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You're About to be Redirected to the New Home of Ground Control to Major Mom: 7/3/11 - 7/10/11

Friday, July 8, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Traveling Solo With Sons

Easter 2011.

I've gotta admit it -- my boys travel VERY VERY VERY well. From Jacob and the Amtrak Auto Train to see family at 9 months old, to Timmy and a trip up to North Carolina to find a new house at 4 months old, our boys have learned that long automobile trips are part of the military lifestyle...

I also have to admit that I really enjoy traveling and I like to think that I travel pretty well. But probably not as well as I used to travel, when I'd work a full Air Force day and then hop in the car and drive from Fort Polk, LA to Keesler AFB, MS to spend the weekend with Dave while he was TDY.

(Oops, did I say that out loud?)

Right after Christmas 2006, I took the boys on a 2-week trip to New York and New Hampshire to give Dave some time to prepare for his comprehensive exams while he was at NC State. People thought I was CRAZY, but it turned out to be a really great trip.

January 2006.  Jacob has always been such an angel in the car!
Last month Dave and I parted ways about halfway through our vacation.  I continued northward to Vermont, while Dave caught a flight out of Harrisburg back home since he had to return to work.  Again, folks commented about how brave I am...or how crazy I am to make such trips on my own.

I love driving.  I guess I get it from my Dad.  My sister is the same way -- after all, she and her husband drove with their THREE sons from North Carolina to Nevada, taking a "southern route" westbound and a "northern route" (including our house in Nebraska) when they returned eastbound.

In every other way, traveling solo with my sons was great.  I only had one issue: rest stop restrooms.

I've put up a blog poll about this before: At what age is your child old enough to go into a public restroom on his/her own?

I believe most of my responses were in the 7- to 8-year-old range.

So here I am, stopping on I-81, the New York State Thruway and I-65 rest areas and was just sending my sons into the restrooms.  But I was GLUED to the exit door waiting for ears were really close to that doorway listening for them making sure they weren't abducted.

Since I made it back to Florida with both boys in tow, it's safe to assume that my sons survived the rest area restrooms.  But this leg of the trip certainly got me thinking about how single parents do it -- traveling and trusting their babies in roadside restrooms.

Some other tips on how we handled the 50+ hours in the car with two young boys:
  • I will admit, we have the built-in DVD player.  But we put some planning into how much the kids use it.  For starters, we have a "30-minute rule" in our SUV: no movies unless we're traveling more than 30 minutes.  But on longer road trips, I insist that the boys put some space between their movies, especially of there are particularly scenic parts to the trip (such as driving through downtown Atlanta or crossing the Hudson River on this last trip).
  • I will also admit (boy, I'm doing a lot of "admitting" here, aren't I?) that my boys have Nintendo DSi's (pardon the apostrophe, not sure whether it's used here like this or what....).  On the first day of our road trip, I didn't give much thought to Jacob having played his DSi for nearly the entire day's worth of driving!  And that was a long day!  Oops...
  • Don't rule out good-old fashioned road trip games: The License Plate Game, Auto Bingo, and I Spy are all family favorites!  
  • I've heard of other families doing this with success, you could try using the rest area or fuel stops as break points between media: perhaps 2 hours for a DVD, then 2 hours of Nintendo, then 2 hours of "looking out the window".
  • With young kids, don't forget to try to work in some activity time to make the hours of sitting less terrible.  Stop for lunch at a Chick-Fil-A with a kids' play area, or find a rest stop on your route with a playground and pack a picnic lunch.  Dave and I used to frequent the Amtrak Auto Train station in Lorton, VA as a rest area when we'd make our drives from North Carolina to Pennsylvania or New York: there's a nice playground, and at lunchtime the kids would enjoy seeing the vehicles getting loaded onto the train cars.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Road Trip 2011: Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival

This is our just-finished-packing-on-the-first-warm-day-of-our-campout-pooped picture. 
Meet Megan, who was my college roommate for my last two years at PSU.  She has a son about Jacob's age.  Every couple of years we try to get together to hang out.  We aren't formal about it or anything, but in recent years we've been able to take turns with visits and the last time we spent time together was at Dave's family reunion in 2008 (I think it was 2008....).

So this time it was the Vollmers' turn to make a trip up a bit closer to Megan; we discussed getting together for a mother/son campout somewhere between Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.  The Poconos and Catskills came to mind.  Megan found out that her favorite music group, Michael Franti and Spearhead, were headlining the Wanderlust Yoga Festival near Stratton, Vermont at the same time we were planning to get together.  We decided to go!

Michael Franti's uplifting music is a lot of fun to listen to, his most recent album, The Sound of Sunshine, is so full of fun and happiness.  His band is well known for their Top 20 hit "Say Hey (I Love You)".

