. Enjoy this “Rewind”:

This type of sunflower is a Helianthus annuus.  The wild ones have smaller flowers (~5″) than the ones you plant for seeds, such as those in western Kansas and Nebraska.

Wild sunflowers are in bloom in E. Nebraska and W. Iowa. They just popped up all over the place, like how Queen Anne’s Lace pops up in PA and WV, and how wild thistle grows on the sides of the highways in NC.

So I pulled a Maryann and pulled over on the side of this country road while driving back from Toys R Us in Iowa and took some pictures.

This is what a single plant looks like…

And here’s a group of them.

There’s a HUGE field near Timmy’s preschool, I should get over there and take some pics soon before they’re over with.

*Wait a second, wasn’t that a major fast-food corporation jingle?

While I was in Nebraska, I did make some time to visit with my Pokeno girlfriends, have a nice dinner out with Shannon (who took me in at her house when the Offutt Inn was booked for the week), and enjoy a trip to Trader Joe’s!

Several neighborhood Moms in Bellevue get together for a breakfast pot luck once a month, and a dinner potluck and game of Pokeno also once a month (on another separate day).  The girls elected to move Pokeno night around a little so I could join them!  I shipped a box of Mardi Gras decorations to the ladies, and we had a blast dressing up and enjoying Cristi’s tater tot casserole.

We have pictures of the Pokeno ladies from every month!
Guess who???
Who else would appear for the world to see on the Internet in Mardi Gras deely-boppers?  If you look closely, you can see the blinky lights…

Shannon and I also had a chance to go out together for dinner. Shannon was my adventure-buddy when I was in Omaha…she braved the 3-hours-each-way drive to the Ashfall Fossil Beds last summer! We also checked out numerous out-of-the-ordinary restaurants together, and this time around we had a hankerin’ for Ethiopian food!

Shannon did the research.  She found two places, both in the downtown Omaha vicinity.  One was called “Ethiopian Restaurant” and the other called “Lalibela’s”.  We chose “Ethiopian Restaurant” because it was closer to the highway and the weather still wasn’t great.

The restaurant shares a business space with an Ethiopian grocery, and the grocery side was very full.  The store owner — a very pretty young lady, probably in her 30s — came out and told Shannon and me that she was out of food.  What?  On a Friday night at 6pm???  Don’t even go there with the irony of it.

We’re hoping it was from the weather…we got back in the truck and headed up the street to the 2nd choice (what are the chances of that???  TWO Ethiopian restaurants within about 5 minutes of each other!!!).

The restaurant was rather empty, just two other couples at tables, eating their respective dinners. We ended up talking to one of the other couples, asking about what they were eating and getting some tips of what’s good and what’s not. Shannon and I each chose one entree and we grazed freely on both of them. I ordered something with seasoned lamb, while Shannon chose a vegetarian combo. I wish we had ordered two of the veggie combos, I didn’t care for the meat too much, but the rainbow of lentils (on the left) was awesome!  Learning how to eat the food without utensils was also fun!

There’s a basket in front of Shannon filled with injera, a flatbread that you use as your plate and utensil.  Rip off a piece of injera and scoop away!

Finally, even though I was quite tired from my 4-days in a row of work (wow, what happened to me?), I took a trip out to the recently-opened Omaha Trader Joe’s and stocked up on the family favorites!

This will last us till my next trip to Omaha!  I hand-carried this home in a single TJ’s reusable shopping bag.  I got crap from Jacob for not picking up some Dorothy Lynch salad dressing…sorry!

Thanks to Shannon, Cristi and Laura for helping make my weekend back in Nebraska so great!

07. March 2011 · Comments Off on My New Commuter Life, Part II: Just Because I Now Live in Florida…. · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

….doesn’t mean I never have to see snow again, right?

Or drive in the snow again?

(As promised in my previous post, here’s the story of why I’ll never buy a Ford Mustang north of the Mason/Dixon line!)

On last weekend’s trip to Omaha, I was fortunate to travel in between major winter weather systems.  Temperatures were in the 50s on my first day there, quite nice!

We were forecasting 1-2″ of snow on Thursday, February 24th.  We told EVERYONE 1-2″, and not just us: the National Weather Service, the television stations, everyone!

