Monday, November 10, 2014

Four Semesters Down and Thanksgiving Plans

Saturday morning I submitted my final paper for "Graduate Seminar in American Literature," my fourth semester in my MA at SNHU. There's always a bit of an odd empty feeling at the end of the semester, like "what am I gonna do now?" Although not because I don't have stuff to do (believe me, the house really needs to be cleaned) but because I don't know what to do first, now that nothing has a specific due date. Alternately you can say everything has a specific due date, which is before the next class starts...

The way SNHU structures their online graduate programs (which are aimed primarily at working adults), there are roughly 5 ten-week semesters a year, with a week break in between. (If you're a nerd like me, you'd notice that that would equal 54 weeks, even before you factor in a spring break and winter break, so obviously the semesters will undergo a creeping shift as the years go on... kind of like the Jewish calendar, sans leap year.) Dan and I have been trying to use these off weeks to go on a little family vacation. Last time we went to the beach. This time we're going camping-- just a few days at a state park north of Houston. We try to choose pet friendly things (no flying) so we can take Raider with us rather than stick him in the kennel.

Next semester, starting on the 17th, is Gender and Text. I'm pretty excited about this one-- it was newly added this semester and I even put myself on the wait list at first, hoping to get in. We're reading The Handmaid's Tale (among other books) which is possibly the greatest thing ever for combining my two favorite genres: feminism and dystopian future (or maybe it's feminist dystopia, a rather specific subgenre?). On the other hand, The Handmaid's Tale is drifting from fiction to prediction at an alarming rate, so it might hurt to read. One thing I have really enjoyed in my classes is the exposure to different types of books than I would ever have picked up on my own. So while I love this one already, I'm also excited to read some of these other Gender and Text selections... maybe my next favorite book is lurking inside!

In other news, we're hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year for our local friends who aren't heading out of town for the holiday. Our friend group at JSC is mostly young, single or recently married, childless, and transplants to this area. So that means the majority of them head out of town every year for the holidays to visit family. I, of course, refuse to travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas if at all possible. It's partially about the money, but more about the hassle of traveling on the biggest travel days of the year with all those other people (PS, can we discuss how ridiculous it is that the biggest flying holidays also come in the middle of winter and its always snowing in Chicago and gumming up the works? Yuck.). Plus there's the matter of leaving the dog, which breaks my heart each time they lead his sad sack self into the back and he cries, and he's too big to fly with so he has to stay home.

In addition to avoiding all that, it's also a little bit about the balance and boundaries between being a newly married mini-family and being part of an extended family. I want us to have holidays here, with our people, in our home. We need to get used to being away from extended family, to start our own traditions, to become established in our own city. We can't do that if we are constantly jetting off for every holiday. Already one of my favorite traditions is that we host Passover. Since I moved into my house 4 years ago, I have hosted all but one year; I have had my parents over twice for Passover and his parents once (it was Easter weekend, too) and I always invite any Jewish friends I can round up, and non-Jewish friends who might be up for a cultural experience. Sadly, we skipped it this year because I was increment lead, but that just means next year we can bring it back and better than ever!

To help set those boundaries, we have some loose rules: one large trip to visit each of our parents each year, travel Christmas or Thanksgiving but not both, and take at least one vacation just for ourselves. Earlier this year we went to North Carolina for my parents 30th anniversary reunion celebration and spent 6 days there; for Christmas we are going to Dan's parents in Virginia for 5 days. For our personal vacation, we went to the beach.

So far its been going pretty well, but not without a few bumps from the families, who are understandably sad that we don't visit as often as they'd like. I just hope they remember that they were once young and starting out,  and couldn't flit home at the drop of a hat, and had a cabinet full of new wedding china begging to be used for a holiday of their own. And I hope that they keep visiting us, too, so we can all share the travel burden.

Hope you enjoy great weather, great food, and great company this November! I'm off work tomorrow for Veterans Day and I've got some pumpkin brownies to bake!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November already?

Wow, I can't believe its November already! Feels like time is flying.

I last wrote in early September that I was starting a new diet. So far it's been working. As of today, 2 months later, I have lost 8.6 pounds, roughly on track for the 1 pound per week I was trying for. I have also managed to exercise 3x a week, mostly keeping to the swim, bike, run cycle. Although as the weather turns colder, my desire to swim decreases, but I do plan to swap that swim for another run and keep working out 3x a week.

