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You're About to be Redirected to the New Home of Ground Control to Major Mom: 4/6/08 - 4/13/08

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Get It Sold!

Need a house?

For those unaware, I've been going crazy since early March getting our house ready to sell. Unlike in Florida, where we didn't have to do jack squat for the house to sell in summer 2005, this time around we're making this place look like a museum, new paint all around, repairs, powerwashing, new landscaping, as much as we're willing to budget.

Since we can't currently guarantee we're going to make any money on the house, we can't go too nuts. No new appliances, no new flooring, carpeting, roof, etc. The most we're investing in is an exterior trim paint job.

But there's this show on HGTV called "Get It Sold" and we've been enjoying learning about these little low-cost tips to "stage" the house. One of the recommendations is that we remove personal pictures and replace those picture frames with more neutral artwork.

Dave and I had prided ourselves in our living room, filled with black-and-white 8 x 10 portraits of the family, with the only color picture being the full-sized family portrait over the fireplace. You can see what I'm talking about in this picture from Easter morning (yes, Dave's wearing bunny ears, what a trooper!):

We didn't want to run out to Bed Bath and Beyond or some art store to spend money on neutral stuff that we wouldn't even want to take to Nebraska.

Dave came up with the idea to make some 8 x 10 black and white prints of some of the less personal photography we might have on our computers. He and I spent the better part of an evening browsing our digital photo collection (about 19,000 pictures, going back to 2002) looking for something worth blowing up and hanging on our wall. Oh yeah, it has to look good in black and white!

After Dave campaigned (and lost) for a picture of a calf, and I campaigned (and lost) for a picture of Mount Washington, NH we settled on 5 very nice pictures, that we had Shutterfly blow up for us for a grand total of $20.02! I'm in the middle of re-framing the black and whites right now and it's looking very impressive.

The picture of the tall ship goes into our bedroom, while the other 4 pictures will be in the living room, in black "floating" frames.

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Gas Prices, Plus Some Experiment Results


Today I finally got up the nerve to submit a local gas price to the Raleigh Gas Prices website. I figured I've been using the site so much, and the station right outside of my neighborhood's entrance (it has a single entry/exit, more on that for another posting) is hideously expensive, I thought I'd get an account and start reporting what I see.

For those geography geeks, here is a cool map of gas prices across the U.S. Note the local minimum in South Carolina -- I make a point of filling up in McColl, SC, where I usually cross the state line when driving down to Shaw AFB for drill. Further down on the page is a map of North Carolina, but you can enter any city/state or zip code and look at more localized price information.

"So how did you do on your grand experiment?"

Yes, I was just getting to that...

In case you were wondering, here's a description of the experiment. Unfortunately, Dave and I took a temporary hiatus from the single-vehicle experiment during my drill last weekend, plus this week we had several occasions to use separate vehicles. I'd like to return to the schedule next week, but we'll see. I will be watching a friends' kids on Wednesday, so I'd definitely need the van to fit 4 little boys in their booster seats!

We were able to drive the van a limited amount on ONE tank of gas from March 8th through April 1st. The Prius cost us $25-30 to fill up about every 6 days. So we used about 4 tanks of gas in the Prius. Typically we spend $250-275 per month on gas, in the time period in question, we were able to spend only about $150 for gas. A nice cost savings, I must say! We put about 1000 miles on the Prius in that time frame. That took into account a round trip to Pope AFB (120 miles total) and one round trip to Dalzell, SC, about 400 miles total.

Overall, it was a cool thing to try out for a solid month, but in practice, we simply live too far away for it to work while we're still in NC. Maybe it can become our lifestyle in NE this fall, we'll see. The Prius was getting about 18 extra miles on it daily since it had to make two trips to campus instead of just the one, and the time the boys and I had to take every evening to pick up Dave could be better spent than sitting in the car.

But - if gas prices continue to climb, this is something I'm willing to make the time for 2-3 times per week, provided Dave isn't driving anywhere during the day.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Do-It-Yourself Despair Gallery

Paul did it again! He's pointed out some crazy website to me and I'm now addicted.

NOTE: My affinity for The Pioneer Woman's site is all his fault!

Presenting: the Do-It-Yourself Demotivational Poster Generator

Dave and I have always gotten a kick out of those motivational posters, such as this one:

But we get MORE of a kick out of the parodies on the motivational posters. This one was framed in Dave's office in Florida.

Sure, folks have tried to make up their own, and you get something like this one below, which is from the USJFCOM Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, VA. Framed, hanging up on the wall. I couldn't even go into this room with a straight face. I did a lot of Reserve work in the room with this poster in 2006 and 2007. There was a series of posters featuring different facets of military capability: "Intelligence", "Operations", "Logistics". While I'm honored that someone thought to include "Meterology", I wish someone had consulted a spell-checker first.

I didn't add that Post-It note, someone else did:

With the link I've shown above, you can upload a picture of your choice, then add your own title and catch-phrase. Then you can e-mail the poster to friends, save a JPG of the poster to your hard drive, and you can even order an 11 x 14 of the poster for about $12!