What happened was pretty freakish, didn’t last that long, and happened right on top of the afternoon/evening commute home.  I only caught one iPhone screen capture of the event’s Doppler radar.  I wish I had taken more:

You know how folks talk about great things (or not-so-great things) that happen when “all the stars are aligned?”  Well, in this case, several things “aligned” in the atmosphere to make this nearly-horizontal dark green line form across central Nebraska.  I’m not going to get into the wintertime “convective symmetric instability” here.  That line is HEAVY SNOW, and it dumped about 5″ of snow in 3 hours in Bellevue and in areas just south of Offutt AFB.  And the line barely moved for those 3 hours.  It was NUTS!

And I got to drive home in it.  Whee!

I had reported for duty very early that morning, so I figured I’d be heading home around 1:00-1:30pm, but at the last minute I had a meeting that took me to about 3:00pm.  The movement of this line was very slow, and I was itching to leave for the day, so after a few minutes of monitoring a non-moving line, I bit the bullet and left.  If I had left when I thought I’d be leaving, I’d have made it back to where I was staying without incident.  Instead, I fishtailed and skidded all the way back, with heavy snow making things all the worse.

I ending up coming back into my old neighborhood right as my boys’ former elementary school was letting out.  The neighborhood is hilly, and there were cars slipping and sliding everywhere.  Since only 1-2″ of snow was originally forecast, the salt/silt trucks didn’t even come out to prepare the roads.  What a horrific mess!

I couldn’t get that #$%  Mustang up the last hill before getting to the house.  I tried several times, but it just wasn’t happening.  If there wasn’t so much after-school traffic, I might have had the room to roll backwards down the hill, and get enough speed to do it.  But I simply had to abandon the car about a block from where I was staying, and walk in the heavy snowfall, and on unshoveled sidewalks, to the house.  I had my full winter-weather gear, and nice warm boots, at least.  It wasn’t a long walk.  Uphill, of course.

About 1/2 hour later, my hostess loaded a few supplies into her Suburban and drove me back over to the car.  With less traffic, I was able to roll backwards back down the hill and tear with full power up the hill to the house.  And here it is right after I got it parked — POINTING DOWNHILL on the legal side of the street.

How incredibly frustrating — I’m not a bad winter-weather driver.  I could hold my own in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and South Korea.  Even our 2 1/2 years in Nebraska, we were fine even driving our Toyota Prius.  But with this Mustang, I was dealing with a very lightweight, rear-wheel drive vehicle.  Ugh!

The local National Weather Service office had put out this map of snowfall totals from that one event, note how there was 5+” of snow in a narrow ribbon across south-central eastern Nebraska, but NONE in northern Sarpy and Douglas Counties.  Downtown Omaha saw no snow, but 10 miles to the south was buried in 5-6″ of snow that fell in just 3-4 hours.

Image created by the National Weather Service office, Omaha/Valley, Nebraska

There were cold temperatures and snow showers for the next couple days of my stay in the Omaha area, and the snowy weather turned into a freezing rain risk that lasted right up until just a couple hours before my flight out on the 27th.  Since I was heading into work each day at about 4:45am, luckily I could slip and slide around without other cars in the way.  It was nerve-wracking, but I survived.

I’m so glad the next time I head to Nebraska will be well after the winter-weather is done.  I’ll only have to worry about tornadoes next time…

Next up, Part III: a happier post about my fun times on this trip: trying out Ethiopian food, enjoying Pokeno with the girls, and shopping at my favorite store, Trader Joe’s!

04. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I might have mentioned it, I might not have, but I kept my Reserve position at Offutt AFB, Nebraska even though I now live in Florida.  I’ve received dozens (yes, dozens) of inquiries about why I would want to do that.

Three reasons why I kept this position:

1.) There’s very little else for me to do in weather in the AF Reserves.  I could switch to something non-weather, which is okay, but I preferred to stay in weather.  Call it the Geek in me!  I expect there will more options if Dave ever gets assigned to the Washington, D.C. area after this.  I’ll also only have a couple years left in the AF before I’m retirement-eligible by then. (How time flies!)