My current grad school class is over next weekend, so I'm in the midst of writing a 15 page paper on Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. Have you heard of it? I'm not particularly fond of it, not enough killer robots from outer space.
Dan is out of town for the weekend. I am not, because I was supposed to be on console... until this happened:
Full story. I had spent months planning for this visiting vehicle mission and was expecting to support console this weekend when it arrived at ISS. Definitely a bummer, but glad there was no loss of life and it's looking like minimal damage to the launch facility.
Unfortunately, it was not a good week for commercial spaceflight all around, as yesterday brought news that Virgin Galactic's ship crashed during test flight, killing one pilot and injuring another. Just another reminder that spaceflight is hard. My prayers go out to the injured crewmember and his family, as well as the family of the deceased. There's a quote by Gus Grissom, one of 3 astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 accident, on the wall in the Saturn V building at JSC, that I think of in times like this:
If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.
Other, better news? My little sister got engaged at the end of September. Their wedding will be next October. Last weekend I headed to Orlando to help her dress shop (she said Yes to the dress!) and got a bonus football game out of it!

The weekend before we went to a wedding in VA for a childhood friend of Dan's. I actually met the bride at the groom's brother's wedding last September and immediately asked Dan "is she Jewish?" Jew-dar I guess... Turns out that she was, and she asked for my help planning their Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding.
Waiting for ceremony to start.

Pretty but cold ceremony. Poor bridesmaids!
I  sent her our ceremony and program, which she borrowed from liberally-- with permission of course. I spent countless hours on that stuff, and am glad it is having an extended life and helping others with their own wedding plans.

They had a beautiful (but chilly) ceremony outside on a hillside at sunset, then we went into a tent to (warm up and) party. Dancing helps you warm up quick!

I have become something of an interfaith wedding fairy-- recently 2 different readers contacted me by email (nerdsinloveblog[at]gmail.com, if you're curious!) with interfaith wedding conundrums of their own. If you've got one, write in...don't be shy. I can help.. and if I can't, well, I can commiserate!

Well, here's hoping for a better week in spaceflight news.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Potato Salad Recipe

Last weekend we went to a friend's house to watch the Washington Redskins play the Houston Texans. My husband grew up outside DC and has been a fan of the Redskins for many years. As luck would have it, a coworker's husband is also a Redskins fan, but for a more convoluted reason. They are from NM, where there isn't a pro football team anywhere nearby. Many people are either Broncos or Cowboys fans, owing to falling within the market where those games air, despite being hundreds of miles from either team. Some special people, though, choose to be Redskins fans since they are the Cowboy's biggest rival. 

Unfortunately, for both Dan and our friend, the games are hardly ever aired here due to some garbage with NFL licensing and markets. I refuse to shell out for NFL Sunday Ticket type cable nonsense, so he is forced to check box scores... except for the lucky few times they play teams where we do get the games. 

Anyways, they had us over at their house to watch the Redskins/Texans game and I brought some epic potato salad to share. I adapted from this recipe. Things that are awesome about this recipe:
I hate mayonnaise (mostly a texture problem... white gloopy stuff freaks me out) so I always look for mustard-based binder and this was a great one. Plus, mayo is fatty and mustard is good for you. It's kinda like a vegetable or something.
It uses 2 kinds of potatoes (pretty and flavorful) and it roasts instead of boils. I would never have thought of that, but it has a much better flavor and also the potatoes are less turned-to-mush.


