17. May 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 15: Herbie the Thirteen-Striped Ground Squirrel · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

For those who didn’t know, living is Nebraska is the farthest west I’ve ever lived in the Continental U.S.  I lived in Hawaii as a child, and Seoul, Korea in the late 1990s, but this discussion is about experiences in the GREAT PLAINS!

Not long after we moved here, we started noticing the changes in flora and fauna compared to our many years east of the Mississippi. Of course, the first thing was the lack of trees. There are lots of trees in Bellevue, but once you come away from the Missouri River Valley, you are greeted with the flowing grasslands and enormous corn and soybean fields. I was definitely surprised at how hilly Nebraska still is. I always thought it was flat, like Indiana and Illinois. But it isn’t at all. And trust me, we drove through plenty of Nebraska in our first weeks here.

In our first couple months here, Howie was doing a lot of digging in our backyard. It turned out it was due to these little critters that were burrowing in the backyard, preparing to hibernate.

Chipmunks? No.
Prairie dogs? No.
Marmots? No.

After some research I figured out what the little rodents were: “Thirteen Striped Ground Squirrels”. It’s more closely related to the gopher than a squirrel, so much so that apparently Goldy the Gopher of the University of Minnesota is designed after one of these things, albeit due to the first artist’s misunderstanding about what a gopher actually looks like.

So…Howie has had his share of digging in certain locations in our backyard when the ground squirrels are breeding or preparing to hibernate. We just fill in the holes and re-seed the area.

Unfortunately, on Friday night Howie made an incredible mess out of our garden near the downspout on the southeast corner of our house. Howie had scared a ground squirrel into the downspout, and apparently with some sticky feet, the squirrel was able to suspend himself partway up the downspout.  That’s romaine lettuce on the right side of the picture, and that area you see was ALL romaine before Howie got to it Friday afternoon.

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

I think I’m going to call the squirrel “Herbie”, for simplicity’s sake. I’m tired of typing “the ground squirrel”.

After attempting to bang Herbie out by knocking on the downspout, then by using the hose to blast him out with water, Dave suggested I use one of our wax firestarters shoved up into the downspout to “flame” him out. So we did it:

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

Herbie leaped out from the vertical part of the downspout, over the flames, and into the horizontal extender, which takes the water over my garden into the grass. Dave was then able to disassemble the horizontal piece:

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

…and try to poke him out with the handle of a rake.

You’d think a normal rodent would freak from the rake handle and drop out. But I think Herbie knew that Howie and 2 young boys were waiting in the open for him. In this next picture, if you look very closely at the upper right of the bottom opening, you can see a foot sticking out:

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

BOOM! Out he plopped — with Howie at the ready!

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

Herbie came out of there in such shock — soaking wet, probably semi-burned from the flames, and definitely freaked from the dog and the kids hovering…Herbie just stood there and let me take all kinds of pictures of him.

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

This is the last picture I took — Dave took Herbie to the front yard to get Howie away from him, and he sat there and shivered.

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

Our neighbor Jake from across the street came over and offered some advice — get a box for him and get him warmed up, so that’s what we did. Dave set him up in a printer cartridge box, wrapped him in a small towel and we put him under our apple tree. By the following morning, Herbie was gone.

Was he eaten? Did he recover well enough to go back to his burrowing life? We don’t know. The important thing was that we got him away from Howie somewhat humanely, and got Howie out of our garden…for now.

15. May 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 14: Kool Aid!* · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

*Yes, you read that correctly!

I introduced Kool-Aid to the kids recently.  I guess they’d had it before at birthday parties and stuff, but I never made it for the boys the good old fashioned way: the little packet, 1 cup of sugar (give or take) and 2 quarts of water (give or take.)

It got me thinking (can you smell the smoke?) about Kool-Aid in general.  How much I grew up with it as a kid — there are dozens of pictures of me as a kid with Kool-Aid mustaches, and I tried to find one, but I couldn’t find one easily.  But I did find this picture from April 1977:

From 1977 04 California-to-Hawaii

See? That’s how much I must have loved Kool-Aid…

Or was it that my Mom made me so much Kool-Aid, she sent in 50 envelopes for a free t-shirt? I contemplated doing that with Mr. Bubble for my own boys…

Anyway, I got to thinking about the history of Kool-Aid, and I happened across this website.  Go about 2/3 the way down the rather verbose history and you’ll see the breakthrough information…Edwin E. Perkins introduced Kool-Aid to the world from Hastings, Nebraska in the late 1920s.

Well would you look at that? Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska!  The city of Hastings is about 2 1/2 hours west of where I am now. And look what else! In August there’s a Kool-Aid Days right there in Hastings! That sounds, um…INTERESTING. Not sure if I’d make the big trip west expressly for that, but I’ll stick it in my hip pocket if we’re desperately looking for something to do the weekend before school starts…but I’m guessing we won’t.