We met up at Bald Mountain Campground near Townshend, Vermont.  The weather was pretty rainy and cool most of our time there, with high temperatures near 60F.  I wrote more about the camping itself earlier this week.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest yoga enthusiast!  I have gone to classes before, I know the basic moves, and I guess I'm okay at it.  When I saw the other music groups involved there turned out to be a couple of bands that my sister really likes and have heard before and cinched even more that it would be a good time.

Because of the kids (and our lack of enthusiasm for yoga), we didn't sign up for any yoga classes but there was still plenty to do before the music.  I think it was in part due to the rain, but the concert went later than we thought, and I have to admit my kids were pretty tired by the time it started.  And they were wet.  But when they broke out several dozen beach balls to toss around the crowds during the song "Sound of Sunshine", the kids suddenly got pretty happy!  Enjoy some pictures from our day!

The festival was held at the Stratton Ski Resort village, these stilt-walkers were roaming the festival.

I thought these pop-up recycling bins were cool.  One of the openings was actually for compost!

A circus performer was teaching the kids to spin plates, use "diabolos", and juggle beanbags 

An acrobatic act was going on right in front of us while the kids were enjoying their juggling lessons.

Another stilt-walker.  Note the low clouds coming over the mountain -- it rained off and on all day.

Michael Franti led a yoga session.  We stood at the back of the tent and listened.

These are the Mayapuris, a Krishna-inspired kirtan band from Alachua, Florida.  Their music was so wonderful!   

I only had my iPhone camera on this trip, so it was working extra hard to capture concert pictures after sunset!  Here's Michael Franti himself!

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Google+: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

I use that line with my kids a lot when they're making questionable decisions.  If one of them is feeding grass clumps to the dog, I'll ask "Good idea?  Or bad idea?"  Usually that's enough to make them think before continuing.

I got a (not-quite sanctioned) invitation to join Google+, Google's new social network, last week from GeekMom Jules.  Several of us GeekMoms have been checking out the assorted Google+ features, from the photo sharing, to the statuses to the "Hangout" area where you can web chat with other Google+ users.  The privacy settings are very likeable (default privacy is "no one can see much", seemingly the opposite of Facebook's privacy where the default is often "everyone can see everything unless you manually change that").

Anyway, in terms of the social network, I think Google+ is on the right track for a smoother-running social network than Facebook.  I'm hoping it doesn't get overrun by corporate pages and multi-player games the way Facebook has in recent months.

However, I'm sitting here with a clenched jaw waiting for the kinks to get ironed out of the other Google products that are supposed to nicely tie into Google+.

A couple days ago it was published that Google will be rolling their Picasa and Blogger brands into their own names, and with it will come some more tie-ins to Google+.

I've been slowly-but-surely uploading and sharing my vacation pictures in the middle of this transition and was faced with some difficulty sharing my Picasa albums with my family.  What I have typically done is upload the photos to Picasaweb with captions, then e-mail the album to myself.  Finally, I forward that album to a pre-set list of friends/family.  This week I attempted to e-mail the album to myself and nothing happened after hitting that "Share" button.

Actually, something did happen: the album posted to my Google+ news stream.  Because my e-mail address was tied into my Google+ account, some assumption was made that Google+ news stream is somehow equivalent to an e-mail inbox.  I managed a workaround by using a non-Google+ enabled e-mail address that I have.

But then when I tried to share the photos with my pre-set friends/family e-mail list, several of them couldn't see the pictures unless they had their own login/passwords.  This used to not be the case and it's very upsetting that my parents (among the main audience for my family's photos) can't easily see the pictures anymore.

Similarly, this morning I discovered that several pre-sets in my Blogger (soon to be Google Blogs) account were reset without my knowledge.  I used to have 10 e-mail addresses who'd receive automatic copies of my blog posts when published.  Who knows how long they hadn't been receiving them.  Chances are they missed most of my vacation posts....

Thanks for letting me vent...I'm hopeful that Google is taking in everyone's feedback (including this post) and will be sympathetic to those who don't necessarily want a login/password to enjoy the Internet.

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Florida Discoveries 14: Blackwater River Canoeing

Maryann's and my latest adventure: Canoeing on Florida's Blackwater River.  Geologically, Florida's Blackwater River is a "blackwater river": tannins are leached out of the local vegetation giving the water a diluted-tea color.

Yesterday we took the kids up to Blackwater River State Park (about 25 miles north of our house) and picked up a pair of canoes at Blackwater Canoe Rental.  For about $42 per canoe, we chose the 1/2 day ride.  According to the folks at the canoe rental center, the timing applies to how much distance you have to cover.  You can take all day to do a 1/2 day ride if you choose to spend the day swimming instead.