Ingredients:
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1.5 lbs red potatoes
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp mayo
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/4 red onion (although it depends on the size of your onion and how much you like onion... my husband isn't a fan of raw onion so I went light on it)
  • 3 green onions
  • Parsley
  • Olive Oil, salt, pepper to taste. I'm not gonna give you measurements for this. Buy a lot, keep on hand and liberally add to everything. Because food should taste good.
1) Roast your garlic and let cool. 
I always play the long game with my meal planning, so I bought a head of garlic a week in advance and roasted it on the grill one night we were already grilling other things. You can also do it in the oven along with the potatoes. Cut the top (the non-root end) off so the cloves are slightly exposed. Put in foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly, and cook 30-45 mins. You want the cloves to be tender, but keep a nose out for burning.
2) Preheat oven to 400. 
3)Prep Potatoes: Wash and dry potatoes. Cube them, lay out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Do not be afraid of the salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer. It's much better to salt things in the pre-cooked stage. 
4) Bake potatoes at 400 for about 25 mins. Let cool.
Do not overcook them, or they turn to mush-- you're making potato salad not mashed potatoes. Make sure they are nice and brown around the edges and a fork slides in cleanly. Seriously, please cool your potatoes before you mix with everything else. It keeps your sauce tasty and your veggies crispy.
5) Make the sauce: In a food processor (or by hand if you're one of those people) combine mayo, mustard, all of the roasted garlic (don't be shy!), and the cider vinegar. Mix until liquidy. Add more mustard or vinegar to get the consistency you'd like. 
6) Dice the onion, celery, and green onions. Mix potatoes, onions, celery, and sauce. 
7) Chop parsley, sprinkle over top for a pretty and tasty garnish.  Serve chilled. 

Time: An hour of active time, plus however long it takes your potatoes to cool. So probably 1.5 hours. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting on Track

I suppose I'll start this out with a trigger warning for eating disorders. If talk of dieting is a problem for you, don't keep reading. And might want to generally steer clear of this blog for awhile (not that I have been posting that often anyways, so you probably won't even miss me). 
During the 2 and a half weeks of August that I did actually go to work, I had to get my flight controller physical done, not my most favorite part of the job. I understand the point, of course-- they basically want to make sure that we aren't going to have a heart attack at the first sign of trouble while on shift (although I think that's mostly because if we die then who will save the space station).
My physical went ok, in that they have decided I'm far enough from a heart attack to be allowed to control the ISS for another 2 years before they check me again. So, that's good. However, both my cholesterol and blood pressure were a bit higher than they've been in previous years.  I have, among other interesting health data, my weight as it was in mid-August every other year since 2008. And you know what I noticed while looking at my records from previous physicals... I've gotten fat, y'all.
I mean I guess I already knew that. The size 8 pants I wore when I started working out here in 2008 are but a distant memory, probably long since purchased from the Goodwill I left them at when they no longer fit. My weight really took a big hike since 2010, the year I (probably not so) coincidentally got certified for console, met my husband, and moved half an hour from work (previous commute was about 3 mins- I could have walked if it wasn't so damn hot all the time). A potent combination of sedentary workdays, sleep shifting, less free time, and love. Seeing the numbers was a bit horrifying. Between 2010 and 2012, I gained 15 pounds. And between 2012 and 2014... another 15 pounds. So that's 30 pounds in the last 4 years. Ouch.

It's time to reverse that trend. I've decided to try out LoseIt (loseit.com and a phone app). I just started using it a week ago, but I like it so far. Basically you track all the foods you eat and exercise you do, and it tracks calories in and burned. It has a barcode scanner to scan and add foods, which is pretty convenient and I love the future. I had a lot of success in college with Weight Watchers (that's how I fit into those glorious size 8's in the first place) and I know that a little portion control, a lot more salad, and some awareness of how many calories are in things will work for me... as long as the dedication is also there. If you're curious about LoseIt, there's a free version that you can try out, but I opted to subscribe ($39 for the year, no monthly option) mostly for the future meal tracking option which is not available on the free version. It's a lot easier for me to enter my breakfast and lunch when I pack it the night before, so I know what I have to play with for dinner and snacks (and, lets be honest, beer).
If you're already on LoseIt... please add me as a friend! It's sad when I log in and it says I have no friends.

I also have committed to working out 3x a week (sorry, that probably means another semester without any blog posts). My goal is to do one swim, one bike, and one run workout per week. A lot of weight loss advice suggests that you consider exercise as another thing you have to do rather than something that can be skipped if necessary. On one hand I get that if you think of exercise as vital, like going to work or doing homework, you're more likely to do it. But are you less likely to enjoy it if you see it as an obligation rather than a bonus? I like to think of working out as time I get for me and try to enjoy it. But then sometimes it feels selfish or irresponsible to take it-- since it means that my husband has to do my share of the housework, or that my homework won't be given the time it needs to be great, or that my puppy is not getting all the snuggles he deserves. And that guilt can lead to skipped workouts. No good. So for now, I'll be considering these 3 workouts per week to be as mandatory as work and homework.

