Tuesday, March 30, 2010

International Produce

Okay, I'm going to make a commitment to you. As we wrap up our tour in England, I'm going to do my best not to be mopey and sad about all the things I'm going to miss here. I'm excited about the next chapter in our life (which won't start, by the way, for another 8-9 months).

But living over here has been such an incredible experience, that I am experiencing a bit of preemptive nostalgia about a lot of things. Chalk it up to being a military brat. You have a pretty good understanding of how the loss of normal things in your life can affect you and begin to anticipate the pain early. Sure you'll get over it, but GUH! It hurts.

Okay, heading in the wrong direction here. The point of the intro is this: I'm going to try really hard not to be mopey about our impending departure. But I hope you'll indulge me and allow me to tell you along the way the random things I'll miss about life in the UK. Today is going to be one of those days.

Buying produce on base can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some days you'll find gorgeous produce, other days it looks like the produce that fell off of the truck along the way and was scooped back up just to be sold at the commissary. It can be a bit depressing.

But produce off base? Amazing! Imagine a chorus of angels singing the joys of produce fresh from the open air markets or even one of the English grocery chains. 'Cause that's what I'm imagining.

We are a Tesco family. We love it. Primarily because it's the closest grocery store to us, and also because it's awesome. It's like Target. But British-er. Yes!

So most of our produce comes from Tesco. And one cool thing about produce purchased over here is that they tell you where it comes from! Do they do that in the States? I don't remember. If they did, I must not have paid much attention to it. But over here, it's fascinating. Strawberries from Spain? Bananas from the Dominican Republic? Globalization of delicious produce? Yes, please!

Tonight, I made stir fry. And while I did, I was excited to see where my veggies came from. So, just because I'm a nerd, here they are.
Here are some of the veggies we used. Not pictured: zucchini and broccoli, because they were already cut up, and pineapple because it came from a can. Don't judge me, man. I'm busy! Because I bought the broccoli and zucchini loose (not pre-packaged), they didn't say where they came from. Or maybe they did at the store, and I didn't notice. I have an amazing eye for detail.

'Shrooms from Holland. Thanks, Holland! A few years ago, I hated mushrooms. Still don't like them raw. But LOVE them in stir fry! A mushroom soaks up soy sauce like nothing else. YUM.

Cilantro from Kenya, or as it's called here, coriander. Actually forgot to put this in tonight. No worries, I'll make good use of it somewhere else! Loving me some cilantro.

Bell peppers from Israel. Israel! Unreal. Bell peppers are the only vegetable Caleb will eat raw, and he loves them!

My coworker today made a comment about this. He always knows where his fruit and veg come from (and is on an infectious Chilean grape kick right now.) And he was saying how disappointing it'll be to get back to the states where most of your fruit and veg come from California.

I'll admit total ignorance in this department, but I can only guess he's probably pretty accurate on that statement. I'm sure we (Americans) import a fair amount of fruit and veg, but primarily, I'm sure it's grown in somewhere in our huge country. Not that there's a problem with American grown food! I'm all for it. But it is sad to think I probably won't get bell peppers from Israel once we leave England. Better enjoy them while I can!

Holy Moses. As usual, this blog was way longer than intended. Good night!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Caleb and Kelly's East Anglian Adventures

It's hard to believe my brother and his family just left England on Tuesday morning. It feels like ages ago. I realize I still need to throw up a few blogs about our adventures with them, but today is going to be about a different adventure.

Tommy had school work to sort out today, but I was pretty eager to get out of the house. The day started off sunny, which of course meant it turned to crap as soon as we were ready to leave. But if there's one thing you learn in England is that you can't let rain dictate your day. Pack a brolly, wear a hooded jacket, and get on with it!

So that's what we did. We packed a lunch and left the house at about 11 and headed for Framlingham Castle. I'd been wanting to visit Framlingham since reading about Mary Tudor's accession to the throne. Her younger brother, Edward VI, violated his father (Henry VIII's)succession act by naming his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as queen on his death bed. Mary rallied support at Framlingham and was able to take the crown without much of a fight.

The castle had a decent audio tour available for free. You never know what you're going to get with audio tours. Some of them have way too much detail and move too slowly. And some of them have seriously corny actors pretending to be prior residents of the castle. This audio tour did have a bit of cheesy acting that was easy enough to skip past, but the historical parts moved swiftly enough to get the gist of a room without having to linger too long. Although, with an active toddler, it's pretty much impossible to really stop and enjoy the tour for more than about 2.5 seconds at a time.

