Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A tale of 2 weekends

Busy, busy so I only have one post this week. In it, I'll cover last weekend and this weekend. Ready? Go...

So last weekend I got off work at 8am. I wanted to not spend most of the day sleeping. I wanted to clean the house and get an oil change. But I did end up passing out around 10 and sleeping until 2:30. Then it was time to get up, eat, and head to meet Dan and some friends for the movie Cabin in the Woods at 4. No productivity that day. But a nice nap!
I don't like scary movies and this one was a little jumpy scary (the kind I don't like) and very gory (that doesn't bother me much) but was very good. No spoilers, but I will say it has more plot than your average scary movie. I recommend it. Just bring a big strong man to hide behind if it gets too scary.
Saturday we were going to get up early and go for a run, but I was super tired even though I slept for 10 hours. I woke up finally, slammed some caffeine, and Dan and I headed over to the JSC Chili Cookoff.  For $10 entry, you got a bowl and spoon for unlimited chili tasting, and a wristband for unlimited drinks (beer and soda). We lucked out with a beautiful day- high 60s when we got there, low 70s by the end.
So many booths!
Since it was all space center folks, there was a definite nerd theme running through everything....
Made by an Engineering group.
Robot stirring the chili!

They had a whole wooden diner assembled at their booths.
After that, we headed over to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to make our first gift registry!
I was surprised that this was less like a fun shopping adventure and more stressful. Is this too expensive? What color should we get? Should we get china? Ahhh! But we survived and soon maybe the presents will start rolling in. Hard to argue with that!

As for next weekend...
Friday morning we leave for Illinois. We land in Chicago mid-day and are driving down to Champaign with my college friend Debbie and her husband. There we'll meet my other college friend (and future bridesmaid) Meg! Meg is running the 5k in Champaign on Friday night. Meg, Dan, and I are running the 10k Saturday morning. Debbie and Mike are running the half marathon. Meg will get a special medal for completing 2 races- the I challenge!

Goals for this 10k: I only have one. PR. Last time I finished in 1:14:00. We didn't train as dilligently for this one... maybe the knowledge that we could complete one made us cocky. So I'm not sure we can run the whole thing, but walk breaks may work to our advantage. But whatever happens, I am in for a fun weekend with good friends! So excited!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What I Ate Wednesday- Return of the Chametz

Passover ended Saturday night, so I had my first deliciously bready meal when I woke up for work Saturday night. I also dug into the boxes in my cabinet for goodies like pita chips and rolled oats.
But I consider that passover really ended for me Tuesday night when I finally went to the grocery store to buy perishable chametz staples like bread, hummus, and this breakfast of champions:

Around midnight I had another snack, a portable instant oatmeal. They have a hot water tap at work that I use for tea so I poured some in my oatmeal cup.
(Side note: Does anyone know how to get blogger to not rotate my photos wrong? It's goofy!)
I filled to the line, like I was told, and let it sit for a few minutes. It was a little watery for my taste but otherwise delicious. I love apples and cranberries and walnuts. Here are the nutrition stats:

Not too shabby for a console breakfast that requires no cleanup!

Around 2am I was getting really cold so I made a hot beverage. I love the caffeine content of chai (a must on the overnight shift!), but the flavor is a little overwhelming so I add a package of  hot cocoa. I stole this idea from what folks call "MCC Mocha," a packet of hot chocolate made with coffee instead of tea. I don't like coffee at all, so I don't do that. But the tea gives the cocoa a stronger, cinnamon-y taste that is pretty delicious.

It warmed me right up, so much I even turned off my space heater for a couple hours.

At 5am I warmed up my dinner. Leftover Mexican Lasagna. It was Dan's idea and I can't find the recipe... but it was pretty good! A little liquidy, might try with no bake noodles to let them absorb some of that juice.

When I got home I ate another breakfast (or dinner) of champions:
Beer and waffles are both no-nos on Passover. Yummy! Hey don't judge me for a 9am beer, it's 5:00 somewhere. (Like in Munich, Germany, where our ESA counterparts control their ISS module from).

