31. December 2008 · Comments Off on Packing · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,
What you see here is everything I’m allowed to wear for the next 3 months. Everything.
It’s not a lot. 4 sets of uniforms, 6 sets of physical fitness uniforms, 2 sets of physical fitness long pants/jacket sets. Underclothing to go along. Maybe I won’t need that additional baggage allowance after all…
Today I also packed a box of stuff to ship ahead, things like extra toothpaste, a couple books, yarn, knitting needles, iPod speaker…things that I can live without for my first several days there.
Yep, my departure date is coming up soon…
29. December 2008 · 8 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

The boys received PixOs starter kits from Grammy Vollmer for Christmas. It was something they wanted, they asked her for it and she delivered! Thanks Grammy! The boys love it!

For those who might not remember, Pixos are a “new formula” of craft bead developed in response to the massive Aqua Dots Recall that took place in fall 2007, thus nixing one of the things Jacob was asking Santa Claus for last year!

I honestly don’t know what the difference is, but whatever. The boys were very excited to open up their sets and get to work!

As you’ve heard me describe with both Moon Sand and Perler Beads, I get a bit particular about the mess-factor when it comes to these crafts. Pixo beads are in the same category — the beads are VERY small (the size of plastic BBs) and you need some incredible dexterity to manage them. They do get everywhere — but unlike Moon Sand, they vacuum up quite easily. I have to suck up my neat-freakiness for the good of happy, creatively engaged kids.

Pixos comes with an applicator pen. You fill the pen with the beads, and then apply the beads to the plastic template board with the gentle touch of your forefinger. So simple!

Not so simple.

So here’s Timmy with his applicator pen working on a kitten pattern.

From 2008 12 27 TimmyPixos

See that fat pen? One has to FILL the pen. You have to unscrew the red top to the pen, and then get the Pixo beads into one of the 4 chambers. Unlike the one shown on the website, this pen has 4 chambers, which you can use to have 4 colors going at once. This took some serious precision, even with the funnel attachment you can use, to get the beads into the pen.

Timmy’s pen seemed to work fine. You line up the tip of the pen, depress a button, and it deposits a bead in the location of your choosing. There’s a certain finesse to putting the pen up against the template just right, otherwise the bead misses the correct location on the template and bounces elsewhere: into another location on the template, on the floor, into the heater vent, etc.

Unfortunately, Jacob’s pen seems much pickier. The pen has to be oriented with one of the 4 chambers perfectly for the beads to come out when you press the button. It was frustrating for me, so for those who know how, um, particular Jacob is, just imagine his reaction! But we got it working and he was able to do some simple patterns.

I’d estimate that for each of the patterns we have, you need to fill the pen at least twice, and it depends on which colors you choose to fill the chambers with.

So — now that we’ve filled the template with the beads in the pattern we want, it’s time to “fix” the pattern in place with water.

This is pretty straightforward: the starter kit includes cute little spray bottles, which the boys wasted no time filling with water from the dog bowl and then using on each other.

Once we made the appropriate corrections and the boys served out their time outs, we followed the directions: “Evenly spray your complete design”.

How much spray? Not enough spray, the beads don’t all seal together. Too much spray, and it takes forever to dry. So I don’t know the answer to this, except that an adult should oversee the spraying.

Here’s Timmy’s completed kitten.

From 2008 12 27 TimmyPixos

I was very impressed (again) at how well he did with this project. And once again, Jacob was less patient with this project, but he did a small set of patterns that are on the pink-colored template on the picture below.

From 2008 12 27 TimmyPixos

Straight out of the instructions: “NOTE: Store unused PixOs(TM) in a cool dry environment”.

Heed this warning! When you’re spraying your pattern, you need to keep the water away from any loose beads, or the applicator pen. Needless to say that the water makes the beads sticky, and the loose beads will congeal together if left out in moisture. That also means if you’re in a humid environment, they might not cooperate so well. Thankfully, it’s bone dry here right now so that’s not an issue.

The instructions claim that the PixOs design will be ready in about 10 minutes, but I don’t believe that. Of course the drying time depends on how much you “evenly” sprayed your design, and the ambient humidity. It’s taking about 1/2 hour here. That seems a long time for a 3 year old to wait for the fruits of his labors. At least with Perler beads Timmy only has to wait for me to iron his design together and then wait for it to cool, less than 5 minutes!

When all’s said and done, you have this cute little kitten. Like the Perler beads, you have this plastic toy that you can do with as you please. Unfortunately, Timmy’s kitten fell apart pretty quickly. Just trying to hold it upright, gravity kicked it and the kitten slumped over and the beads started separating.