The curtain wall of the castle was largely still in tact, but the building inside it were mostly gone. Framlingham didn't have a traditional castle keep (large, central tower inside the curtain wall), like many of the more famous and larger castle. Instead, there were a series of buildings inside the castle for different purposes. The only remaining building served as a poor house after it was sold from the Howard family to a local politician, Sir Robert Hitcham.
Another cool thing about Framlingham is that the original owners and builders, the Bigod family, also founded the Thetford Priory! I love it when a bunch of random peices of the stuff I've experienced begins to tie together.
After we finished exploring Framlingham, Caleb and I headed for the coast. Aldeburgh was a short drive away, so we crossed our fingers for a bit of sunshine as we ventured to the beach. We weren't terribly lucky in the weather department. As we got there, half the sky was somewhat sunny and the other half was dark and ominous.

Aldeburgh is a rock-covered beach, which reminded me of our own gravel-filled backyard. Fortunately, there was less dog poop at the beach! Caleb and I plopped down and enjoyed our packed lunch for about 20 minutes before the clouds moved over us and began to rain.

I suppose we could have kept moving down beach to stay ahead of the clouds, but we decided to cut our losses and head home. It was a short trip to the beach, but we had fun anyway!

We left Aldeburgh with every intention of heading home. I was armed with Google maps with directions home from there. But as we began to head home, I saw signs for Orford. Orford Castle was on my short list of local castles to visit. As it was only about 2:30, I made a quick decision that we might as well head over to see it while we were in the area.

Where as Framlingham is primarily a curtain wall, all that remains of Orford is the keep. And it's a pretty impressive keep! Orford was built by Henry II to help manage the Suffolk area and to kind of serve as a reminder to the Bigods (who built Framilingham) that he (Henry) was king and had the power in the country. It was kind of cool to hear how the two castles histories were intertwined.

Caleb was excited to explore another castle! You can't see them here, but he had two puppets on the end of (unsharpened) pencils that we had purchased at Framlingham. One was a knight and the other was a princess. He spent most of his time at Orford making them talk to each other. He's still pretty young, though, so most of the conversations involved both characters asking the other, "What doing?" over and over again.

I'll go ahead and apologize now for the next two pictures. I have a bad habit of taking pictures of the garderobes (toilets) at castles. I just find historical personal hygiene to be interesting! Gross, but interesting.

This, however, seriously cracked me up. In all the castles we've seen over here, I've never seen this before. And the audio tour indicated that it's pretty rare. It's a urinal. A small, triangular cut out in the wall allowing for easy relief for the resident of that room (presumable the castle's constable.) The pee goes straight outside down the wall of the castle. Hilarious! Pardon the poor picture. I actually took it about six times, and this was the best I could get in that small hallway.

After we finished touring Orford Castle, we were ready to go home. But I got a bit turned around in town and ended up at Orford Quay (the town wharf.)

Since the sun was out again, we parked the car and wandered around for a bit.

Caleb loved looking at all the boats!

We wandered out onto a peir. I dunno. Would you call this a pier? Or a dock? Or a jetty? Or a berth? I really don't know. The town of Orford called this one a pontoon on the sign. But I'm used to thinking of swamp boats as pontoons. So I'll say it's a pier.

Caleb really loved looking at the boats and the buoys. And let me tell you, there's not much cuter than a two year old pronouncing the word "buoy."

The end of day sun made for some great pictures, but it was definitely getting cold and time to head home.

The ride home was a bit of an adventure, as well. Since our newly ordered GPS isn't in yet, I was utilizing some printed directions and a map of Southern England my brother gave me as a Christmas gift the year before we moved here. But every time I thought I had found my bearings, I would end up in a town I was not prepared to see. So I'd consult my maps, readjust my route, and press forward...just to find a sign indicating I was not heading the right way. So I'd recalculate and readjust and press forward.

For about a half hour I kept finding myself in strange towns. I'd review my route and have no idea how I ended up there. I'm telling you, man, English roads and English maps do NOT correlate. The first few times, I didn't mind too much. I had no deadline to get home, and it was kind of a challenge for my map skills. But after about the eight reevaluation of the map, I was going NUTS! When I finally saw a sign that indicated that I was actually on the road I meant to be on and heading in the direction I wanted to be going, I was literally proclaiming my own awesomeness as loudly as possible.

Just goes to show you, sometimes the adventures you set out to have may not be the most adventurous part of your day! In spite of our overly scenic route home, we had a great time. Glad to be checking a few more castles off of our list!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best Work Day Ever!

Amazing, amazing, amazing! I just had the most amazing day at work, and I'm a little devastated that it's not the kind of day I'll be able to repeat.

I had the awesome opportunity to take an orientation flight on a KC-135 today. And it was so freaking COOL! My job gives me quite a bit of exposure to the KC-135s. I've seen tons of pictures and even a few videos of refuelings. But actually getting to participate in one was incredible! Getting to sign off my computer for the day and spend the rest of it flying circles 27000 feet above Germany refueling fighter planes was indescribable. But that's not going to stop me from trying!