2.) This position has a lot of flexibility.  I am known as an “Individual Mobilization Augmentee” type of Reservist (or “IMA” for short).  In other words, I’m like an understudy-type capability to an active duty staff element.  If something were to happen that the active duty element needed more people, I could get called up to help out.  In my previous position in South Carolina, I was a member of a Reserve unit, and I was expected to be present one weekend per month.  As an IMA, I’m presented with times on the schedule that my help would be appreciated, and I balance their schedule with my own…and I’m allowed to stitch together several “one weekend per month” equivalents and not have to travel monthly.

3.) I’d only been in the Nebraska position for about 1 1/2 years.  It took nearly a year to receive all my training for this position, so I was trusted “unsupervised” only since last summer, and I feel that I owe more fruitful time to this position and the team I work with.

Therefore, around Christmastime I worked out with my active duty boss that I could give 4 work days to my shop in late Februrary, and I bought a plane ticket.  For these “one weekend per month” type work periods, I’m expected to supply my own transportation, so YES, I’m eating the transportation costs in this case.  Thank heavens for credit card reward points!

Right after the President’s Day long weekend, I kissed my boys goodbye, put them on the school bus and set off for the airport.  Fortunately, there was nothing hindering my trip TO Nebraska, a small snow event was putting itself together for a couple days later.  I picked up my rental car…as usual they were “out” of the super-ultra-mini-sub-compact cars I usually reserve, so I was offered this Ford Mustang.

I’ve always wanted a Ford Mustang, and this one was a lot of fun to drive…at first.

After I got my rental car arranged, I then went to collect my suitcase. Yes, I checked a suitcase on Delta airlines. But I traveled in uniform, in part so I didn’t have to pay to check the bag, no questions asked!

It was a good thing I was in my uniform…my suitcase never showed up. Even though I flew from Fort Walton Beach to Omaha via Memphis, my suitcase flew via Atlanta and hadn’t arrived. I filled out the appropriate paperwork, and the luggage office clerk assured me that the suitcase would be delivered that night. So I stayed up till about 12:30am waiting for it, but then it didn’t arrive. Boo!

So with my gracious hosts providing me some sleeping clothes, toothpaste and soap, and Delta airlines providing me a cute little toothbrush and a flimsy comb, I had JUST ENOUGH stuff to sleep, clean up and be presentable for work the following morning.

Did I mention my coats were in my suitcase? Uniform yes, coats no. Fortunately, it wasn’t that cold, about 35F.

While I was at work, my suitcase was delivered, hooray!

Coming next…Part II: The Ford Mustang…Worst. Winter. Vehicle. Ever.

07. October 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 20: Runza · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Tonight for dinner, we went out.  It tends to be a necessity 1-2 times per week in the fall while the boys are in soccer 5-days per week (Jacob 3 days, Timmy 2).  I do what I can to cook but it’s rather aggressive; when I do cook I try to get the dinner on the table at 5:30pm, the boys have to be finished with dinner by about 5:50pm.

I asked the boys “Where would you like to go?”  We have several choices between our house and Jacob’s practice field.  I had suggested a family favorite, Jimmy John’s, but Jacob had a roast beef sandwich for lunch and said he didn’t want another one for dinner.  Since roast beef is the only kind of deli meat he eats.  Sigh…

We ended up at a local restaurant called “Runza”.  It’s a chain throughout Nebraska (the first one opening in Lincoln, NE in 1949), with a couple of additional stores in Iowa, Kansas and Colorado.  It’s quite good, a fun fast food alternative to your typical hamburger joint.  Definitely not the healthiest option, so we’ll go there 3-4 times per year.  Jacob LOVES Runza sandwiches!  The kids’ meal isn’t enough now, we get him an adult-sized combo meal!

Fortunately, they also sell hamburgers so Timmy doesn’t mind going either.

So…what’s so great about this Runza place?  Well, Runza restaurants feature these unique sandwiches: a seasoned blend of ground beef, onion and cabbage sealed in a special bread.  Cheese optional.

Today I made a cool “Nebraska Discovery“.  Runza is not only the name of this restaurant chain, but it’s also the name of the sandwich featured there.  It came to the Americas via “Volga German” immigrants.  If you do a Wikipedia search for “Runza”, you’re presented a choice: Do you want to learn about the sandwich itself, or the restaurant chain with the same name?