Blackwater Canoe Rental also offers kayak and inner tube rentals -- groups can rent any combination of canoe, kayak and tube and tie them together into groups.  I see a kayak/tube combo trip in our future!

We were put in a school bus that took us off-road through Blackwater River State Park to a put-in area 4 miles east of where we had parked the truck.  Maryann and I packed sandwiches and drinks for the gang, which were easily loaded into the canoes.  Each of us took two boys and we were on our way!

The kids didn't quite know what to expect, but we were greeted with a gentle-moving freshwater river that averaged about 3 feet deep and was lined with the same really soft sand that exits through the east end of Pensacola Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.  The water was considerably cooler than the Gulf waters we experienced this past weekend at the beach.

The boys were pretty good about taking turns paddling (all 4 boys wanted to help paddle, which was great for Maryann and me!).

It took us about 4 hours to cover the 4 miles, and that included 4 x 20-30 minute stops along the way.  The kids really enjoyed playing in the water and exploring the wildlife.  We saw birds, turtles and way-too-many-spiders!

Maryann took just about all of these pictures (I took the ones with her in them, along with a couple others) with her waterproof Kodak Easy Sport C123 camera.  Maryann turned many of the pics into a nice collage which you can see at her Fotomom blog.

Maryann has a Kodak waterproof camera, which is what she used for all these photos.  Jacob looks like he's ready to slice Timmy in half.  Timmy's doing this unicorn thing which I'll explain later.

Love these pics of the boys playing on this log.

Maryann was trying to capture splashes...

There was a particularly deep spot here that the kids would drift through with their floatation devices.

A spider?  YIKES!  A group of teenagers/college kids drifted past this tree stump in their tubes, saw the spider, freaked loudly, and then got their tubes tangled on this stump.  They were stuck for several minutes until one of us untangled them.  Maryann and I were fascinated by the spider (along with our sons) and the young adults thought we were fearless!

This is Timmy's portrayal of a Pokemon named Samurott.  He has a unicorn-like horn and these bearded growths protruding sideways from his mouth. 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Florida Discoveries 13: Pensacola Lighthouse

As is always the case when I get together with Maryann the Fotomom, today was an adventure.

We took our boys to NAS Pensacola today and enjoyed an hour or so at the Pensacola Lighthouse before spending the rest of the day at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, which we'd visited before.

At the lighthouse, Maryann and I walked with our kids up the 177 steps and then enjoyed the stunning views.

There's a nice little museum at the base of the lighthouse.  The museum is free of charge, but expect to pay $5 per adult and $3 per child, senior or military member to ascend the lighthouse itself.  There is a volunteer at the top to answer questions and point out what you're looking at in your 360 degree field of view.

The lighthouse also hosts a unique viewing experience for Blue Angels practice airshows ($15 from the top of the lighthouse, you have to make reservations).

Are you interested in the paranormal?  The lighthouse was featured on Ghost Hunters in 2009 and the TAPS team apparently had a very exciting investigation.  You can reserve ghost tour spots via this website -- tours are offered 1-2x per month.

We were lucky enough to see Fat Albert and The Blue Angels parked at their home hanger nearby, plus great views of the Aviation Museum, Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key.

I had a good time photographing the spiral staircase.

All the kids were pretty cautious walking up the steps.  

A nice view of the entire National Museum of Naval Aviation.

That's "Fat Albert", which carries the Blue Angels' support crew and equipment to all their destinations.  You can see the tails of 3 of the Blue Angels behind the hangar.

Great sign!  Albeit a bit morbid...

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Guests for the Week...And My Favorite Sign

This week we have friends from North Carolina visiting: Maryann (AKA Fotomom), Joey and Johnny.  Jacob and Joey were in the same preschool from 2005-2008 and were two peas in a pod, while Timmy and Johnny were best buddies as the respective little brothers.  We took dozens of great road trips together!

Joey and Johnny obviously knew about the trip (they were getting on a plane, how could they not?) but we kept the visit a big surprise from my boys until they saw their friends in the baggage claim area at Pensacola Airport last night.

Johnny couldn't get over how short Timmy's hair is!

It took Jacob a few minutes to sink in that his friends are really here!
On the way back from the airport, I gave Fotomom a challenge: to photograph the famous Pensacola Beach sign in the dark.  I slowed down the truck to about 30 mph and Maryann gave it a shot with a "sports" setting on her Canon camera.  I love it!

It's so incredibly gaudy I LOVE IT!  Photo: Maryann G. (Fotomom)

I love that sign because it reminds me of Vegas.  The yellow emblem's lights radiate outwards, and the lights in the words "Pensacola Beach" sparkle.

It reminds me of those old-fashioned Holiday Inn signs:

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