Our show time was 0855 this morning. There were originally two other people that were on this flight, but neither could make it. So that meant I had the whole orientation flight to myself! The first hour or so was spent preparing for the flight. Here is the crew going over...oh shoot, I don't know. Charts? Checklists? Weather reports? They went over a lot of data, most of which went over my head. Don't get me wrong, it was cool to see the prep work and get a feel for the process and paperwork they have to go through, but I understood about 30% of it, at best. The guys were really good about answering my questions, though!

This is me in front of our jet's tail flash! I've always wanted a picture in front of our awesome Box D tail flash. I just imagined it wouldn't be so windy, and I would look a lot cooler. Or tougher. I guess that's kind of hard to be tough and cool when essentially you're just a big nerd.

Getting into the plane was just the beginning. There were still tons of checklists for the crew to go over. I followed our boom operator around for a bit and got familiar with the plane. This is the inside of a KC-135 before it's powered up. Quiet and dark.

Finally, it was time to taxi to the runway and take off! I was super excited. The boom operator gave me a headset so I could listen in on the chatter. It's amazing how much chatter goes on between various aircraft and the tower, etc. The pilots did a remarkable job listening out for their call sign and paying attention to what was pertinent to our mission.

Time for takeoff! No kidding, I was seriously excited at this point. It's not like I've never flown before. But sitting in the jump seat directly behind the pilots and listening to all the chatter made it feel like I was really part of the crew. Kinda fun!

This is the moment when we rose above cloudy, overcast England and into a bit of sunshine! I need a job where I can leave behind cruddy weather and seek out sunnier skies! We had gorgeous weather all the way to Germany and back. You could definitely tell when we were back in England, because it became gray all over again!

Cruising at 26000 feet! Okay, I realize I snapped a picture of the wrong indicator. This dillyo, if I understand correctly, tells us what altitude we're aiming for. There was an actual dial-type thingie that indicated what altitude we were at, but the picture I got of that was blurry. All that to say: we were flying high! And MAN, the traffic! At one point the aircraft commander counted ten planes in the sky (either the planes themselves or the contrails they left behind)...and that's just what we could see from the front!

Flying over Germany! You're looking at the boom, which is how the fuel is passed between the KC-135 and its receivers. To the left of the picture, you can see the Alps! We flew a giant circle around Munich, seeing the Alps, a runway, and two energy plant towers over and over again. The boom joked that it was like National Lampoon's European vacation when they get stuck in the roundabout in London. "Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!"

First contact! This is the first plane we refueled, an F16 from Aviano AFB. Having seen pictures like this a hundred times before, I still wasn't prepared for just how close we'd be to the receiver. I could see his mask move when he talked. If we weren't going hundreds of miles and hour, I could practically jump from the boom pod to the receiver! It was amazing.

This was the boom operator for the flight, who happened to be the provider of Corn Nuts, as well. Yeah, I said Corn Nuts! Anyway, as the boom operator, you have to go in this little space in the back of the plane and lay down on your stomach. There is a joystick-like controller that controls the boom and connects it to the receiver. If I remember correctly, we offloaded about 5-6,000 pounds of fuel each to these two F16s. (Like how I say "we" as if I had anything to do with it?) And it literally only took about five minutes per plane. It's nuts.

This is the second F16 that we refueled approaching the boom. Once the boom and receiver connect, we all just cruise along in a big orbit while the gas is passed!

The next two planes we refueled were A10s from Spangdahlem. I didn't know what an A10 was before this flight, so it was cool to see them. This is the first one approaching.

This is right before the boom establish contact with the A10.

After the A10s were done, the F16s came back around. Again, just crazy how close we are! I used the puny 3x optical zoom on my little compact camera to get this close. This pilot was showing us the buzzard claw. He told us the buzzard is their squadron's mascot.

The pilots were super cool and flew around when they were done for a great photo op. I don't know who they were, but thanks, guys!

This is me in the boom pod, seriously contemplating a career change.

And these are the pilots, doing their thing in preparation for landing!

One last look at the jet before I head back to the office. What an incredible day!

Here's the thing: I'm a bit of a Mildenhall nerd already. I just stinking love this base. It's by far been my favorite assignment so far, and I hate that we're in our last year here. Since starting my job, I've really gained a better understanding of our wing's mission as the USAF's only refueling base in Europe.

But getting to see it in action? Unbelievable. I really can't do it justice. And maybe that's just because I'm the kind of person who gets easily excited about this stuff. But honestly, it is cool. It's cool to be a part of a base that refuels all of the Air Force in Europe. It's cool to get to work with the guys who do that mission day in and day out. I feel super lucky to have had this opportunity today. I only wish I could make it a regular part of my job!