But simply put the parts back on the template and hit with another shot of water and it fuses back together in about 1/2 hour.

I’ve come across some other reviews from folks whose kids also received these sets for Christmas, and I have to admit, mine is among the most polite of those I’ve read so far. Timmy and Jacob seem to enjoy this kit pretty well, so as long as you are flexible with the mess the beads can make, and make sure to avoid getting the beads wet until you’re absolutely ready.

One of the reviews even says “stick with Perler beads”. After Jacob spilling a tray of about 3000 Perler beads this afternoon, I’m even getting frustrated with the Perler beads!

27. December 2008 · Comments Off on 21 Degrees in 2 Hours… · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

…More Nebraska weather fun. A cold front came through and plummeted our temperature from 53F at 9pm to 32F at 11pm.

It got up to 60F today! No jackets! We can see our lawn again! Perhaps today should have been the day to take down the Christmas lights, while we could have stood on the roof without ice on it. Who knows when it’ll be warm enough again…

…snow forecast tomorrow and tomorrow night again…highs in the 20s….

26. December 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Happy Holidays friends!

We had a fun day yesterday…I have to admit I went a bit overboard with the holiday shopping for everyone. I guess I was counting on the extra money I’d earned from my 3 weeks in Florida. I haven’t gotten paid for it yet, but I hope I get the paycheck soon so my credit card can breathe a sigh of relief!

I think our Wii system had the best holiday of all, we got 4 games for it but these are the two we’ve opened and played with so far:

1.) Wii Music. This is a great time, and it’s quite wonderful that our boys are enjoying something on the Wii instead of Lego Star Wars. I’d argue it’s the equivalent of getting Jacob and Timmy their own drum set, guitar, piano and trumpet…it’s hard for them not to mess up here. You use the Wii remotes to make the instruments play — it’s semi in tune.

You can have “jam sessions” with the instruments of your choosing (over 50, including many silly ones, such as “Cheerleader” where you are dressed in a girl’s cheerleading outfit and chanting “rah rah rah”). You can play “Mii Maestro” where you conduct an orchestra with your Wii remote, and they play at the speed of your choosing. If you conduct too fast or with too much enthusiasm, your orchestra starts to sweat and make faces at you. Really funny. You can also record videos, design the album jacket and file the video in a library stored in your Wii memory.

The boys are having a blast with this, although I’m looking forward to more songs getting unlocked, I’m pretty sick of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

2.) Guitar Hero World Tour. This was a surprise for Dave…I saw the set (guitar controller + game) on sale the day after Thanksgiving for $99 and I was all set to pick one up for Christmas! But after 3-4 stores with my neighbor on Black Friday, the Wii version was sold out everywhere! Plenty of X-Box and Playstation sets, but none for Wii.

This turned into a mission for me. I decided if I can’t find the set, I’d buy the two parts a la carte: I picked up the game at Toys R Us, and then ordered a cool guitar controller from Amazon. Unfortunately, Amazon e-mailed me 6 days after I placed the order to say they were out of stock.


This happened to me in November with a backpack I was trying to buy for my deployment. I’d place the order, then 24-48 hours later, I’d be notified that the item was out of stock.

I was mad. Both with the backpack in November and with the guitar controller a couple weeks ago.

Anyway, I found the guitar in question at Best Buy in Papillion, NE, and decided that I could pick one up there the weekend before Christmas if need be. In the meantime, I kept the order with Amazon open in case the guitar controller came into stock.

The good news was that on December 18th, the guitar controller shipped, and it arrived on the 23rd, just in the nick of time! It’s not the standard guitar that you get with a game, but a “Les Paul”-designed Gibson guitar…looks a bit more realistic. It didn’t cost any differently, so I thought it would be cool.

Dave was very pleasantly surprised, and wasted no time getting it all set up so he can start rocking on with his favorite bands.
“World Tour” caught my attention because it features a much wider variety of songs, from many genres of music…most of which Dave and I like. From Steely Dan to Paul McCartney and Wings to Sting to Metallica to R.E.M. to Linkin Park to Smashing Pumpkins to Tool to Jimi Hendrix…and more songs are unlocking for us as we successfully play each gig.
I’m not going into the mechanics of how the guitar controller works here, but let’s just say that it’s not the same as a real guitar, so real guitar players (such as my parents) might find this a strange experience. You can edit the settings so you don’t have to use all 5 fret buttons, too, since there’s no way I can handle that yet. For the most part, we’re using 3 or 4 of the buttons right now.
Here’s Dave on Christmas morning sporting his new NY Islanders jersey, rocking on to a tutorial here…you’re practicing the timing of the strumming here, no fret buttons in use. We’re now easily using 4 out of the 5 frets and having a great time working through the song list!