Enjoy my latest creations.

Feel free to try it out and let me know if you come up with any particularly good ones!
Here's a link to the company that markets the REAL motivation posters, if you're wanting to learn more about the real thing: Successories.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My Latest Cake Creation

This is my latest cake creation. Duff Goldman, I'm not.

This was made in honor of my reserve flight's outgoing commander, Lt Col Chuck Buckler. He drinks 6-8 cans of Diet Coke daily, and we would watch him accumulate a pile of empty cans on his desk every drill weekend. Sort of horrifying, if you ask me...all those chemicals.

Anyway, making the Diet Coke shaped cake was Paul's idea. Paul will be my commander after Lt Col Buckler leaves. I guess starting in mid-May, you'll be seeing me call him Major Gifford. :-)

I offered making a Diet Coke cake, but it seemed to gross everyone out.

I really wanted the gray-colored icing to be more silvery, but I was limited in my resources. I ordered some silver food coloring from a British retailer (only 5 Pounds! Which comes to about $11 U.S.!) Someone more professional might have been able to hook up her food-quality airbrush and spray it on, but I wasn't that lucky. I mixed in the coloring into some white buttercream and ended up with a white sparkley icing...not gray at all! Hence the addition of a little black coloring to make the gray tone. The picture doesn't show the subtle sparkle that well.

Underneath? One layer of white cake, one layer of devil's food, the cake was trimmed to look like a half-cylinder on its side.

More cake pics here:


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Monday, April 7, 2008

Two Air Force Friends...I'll Miss You! Part 2.

Anthony Pearson is someone who has been part of my Air Force life since Day 1, quite literally. It was 1995, and I had my orders to my first duty assignment at Fort Polk, LA. I happened to report to the base the same week that MSgt Tony Pearson and his family were reporting into the same weather mid-June 1995. So he and I got to experience in-processing together, and he and I were learning the ropes about the base, the weather flight and the special culture of west-central Louisiana.

He was learning those ropes much faster than I was, of course.

Tony was my first "station chief". He was the weather flight's senior enlisted member, and over my 3 years at Fort Polk, he'd be regarded as a father figure to most of us while we went through some pretty rocky leadership changes.

But for me, he was like a father figure in other ways, too.

He was there when Dave and I got married. He and I were married by a Justice of the Peace in Leesville, LA and had somewhat of a mini-wedding reception at the base weather station. My own parents were in Guam at the time, and Dave and I always had it in our minds that we'd have a real wedding later...but I guess after nearly 13 years, that vision has faded. Tony was there.

He was very patient with me. During a 6 month period when I was the highest ranking member of Fort Polk's weather flight -- as a 2nd Lieutenant! -- he did an exceptional job ensuring I was learning how to make decisions properly. He was a significant part of me not losing my mind altogether when I was brought in to weigh on decisions that impacted Airmens' lives in so many ways -- was I really supposed to recommend a demotion for someone 10 years older than me with a wife and 2 kids? Tony patiently educated me on Air Force weather knowledge, as well as general military knowledge -- and quite a bit of life knowledge too.Sometimes stress would get the better of me -- I'd be frustrated over some Army First Sergeant dressing down one of our Airmen, or battling the Army's supply system, or not understanding why SSgt Bruns didn't get that Army Acheievement Medal when her partner did. More than once I was in Tony's office in tears. And he'd listen.

And then he'd tell me to clean up and get back out there and do good things.

Tony has always been well grounded in his faith. In fact, as a 2nd Lt I have to admit I was taken aback by some of his candid discussions about whether I'd found Jesus Christ as my Savior. I was taught in AFROTC that we didn't discuss such things while on duty. I did go to church with him and his family occasionally, and some of our discussions about faith had some influence in decisions later in my life. I was baptized Lutheran in 2002.

After Dave and I had moved on from Fort Polk, Tony and I continued to exchange Christmas cards, and one day in about 2005 he put in a "Friend Request" on MySpace. We'd exchange the occasional e-mail when it came to news about some of our mutual friends/colleagues in the Air Force. "Did you hear Phil Hardin got a commission?" "Sean Campbell's in Afghanistan..." "I'm separating from the Air Force."

By this time, Tony had retired from the AF and was working as a government civilian for the weather squadron at Shaw AFB.

This past summer when I had transfered Reserve jobs to Shaw AFB, I knew right away I'd have to get in touch with Tony and tell him I'd be on hand at least 1 weekend per month. It wasn't long before I got to see him again...I was put on one of his ops center shifts for training! It had been 9 years from when I left Fort Polk and we didn't miss a beat with our banter, our memories and our heated discussions about the Continuous Polar Front Theory (we tend to disagree there).

He and I both participated in a push-ups challenge in November. I think the shift members (about 22-24 people) were attempting to do 25000 push ups during their 12 hour shift. I contributed what I could, so did Tony.