Hopefully I'll get some video uploaded in the next day or two. For now, it's late. I'm out!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Two Kid Weekend

Right now I'm waiting for two kids to fall asleep so I can enjoy my Skinny Cow ice cream bar in peace. I've been holding onto the idea of that Skinny Cow for a while, so I'm really hopeful that these little eyes will close very soon. But I'm not holding my breath.

Caleb's friend Lillian is hanging out with us this weekend. Lillian is, for all intents and purposes, Caleb's oldest friend. In fact, Lily met Caleb before Tommy met Caleb, due to his deployment at the time. They've been buddies since before Caleb could walk or talk. And although I know it's a short time we're measuring here (he's only 2!), Lily really has been a consistent part of Caleb's early landscape.
Anyway, Lily's parents are in London for the day and seeing Dave Matthews Band at the O2 arena tonight, so Lil is chilling with us for today and part of tomorrow. I eagerly agreed to watch Lil, because I know how well Caleb gets on with her. But I was a bit nervous in the days leading up to this weekend. I've watched her before, but never overnight. In fact, I've never had two kids for longer than a few hours...ever.

But it's been a total breeze! Other than a few sibling-like moments where they bicker over a toy or who sits in what chair, it's really been painless. We hit the zoo this morning for the first time in about four months. We have a membership to the small zoo about 20 minutes from our house, but the weather has been phenomenally grody for ages. This week has been inexplicably awesome, so in spite of the fact that it was still pretty cold outside, we took advantage of the sun.
Lily led Caleb through the petting zoo/barn area.
These short-legged cows actually terrified poor Caleb. In his defense, they were mooing really loudly. And it was approximately nap time. All the same, my husband was shaking his head. The tigers? The leopards? Neither bothered Caleb. The mooing cow? Left him crying and begging to be picked up and whisked away. Lily wasn't bothered.
Here the kids are checking out the kangaroos. They really enjoyed identifying all the animals and demonstrating their "sounds."

I really can't tell you how many self-portraits I have with Lil. Quite a few. I should make a montage of them to see just how much she's grown in the couple of years I've known her.

Checking out the penguins and eating pretzels.

Caleb's favorite part of the zoo: the land train. The sun disappeared for a bit while we were on the train, and we were freezing! Luckily we had already been there about an hour and a half, which is all you need at Banham Zoo, so we took our cold selves home.

On the way out of the zoo, holding hands. They really do get on fantastically.

We ate lunch when we came home and watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, one of Caleb's current faves. It really is a cute movie. Or maybe I'm just enamoured with the idea of burgers falling from heaven.

Then we headed out to the playground near our house. Again, it was quite cold, but when you haven't seen the sun in what seems like a decade, temperature is a secondary consideration. The kids spent about an hour and half chasing each other, swinging, climbing, and pretending I was a child-eating crocodile. Of course, I had to play the part.

Well, the good news is that since I started this post, both kiddos have fallen fast asleep, and I've had a chance to enjoy my Skinny Cow! Yummy. I have to admit, I'm tempted to grab a second one, but I think that defeats the purpose. Do two Skinny Cows make a Fat Cow? I think so.

Anyway, we have Lily for a short time tomorrow, in which I'm hoping to make blueberry pancakes and possibly braid her hair. Hey, Tommy won't let me braid Calebs! Gotta get my girl fix where I can! Hopefully our morning goes as well as today did, which was great! Maybe this two kid gig isn't so bad after all!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


So, I had a pretty cool opportunity today that I had to let go of, and I really didn't realize how much it would hurt, but hoowee! It did hurt.

I was offered an orientation flight with the guys from one of the squadrons I work with, and I jumped at the chance last week. I knew it might be tricky, because I had something going on that night (tonight), but at the time, it seemed like it would work out.

Unforunately, the mission changed today and there was going to be a later landing. Since I had already made obligations for that night, I had to take myself off the flight. Instead, I spent the day looking out my window at the flightline and the clear skies thinking, "I could be flying. And instead, I'm reviewing performance reports."

It was a pretty big bummer. I suddenly had a newfound respect for the disappointment my coworkers go through when their flights cancel for various reasons. It SUCKS to be stuck behind a desk when you should be in the sky! Ugh! How do they put up with this?!

Anway, I managed to get over it, but I have to admit, it did sour the day a bit. The reason I had to bail was because I had organized a circuit training social for my husband's squadron's spouses. So I went to that tonight. And although the turnout was pretty meager, we did get a great workout and I had a good time...in spite of burpees and lunges and renegade rows.

So THANKS to the ladies that showed up! I was really glad to see your sweating faces! And thanks to Courtney, who led the class. She was awesome!