Dave seems to think I’m taking more naturally to this because I played violin as a kid. I’m not having quite as much trouble with the more complex patterns of buttons…but I’m far from good at this. I was boo-ed off the stage trying to play an Oasis song, of all things!

I’m so hooked — and it’s a gift for Dave! Dave’s pretty hooked, too. It’s probably a good thing that I’m leaving in a couple weeks because I can see myself playing this all day long while Dave’s at work!

21. December 2008 · 4 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Merry Christmas, my wonderful friends/colleagues in the BLOGOSPHERE!

I’m sure you’re all excited about what my gift will be to you, right?

Well, after having the honor of flying the nation’s skies this holiday season during BOTH the Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes, I thought I’d offer these travel tips to the world to help friends better prepare for smooth travel during this season of crazy weather and stringent rules and stingy airlines, charging you fees left and right.

“That’s your gift to us? Travel tips? What if I’m not traveling anywhere?”

Well, I’m sure you know SOMEONE traveling for the holidays. And many of those folks will be trying to fly.

“Why should I listen to you?”

Because I fly a lot. I used to fly all the time when I was on active duty (almost once a month during my last assignment), but since I got out of the Air Force it’s dwindled down to 2-3 times per year. After my trip to the Middle East, I’ll probably be back to 4-6 times per year while I’m still doing AF Reserve work in South Carolina. I try to be as prepared as possible, and I have to admit, this trip I took was rather smooth, and I think it was because I did my homework ahead of time and abided by the rules of travel.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to have a smooth travel experience if you follow these tips:

NOTE: These tips for coach travelers, for the most part. I don’t travel first class often enough to know how these post-9/11 rules apply to business or first class travelers.

1.) Know the TSA’s rules for travel. This includes rules regarding luggage locks, transport of liquids and gels, and hazardous materials, such as knives. The TSA is recommending you NOT wrap gifts in your checked baggage, in case it has to be searched. The TSA will unwrap gifts if deemed necessary to complete searches.

a.) Liquids and gels in your carry-on. This is for carry-ons only, not for checked baggage. Know the 3-1-1 Rule for packing liquids in your carry on. Apparently you can store up to 13 containers in one of those 1 quart Ziploc bags. No individual containers may contain more than 3 oz. of liquid or gel.

Consider items such as gift baskets, snowglobes, gravies, colognes, toothpastes. These items may NOT cross the security checkpoint if their volume exceeds 3 oz., you may have to abandon them in order to make your flight…the last thing you want to leave behind is your new bottle of Chanel No. 5!

Finally: don’t buy a drink or carry a full water bottle with you to the airport unless you plan to drink it all on one side of the security checkpoint. Wait till you pass through security.

b.) Know what kinds of TSA-approved luggage locks are allowed on your bags. If the TSA finds a reason to open your bag and the lock is the wrong kind, it will be cut open.

c.) Have the proper federal or state government-issued I.D. College ID cards are NOT valid for travel. Neither are major credit cards. Your best bet is to invest in a passport. I have observed TSA employees work very quickly with passports and military ID cards. Even with state-issued drivers’ licenses, TSA employees will take some time to check for watermarks, holograms and other distinctive markings, which are different for each state.

d.) Know what to do in the security checkpoint. Please? Prepare while you’re in line: pack unnecessary metal items in your bags so they go through the X-Ray machine, remove your laptop ahead of time so it can be scanned separately, be prepared to remove your coat and/or sweater, make sure to wear slip-on shoes if possible because you are now required to remove your shoes.

Are you a parent traveling with a child and/or a stroller? Be prepared to pass the child through security separately (the rules are written vaguely about this, I’ve been allowed to carry Timmy as an infant though the metal detector but more than once I had to pass baby Jacob to the TSA employee on the other side of the detector so I could walk through separately), and also be prepared to empty out and fold up the stroller and run it through the X-Ray machine with your other bags.