Back at the home front, I broke out my two-quart pitcher and whipped up some grape Kool-Aid for Timmy. He guzzled the first cup down so quickly! In fact, I had to chide him for gulping too loudly! “Glug, glug, glug!” Ha ha!

That batch lasted about 2 days, and yesterday I made fruit punch and even poured some into two cups for popsicles.  I should try to find some legitimate molds, but for now plastic cups and craft sticks are working just fine…

I like the idea of my boys enjoying Kool-Aid. It’s cheap to make (20 cents for the packet, about 30 cents worth of sugar, the negligible cost for the water). So 2 quarts for less than the cost of 1 16 oz. soda or Gatorade.  Without the high fructose corn syrup.

11. May 2010 · Comments Off on The Cat’s Out of the Bag!* · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
Lovely picture, isn’t it?  Where could that be?  It’s so pretty there…boy…I wish I could live there….

So…those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter already know this, and if you aren’t on either of those websites, you could probably just glance to the right on this blog and see the news.

We ARE going to live there**!  Actually, that picture is of sunset in Destin, Florida, which may or may not be where we live (probably not, we’re looking more at Navarre), but it’s definitely in the area of where we’re headed this fall***!

Yes!  We’re moving back to Florida!!!!!  Whoo hoo!  Dave got a job as a “Director of Operations” for a weather squadron at Hurlburt Field, which is just east of Pensacola.  So this time we’re not returning to the east coast.  That’s okay…I’d spent some time at Hurlburt Field in 2008 while training for my Middle East deployment.  It’s a great area, plenty to see and do.

Whoo hoo!

Not sure how many of you knew that before we were in North Carolina, where I started this blog, we lived in Viera, Florida from 2002-2005.  Dave and I were both on active duty, stationed at Patrick AFB, which is just south of Cape Canaveral.  Both of our sons were born in Melbourne and we owned a great house just off I-95.  We really enjoyed it there.  Lots of great things to do (such as Washington Nationals Spring Training), lots of great friends and lots of rocket and shuttle launches.  Okay, not a lot of shuttle launches.  There were only 5 launches in the 3 1/2 years we lived there: the 4 that occurred in 2002 after we moved there, then STS-107 which was the Columbia mission that exploded upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.  It was really cool to see the launches from our front driveway in Viera!

Actually, we had known about this for a couple months now.  But we wanted something in writing first. Dave got his official assignment notification on Friday.  We had mentioned this to the boys back in March, and Jacob’s first question was “How far will we be from Disney World?”  Ha ha!  They’re looking forward to the beaches and the warmth!

So, if you didn’t hear me the first few times on this blog post: Whoo hoo!****

*What does that idiom mean, anyway? Is there some sort of archaic story behind this? Let’s find out!

**Boy, I hope I don’t jinx things by shouting out all this happiness so soon!

***Technically, we’re headed down this fall.  Dave’s report date is before the first day of winter, even if it’s barely so…

****For those in the Omaha area reading this, please don’t feel that we don’t love you guys and gals!  We really like it here, but we Vollmers are EASTERNERS so to get to go back East of the Mississippi is comforting for us…

08. May 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

(Resubmitting to correct photo error)

From 2010 05 01 Hamburger Helper

So here it is.  This is the Chili-Cheese Hamburger Helper-like recipe that I stole from Suzanne McMinn’s blog “Chickens in the Road”.  About a woman who lives in rural West Virginia.

Like I said before, we grownups aren’t huge Hamburger Helper fans in the first place, but since our kids love it so much, we served this up and they enjoyed it just the same.  At least this time I felt better about what I was serving my kids.  Yes, I still served them up enriched macaroni (i.e., not whole grain pasta) but this time I know that I could control the sugar, salt, and I know that this dinner is trans-fat free (unlike Hamburger Helper)*.  Also, the homemade version included a teaspoon of sugar in the seasonings, which I prefer to the high fructose corn syrup in the boxed seasoning packet.

It was certainly less salty than the boxed version, and the kids noticed that, but Jacob still ate more than the adult servings Dave and I had.  Timmy did his usual: picked at the dish and only ate what we made him eat so he could have a dessert later.

In the future, I *could* incorporate whole wheat or veggie pasta, ground turkey instead of ground beef, and I’d like to try some of the other flavors.  I plan to make up a packet and take it on our camping trip in a couple weeks.  I look forward to attempting one of the Italian flavors.

*Note about the trans-fat.  The box of Hamburger Helper I had last week had “partially-hydrogenated soybean oil” on the ingredients list, yet on the Nutrition Facts label it indicated 0g of trans-fats.  This is misleading.  What the “0g” actually means is that there’s less than 1/2 a gram of the product in the package, so the company can round down.  It’s a math trick, that’s all.  There *IS* naturally-occuring trans-fats in beef and other red meats, but in trace amounts, and it hasn’t been proven to have the same harmful effects as the man-made trans-fats, which are produced to help shelf-stabilize foods with fat.