Dave and the boys joined me for a drill weekend this past January. Tony saw Dave and me through many ups and downs while we were at Fort Polk -- we probably only spent about 1/3 of our time there actually together, and the separations were quite hard on us. I was proud to show off to Tony my happy family! He was very proud to show off his happy family to me :-)

When I arrived for my February drill, I found out that earlier in the day Tony had been rushed into emergency surgery in Columbia to save an abdominal blockage. During the surgery they found evidence of cancer. A couple people expressly told me to make sure I found time to visit Tony during my drill weekend, so my commander and I made a trip during the weekend.

Tony was in the ICU...folks who had seen him the day before just out of surgery were telling me he was quite groggy on his drugs. I was fortunate, Lt Col Buckler and I walked into a very alert, chipper Tony who proudly showed off his surgery scar first thing! And during our 20 minute visit, he did most of the talking. He detailed how he had received a clean bill of health just the month prior from his Primary Care Provider, and how he woke up on a Wednesday morning with a stomach ache. When he couldn't stop vomiting, he went to the emergency room. The scan of his abdomen showed an enormous blockage, and the news of the cancer was a surprise to everyone! But in the ICU that afternoon, Tony was in wonderful spirits, and I was so pleased to see him so happy I cried!

After that drill weekend, he hit some bumps in his recovery, needed additional surgeries, and just couldn't seem to get out of the ICU. I had the flu during most of my Annual Training at the end of the Feb/beginning of March, so I didn't want to risk anything and avoided the VA Hospital during those two weeks.

I got the news of his passing in an e-mail from my flights' operations superintendant on Monday, March 31st. While I was disappointed that I didn't get to visit with him just one more time, I was pleased that I was able to spend some time with him in his last months, and that Dave got to see him one more time recently, as well.

He had a beautiful memorial service with full military honors in Dalzell, SC on Thursday, April 3rd. Dave and I drove down for it. Once again, Wendy and Chuck watched the boys.

Tony would have been proud of the sea of blue -- dozens of Airmen in their service dress uniforms -- sitting in the church for his memorial. Tony never did care for fatigues/camoflauge/battle uniforms unless you were actually in field conditions.

Once again, there was that bittersweet feeling when seeing so many people that we hadn't seen in nearly 10 years: Mike Edelson, the NCO who trained both Dave and me on the forecast counter at Fort Polk and later worked with the both of us in Korea, Dee Pearson (Tony's wife), who we hadn't seen since Fort Polk, and his children, David and Shea.

Several members of my reserve flight were struck hard by Tony's passing, too. He was to walk one of our Airmen down the aisle at her wedding this coming winter.

The thing that really struck my heart strings, though, was that Tony was only 51, and he had merely awakened with a tummy ache 8 weeks prior. And it was colo-rectal cancer that took him from this earth in such a short time.

Like in the previous blog post, I happened across a snapshot I had taken of Tony from his 41st birthday in 1998. Note his blue uniform...he was probably the only one on all of Fort Polk in his day-to-day "blues".

I'll miss you! You'll always be MSgt Pearson to me!

From 2008 04 07 Od...

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Two Air Force Friends...I'll Miss You! Part 1.

This has been quite the past two weeks. Two deaths.

You might remember me mentioning that I'd had a slow day because I was upset about a high school friend's death in combat in Afghanistan. When I'd found out Willie Jefferson was a fellow Airman, and I'd learned more about what he was doing for the Air Force and what he was doing when he was killed, I grew even more emotional. I have to admit, I don't think Dave had ever seen me this down.

I found out he went by "Will" in recent years. I apologize for still calling him "Willie", his nickname in high school. Here's his obituary.

On Wednesday, March 26th, Wendy watched my boys while I drove down to Pope AFB, just south of here and I had the honor of seeing Willie's military memorial, and it was done with grace and dignity. Willie was an Air Force Special Operations NCO and he was working with Army Special Operations while in Afghanistan, and it was quite a sight to see both the Air Force Special Operations and Army Special Forces commanders at the memorial. This was my first military memorial for a fallen Airman, and I held my emotions in check until I saw the faces of his wife and daughter as they were leaving the ceremony with the offical party. The pure sorrow was heartbreaking, and upon seeing them I felt a pang of sadness I hadn't felt since I came home from the hospital after Jacob's birth without Jacob (who remained in the NICU for his first 6 days).

It was also bittersweet to re-kindle some friendships that had slacked off over the years, as many of my high school friends took time to look on MySpace and Facebook and apparently came across my profiles. Von and Melba, it's great to hear from you again!

Like I'd mentioned on the 24th, Dave told me he was surprised at how hard I had taken Willie's death, since I hadn't seen -- or even HEARD about him -- in the past 17 years. I was surprised, too.

So, in honor of TSgt William Jefferson, I've found this really nice picture of him that I took at the 1990 Lake Taylor High School Ring Dance. That cute gal next to him is Susan, still one of my best friends.

From 2008 04 07 Od...

But then, exactly one week later, I received news of another death in my Air Force family, someone much closer in my recent life. I put that into a separate post -- the second part started to get long.

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