2.) Know your air carrier’s policies regarding baggage. Let me break this down for you:

a.) Know if your carrier charges for checked baggage. I wish I could give you a link to an easy fee schedule chart, but these numbers are always changing, check with your carrier before you go on the latest and greatest. Be prepared to pay the baggage fee at check-in if you’re flying coach and aren’t in a Frequent Flyer prefered status. They’ll accept cash and credit cards, but probably not checks. I was behind someone in Omaha who thought he/she could pay with a check. Most carriers who are levying this fee are charging $15 for the first bag, $25-35 for the 2nd, and a ridiculous amount for the 3rd (Northwest = $125 for the 3rd bag). Southwest is one of the few carriers left not charging this fee, but I wonder if the higher airfare is compensating for that.

b.) Know if your carrier charges extra for over-sized or overweight bags. In Fort Walton Beach on Friday, someone in line pulled her 53 lb. bag off the scale at check-in, opened it up and removed about 5 lbs. worth of stuff to her purse so as not to pay $50 instead of $15 for her one checked bag.

c.) Don’t check fancy electronics, medications or excess amounts of cash or valuables. Use a carry on for these. Those bags get thrown around and opened/closed freely for random inspections. It’ll be hard to pinpoint where your wife’s diamond necklace might have been stolen between New York and Wichita.

d.) Pre-emptively remove those long shoulder straps from your checked baggage, if possible. Stuff them in a side pocket or your carry-on. Those straps might be removed by a baggage attendant and stuffed into a pocket, or they might not be removed and get shredded by a conveyor belt as it travels around. My garment bag’s shoulder strap is shredded in one location.

e.) I’ve preached this all my life. Airline travelers should own “good” luggage, but not “great” luggage. Luggage is meant to hold and protect your belongings during travel, and it will be tossed around, slid around and might be sitting in cargo at the bottom of a rather large pile of baggage. It’ll get beat up. For me, personally, I find Vera Bradley luggage absolutely beautiful, but I have to admit I’d be scared to rip up that pretty quilting with how often I travel. Give me a good Samsonite or Land’s End suitcase.

f.) Find a way to quickly identify your suitcase. Especially if it’s a black rectangular suitcase. My Mom used to use colorful yarn, I’ve seen bright ribbons tied around the girth of the suitcase. What do I do? I have a brightly colored luggage tag such as what you might find here.

3.) Understand the type of aircraft you’ll be flying on…I’m sure many of you ordinarily won’t care about this type of thing, but airlines are getting more and more stringent about the size of your carry-on. A good way to know how big the plane is by getting an idea of how many seats across there are in coach class. 2, 3 or 4 seats across is usually the standard in a smaller plane. If you have a standard rectangular wheeled carry on and you think it’s going to fit into the overhead bin on a smaller plane, forget it. You’ll likely be asked to check it at the gate. My backpack didn’t fit into the overhead bin on the Bombardier CR-9. Therefore, you need to preemptively remove things you might want during flight: reading materials, drinks (purchased after the security checkpoint, of course) and snacks.

Don’t be “that person”…blocking the aisle for 2-3 minutes while attempting to stuff your carry-on into the overhead compartment!

4.) Food. The rumors are true: food service has dwindled down quite a bit and I don’t know which flights serve snacks, which serve meals, and which serve nothing at all. My December 19th flight between Fort Walton Beach and Memphis (about 1 hour, 10 minutes) served a pre-packaged 6 oz. cup of water or juice or coffee, while the leg between Memphis and Omaha (about 1 hour, 28 minutes) offered complimentary soft drinks and juices, and alcoholic beverages for an additional cost. On both legs there were snacks for sale. Since I was coming home from 3 weeks of living in a hotel, I had brought along apples and granola cereal to nosh on during the flight. Remember, food products aren’t a problem with security, just liquids and gels.

5.) If you’re booking a trip with more than one leg to your flight, don’t bother with flights with less than 1 hour layovers in large hub airports such as Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas or Charlotte. You don’t necessarily know how far apart the gates will be at layover time, and delays can pop out of nowhere! Yesterday my plane from Memphis was ready to go to Omaha, but the crew to fly the plane was due in from Detroit and were delayed.

6.) And my last tip for holiday travel: Be cooperative with authorities, and keep your sense of humor. The airport employees have quite a thankless job during the holidays, and understand that their job is to get you there safely. Most delays happen for the sake of safety, and while we might be inconvenienced, our lives might have been saved by their erring on the side of caution. Whether it’s maintenance issues, training, or the weather.

So there you have it, Patricia’s Tips for Travel. I’ve experienced every kind of delay you can think of, and I think I’ve seen every kind of crazy passenger out there (except for terrorists, thankfully)…for those who think our security measures and rules are severe, just try to fly in and out of Israel or India.

19. December 2008 · Comments Off on Hi Honey, I’m Home! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,
17. December 2008 · Comments Off on Another Makeover! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

Yeah, I gave up the 3-column format…as happy as I was to have it, there was still space on the edges not being fully used. So I reverted to the 2 column format again, but was pleasantly surprised I was able to keep the cake lady picture. Whoo hoo!