I’m not going to regurgitate what you guys could click on and read for yourselves regarding the history, but I thought it was pretty darned cool.

PS: Our local Runza puts a package of Silly Bandz-like bracelets in the Kids’ Meals! Whoo hoo!

We’ve done this two times before here and here, but it’s worth discussing again.

It’s late August at Offutt AFB — time for an AIRSHOW!

This year’s airshow lucked out with a last-minute booking of the Thunderbirds after the Coney Island Airshow was cancelled. (Don’t know why, message boards have speculated it was financial). Unfortunate for an entire airshow to be cancelled, but yay for us, right? When the airshow was first announced in mid-July, the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team was the headliner.

Like the past two years, the aircraft start to roll in around mid-week and we can see the air traffic from throughout my neighborhood as the aerial demo teams start to practice their shows. While the propeller planes and helicopters stay pretty close to the runway, the jets need more maneuvering space and often have to turn around over our neighborhood. Whoo hoo! So we were seeing the Thunderbirds, the F-22 and F-18 several times right from our yard! The kids at school had quite a treat during their recess on Thursday and Friday too 🙂

In 2008 we watched the Thunderbirds from the local bike trail. In 2009 we watched from a local neighborhood that offered a good view. This time, the boys and I watched right there in the middle of the action.

Enjoy some of our experiences from the airshow.

These KC-135s are Nebraska Air National Guard planes from Lincoln
From 2010 08 28 Offutt AFB Airshow
I’d never seen a Global Hawk UAS up close before, after all the times I’d forecast for them….
From 2010 08 28 Offutt AFB Airshow
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25. August 2010 · Comments Off on The Corn Debate — Starch or Veggie? · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Considering I’m in Nebraska, it makes sense that we should take some time to discuss corn here, right?

The nickname “Cornhusker” was first adopted by the University of Nebraska football team in 1900.

The little farm stands popped up all over the Omaha Metro, as they do every year in mid-July. I’m partial to this nice stand at about 15th St. and Cornhusker Ave. The two polite young men who operate the stand are both in college and happily accept tips to help their tuition 🙂 I’ll pick up corn that’s was picked less than 24 hours ago at 50 cents an ear. I’ve probably done this 5 times so far this summer and I think everyone’s had their fill.

I know I can get corn for 10 cents an ear at Walmart, but I learned that their corn came to us from Florida!

Now why would I buy Florida corn in Nebraska of all places????

Anyway, it had gotten me thinking about how folks serve up corn in their households. I’m not talking about recipes with corn, but rather how corn is regarded for dinner service: starch or veggie?

I remember it being treated like a veggie in my house growing up, but knowing what I know about corn’s chemical composition, and how easily it can become corn chips or corn tortillas, we have migrated it over to the starch group since we’ve had kids.

So instead of rice or potatoes, we’ll serve up some corn.

I noticed, based on my oh-so-scientific poll from August 2nd, that 2/3 of my sample set continue to treat corn as a veggie, while 1/3 of us treat it as a starch. I guess that makes sense. I was definitely on the fence for this one, too.

Today Shannon and I took our boys to this new “splashpark” that opened 2 weeks ago in North Omaha.  What a fun, FREE, way to spend a hot summer afternoon! School starts Monday!

Since the original post this afternoon I’ve had a chance to add more commentary about this place. The City of Omaha has built several of these “Splashgrounds” around the city and they’re a great time for the boys. Papillion has one, but Bellevue has none (hint hint!)

Today the boys spent nearly 3 hours at the park — then the horseflies started attacking and the boys were happy to go. Shannon and I sat under a tree in the shade and had a good old fashioned chatfest.

This particular one was intriguing: there’s this innocent looking post stationed near the entrance to the fenced area — you rub the top of the post (yes, I know what I’m saying here) and that activates the water for 5 minutes.  As long as a kid runs back to the post every 5 minutes or so, the water stays on.  A nice conservation tool.  You can see the post in the 3rd picture here.

From 2010 08 13 Fontenelle Splashground