05. May 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 13: Historic Fort Crook & SAC Chapel, Offutt AFB · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Today I’m sharing some of the history on Offutt AFB.  Unfortunately, everyone can’t just get onto Offutt.  You need to have a military ID card to get onto the base freely, or make a friend with a military member who can sign you in as a guest.

As mentioned before, I started using this software to track my runs. The software doesn’t seem very stable on my iPhone (probably because I downloaded the free version and they want my money before it works the way I want it to…). So this isn’t the most accurate thing out there, but it’s fun to give it a go.

So here’s a map of the most recent run I performed:

If you choose “view full” in the lower left, then select the satellite map (or Hybrid), you can see that I’m running the perimeter of a large field. This is the parade field of what was formerly Fort Crook, which was the original military installation that is now the home of Offutt AFB. Fort Crook was established in 1888, and was completed in 1894.  Today, many of the buildings surrounding the parade field are from their original mid-1890s construction, including the buildings of “General’s Row” which are seen in the background here from the late 1890s:

And here are the same houses today, the same ones as on the left side of the above photo:

03. May 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Just showing off one of the gizmo gadgets I’m trying out here. This software is in my iPhone.  It ties into the GPS in the phone and records location, distance, speed and time.  I’ve downloaded the free version, which has some sort of screen saver glitch that prevents me from stopping the runs in time, so it isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s good enough for me.  In fact, in this case, the GPS didn’t kick on until I was about 6 houses down from where I started running, so this route is about .1 miles short.

I love that it’s translating into route information and elevation data.  You can even see that I run opposing traffic if you zoom in enough 🙂

For more oohs…and aaahhhhs….click on “Show Elevation” towards the bottom. This is one of the hillier runs I do, and my knees usually pay me back for about 24 hours after this run.

02. May 2010 · Comments Off on Hypothesis Successful! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Yesterday morning I posted about the Hamburger Helper we were planning for dinner. I predicted that our dinner would be a beef-based gravy and it turned out that’s exactly what we ended up with.

I know I had promised just a comment at the bottom of yesterday’s post about the outcome of the Hamburger Helper. But this was worth a separate blog post because of a suggestion from a friend (which I’ll mention below).

So here’s what we ended up with:

From 2010 05 01 Hamburger Helper

Howie’s vomit? No…”Beef Pasta” flavored Hamburger Helper.  Let’s show it nice and up close for you:

From 2010 05 01 Hamburger Helper

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this appealing looking one bit. It tasted edible, and only Jacob liked it…I can’t believe I loved this stuff as a kid!  My hypothesis was correct in that the flavor of this dish was based on a creamy beef gravy. You add milk along with the browned beef and water. If you manage through the preservative-y saltiness, you can taste a beefy-type flavor.

Why is this a separate post? Because when I posted this picture to my Facebook page, one of my friends, who maintains a gluten-free household, brought this blog post to my attention. Homemade Hamburger Helper! Without the preservatives, sodium and other unpronouncable ingredients! Yay!

I was thinking that Hamburger Helper would make a good camping meal, so I’m looking forward to this alternative! Now, to choose a flavor, Suzanne made so many options!

01. May 2010 · Comments Off on What Does "Natural" Taste Like??? · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,
Last Sunday I took both boys to the grocery store.  Dave was working at the train show, so I just took both boys along, which is rare for me.  I typically go during the week when I only need to take, at most, one of the boys.  So it had been a while since I took both Jacob and Timmy.  They weren’t poorly behaved, but I was inundated with “Mommy, can we get X?”…”Mommy, can we get Y?”…”Mommy, can we get Z?”

Among the items they asked for was Hamburger Helper.  Jacob actually cracked me up during his sales pitch, since he even took the time to mention the Box Top for Education at the top of the boxes.  While it isn’t the most nutritious meal out there, I guess it beats a Happy Meal, right?   I remember having Hamburger Helper as a kid.  It was okay, but not at the top of my dinner-preparation list.

Here’s the one I let Jacob choose. Why not? This can be one of our “sometimes foods”, right? I had hoped he’d choose one of the more Italian-themed flavors, like the lasagna-style, but this is what he picked.

If you can’t read the label, the description of the flavor is “Pasta & Naturally Flavored Sauce Mix”.

What in the world is “Naturally Flavored?” Staring at the packaging didn’t give me any insight. It looks like a cheese sauce in the picture, but it turns out it isn’t really. Looking at the ingredients, I didn’t see anything that indicated milk products. Sugar, beef stock and dried onion and garlic jumped out as a hint to the flavor.

Patricia’s Hypothesis: It’s going to be a standard beef gravy with the pasta and beef.

So this will be our dinner tonight — I’ll leave a comment this evening and let you know how it turns out. I picked up some 96% lean ground beef, so I know this will be a low-fat meal, at least.

Speaking of Hamburger Helper, who else remembers the jingle from the 1980s where the slogan was “Hamburger Helper helps the hamburger help HER….” Ha ha! Not “help HIM”….”help HER”.

Because what man would cook this, right?  I found the commercial on You Tube, so enjoy!