15. December 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

My sister sent me a couple funny links to Santa-related blog posts. A good laugh.

You can see them too: here and here.

I got to thinking (uh oh) about those guys sitting in those chairs for hours on end at the mall. Children from all walks of life sitting on their laps. In various states of friendliness towards fat strangers with candy and presents.

I guess I’ve been really lucky in this department — my boys have always been pretty good with Santa. I might need to do a blog post showing my boys with Santa when I get home. In only one picture does Jacob look less-than-happy (2003, he was about 15 months old)…and he just looks peeved, like he has somewhere better to be and Mommy was wasting his time dragging him to Orlando to visit Santa.

From Santa Claus Journey

In 2005 we visited Santa at Southpoint Mall in Durham and that year it was like Santa casual day and he was wearing just a holiday shirt w/ suspenders with his red pants. Weird. What was more weird was that Mrs. Claus plopped herself down on the chair with the boys for the picture. Not against the rules or anything, but it was unusual. That was Timmy’s first visit with Santa, he was about 10 1/2 months old. Jacob was 3.

From Santa Claus Journey

Most of you have heard my story of Jacob’s most-magical-Santa-experience-in-the-universe at Macy’s in NYC in 2005. I remember Jacob asking for a “remote control train” (GeoTrax), in fact. Highly recommend it if you ever have a reason to go to NYC during the holiday season while the kids are still believers.

From Santa Claus Journey

I have the 2008 picture, but not with me as I’m writing this in Florida. I had to go to my online photo albums to retreive the rest of these. And for some reason, I’m not finding the Santa pic from 2004. Enjoy the rest of our Vollmer Santa Journey here.

My husband played Santa Claus one year at our squadron Christmas party. He was the youngest Lieutenant in the unit, everyone pointed to him. He was really sweet with the kids, but did end up with several kids who were scared. I guess it isn’t for everyone.

Hats off to all those public Santa Clauses out there — you have the patience of a saint! I guess that’s why you’re SAINT Nicholas, huh?

14. December 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I want to fly into hurricanes when I grow up!

Many who know me know that I’ve wanted to do that for many years. I may have even mentioned it in high school, but probably didn’t talk about it anymore once I learned that most of the people who do that are in the Air Force…and in high school I never dreamed of joining the military.

It’s probably one of those things that probably would only work out for me if the stars were lined up just right. Dave would have to be stationed back in the southeast again, etc. Not sure if the winds will blow us in that direction again…

This weekend, since I was relatively close, I took a drive from Fort Walton Beach over to Biloxi, MS, where my friend Brian lives now. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive. He moved down in summer 2007 and is now a member of the Hurricane Hunters, the USAF Reserves 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. He really got busy this past 2008 hurricane season, flying through such headliners as Gustav and Ike.

I arrived last evening around 6pm…it was already dark by the time I arrived, but even the moonlight couldn’t hide the changes to the Gulf Coast since I was last there in 1996. When we drove around during the day again on Saturday, I was pretty emotional about everything that got destroyed. Gorgeous Antebellum Homes, thousands of years of vegetative growth, and the very lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It’s very unfortunate seeing the toll the current economy is going to take on the rebuilding efforts there…

Today Brian took me over to visit his squadron, and I got a brief tour of the aircraft, including the equipment they use. Very cool…I am particularly impressed by the SFMR (dyslexically nicknamed “Smurf”), which is a radar system that can determine surface wind speeds while airborne based on the agitation of the waves on the ocean surface.

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

After visiting the squadron, we ate lunch at Mary Mahoney’s in old historic downtown Biloxi. It was neat seeing their documentation of Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, and I had some delicious crawfish etouffee with a bread pudding dessert.

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

The sign at the top of the above picture is shown in closeup below:

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

Then we spent the afternoon at two casinos: the Beau Rivage and the Hard Rock. We didn’t really gamble (a few slot machines), but I really enjoyed seeing the gorgeous holiday decorations at the Beau Rivage and the rock music memorabalia at the Hard Rock.

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

We did a lot of walking Saturday afternoon and after dinner I hopped back over to Fort Walton Beach. I had a nice time and it’s always fun to visit with old friends…thanks for your hospitality, Brian!

PS: Enjoy this artwork from Mississippi native Dayton Scoggins. He’s been carving dead live oak stumps into these stunning works of art:

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi

From 2008 12 13 Patricia_Brian_Biloxi
13. December 2008 · Comments Off on Sunset Over Mobile Bay, December 12 · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

I’m spending the weekend with my friend Brian the Hurricane Hunter in
Biloxi. I’ll write more soon about the Katrina recovery here.