One interesting feature of Lose It is that I put in a goal weight and based on my weight trend, it calculates when I will reach my goal weight. It's currently showing that I'll reach my goal weight on Feb 24, 2015. That feels like a long time away from now. I am not sure if I am more or less happy knowing that.

Mostly Unrelated Side Story:
Remember the string of posts last year about the logistical horror of changing one's name? Turns out that saga wasn't over yet. When I went for my physical, I was informed that I was a new patient. I protested that I was not, before it dawned on me that I sort of was. Turns out, they didn't get the memo that my name changed last year. Oops. So they had started a whole new electronic chart for me. Then due to whatever stupidness with their system (how is it that women changed their names to their husband's long before computers existed and yet no computer system is designed to accommodate that?) they couldn't change it until after my physical was complete. This is a 2 week process, so after that every time I called or visited the clinic for something, I had to use my old name. And then the form they gave me that says I'm medically qualified for 2 more years had my maiden name on it, too. Luckily, the secretary who had to enter that in the computer accepted it, because I have a space station to fly and no time to be two people. I have been assured that when I go back in 2 years they will know who I am. We'll see about that.

Now soliciting... friends on LoseIt or salad dressing recipes that make a big pile of lettuce actually seem appealing in the comments. Go...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Day Vacation

After NC, it's hard to believe we only had 3 weeks of work before our next vacation. Those weeks were pretty busy for me. I spent a week on console and 2 weeks preparing procedures for an ISS software upgrade that is being performed this week. At the same time, I had a few weeks left of my Literary Theory class which meant a 15+ page paper to write.

I finished and sumbitted my paper on Saturday (a day early, go me!). This was a goal for me because we had plans for Houston Restaurant Weeks brunch the next morning and I wanted to drink at brunch... no day drinking when there's still homework to do! It was worth it too, as I got my money's worth in unlimited mimosas that day and took an afternoon nap on the couch.

With one week off between the end of my last class and the beginning of my next class, plus the long Labor Day weekend, Dan and I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a little getaway. Even while we were in NC for the week, I still spent a fair amount of time doing homework (and work-work, as I had a Cygnus cargo vehicle undocking to plan for the Friday after we got back)-- my husband even went to see Guardians of the Galaxy with my siblings while I spent that afternoon working.

We booked 3 nights at a beach house on South Padre Island, a barrier island in the way south of Texas (only 20 mins from Mexico!) on the gulf coast. Again we drove the rocketmobile so we could take the dog. We decided to grocery shop before we left and bring enough to eat all our meals at the house, which had a full kitchen, plenty of cookware, and a grill. This turned out to be a good thing, since the closest real grocery store was 6 miles away on the mainland.

The house was a duplex that had been converted into 3 units-- 1 upstairs lived in full-time by the property manager, a 2-bed unit for rent upstairs, and a one-bedroom unit for rent downstairs. We stayed in the small downstairs unit which was the perfect size for us, and had the benefit of exclusive access to a fenced yard for the dog to run around in.

We drove the 6 hours on Thursday morning, arriving in time to spend a couple hours at the beach that afternoon. Unfortunately it rained on and off the next two days, but we still spent a lot of time hanging on the beach. I finished a book and started a new one... it's been awhile since I read for fun. (should I be embarrassed to admit it was Beautiful Creatures and the sequel Beautiful Darkness, YA lit about witches?)

Raider even got to spend a bit of time on the beach. We took him for a nice long beach walk every day, and let him swim in the surf a few times.

We came back Sunday night, so we could spend Labor Day Monday getting ready for the week. Monday night we had another Restaurant Weeks dinner planned, to celebrate my birthday (which was yesterday) and then it was back to the grind on Tuesday. I'm supporting console this week in the backroom for the software upgrade I mentioned. Hard to imagine a better way to spend a bday than commanding the ISS... except maybe sleeping in and snuggling all day with this guy:
Cute dog, or the cutest dog?