Happy What I Ate Wednesday! Join the party:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fun with Solar Arrays

Another week on console, another couple of solar array feathering events.

Monday we have a Prop Purge from the Progress. This Progress has been with us since January, and is leaving on Thursday morning.

A Progress is basically a big empty (unmanned) Soyuz. They launch from Kazakhstan full of fuel, food, water, air and other consumables. This one docked to the docking compartment (PIRS) which is on the earth facing (we call that nadir) side of the ISS. We could just say bottom, but really there's no up or down in space so bottom, top, left, and right are irrelevant.

After the Progress docks, astronauts spend some time moving cargo out of the Progress; then before it's time to leave, they spend a bunch more time moving in trash. Before the Progress leaves, whatever extra propellant it has left is transferred to the station tanks. After that, we must vent out the fluid lines safely, to avoid it spraying any which way when the Progress undocks... that's the Prop Purge that we did this morning. Since this involves both propulsive attitude control and contaminants being vented to space, we move the US solar arrays to safe positions where they won't be damaged by the propellant.

What does propulsive attitude control mean? Well, ordinarily we use non-propulsive attitude control- large spinning gyroscopes rotated about an axis. Remember that experiment in high school physics where you spin the bike wheel and try to turn it sideways and it resists? Or when you do that on a chair and the chair spins in the opposite direction.  Or watch the video below, where a spinning wheel resists gravity to stand upright even though its only anchored by the rope to the axle.

These gyroscopes work like that bike wheel to impart forces on the ISS and keep it, essentially, straight. But they are only so powerful. When you vent something, you are subject to Newton's Third Law- every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For example, spraying propellant to the left would cause the ISS to move right, the opposite reaction. These same laws are acting on you when you hold a running garden hose, but other forces (like your weight and the friction between your feet and the floor) keep it from pushing you back. The ISS is just floating there in space, so no friction and no weight are going to help it out. Instead the station's thrusters must act to keep the ISS from moving right. Those thrusters can damage the solar arrays, so we must move the arrays to a safe position.

Thursday morning we will undock this Progress (number 46). It will float away and burn up in the atmosphere, taking our trash with it. Then, a few days later, a new Progress (number 47) will come take it's place. The circle of life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to Overnights

Tonight (Friday at 11pm) I start the overnight shift again. Seven nights in mission control, seven days sleeping while the world works. Thursday night I do my best to stay awake, in order to better sleep all day. But, as usual, I fell asleep around 3. I'm not sure how I feel about going on console on the un-lucky Friday the 13th. Even if it's just for an hour. Flight controllers are a generally superstitious bunch (see my friend Ben's post for a fun take on that), not wanting to do anything to incur the wrath of the space station and spend your whole night cleaning up a massive failure. Fingers crossed that it's kind to me tomorrow.

Passover is almost over, and I'm looking forward to bread again. I think I'm going to order Chinese food Saturday night. Usually before the overnight shift I cook something, but with 2 days left in Passover, I can't cook with any of the forbidden foods (it's all boxed up) which would limit my options. Plus I still have a bunch of leftover brisket to keep me fed.

With the big Passover meal out of the way, I have had time again to turn my attention back to everyone's favorite topic... wedding planning!

Saturday, after some unexpected waterworks (not me, a pipe on the side of Dan's house sprung a leak), we made the hour drive to sign the paperwork and book our venue.
Here's your sneak peak at the venue. It's official! While up there, we checked out the hotels and local area. Seems like a nice place to stash our guests for the weekend! This takes a pretty big weight off my shoulders, because it takes me almost to the point that, should I do basically nothing else planning related, the wedding will still happen. There's the small matters of invitations, dress, and a thousand other things... but we have a place, a date, a time, an officiant and DJ if we want to use theirs, and a caterer. Not that I'm going to give up, just that I could.

So one of the best pieces of advice I got from married ladies about wedding planning is to divide the massive to-do list into things you need to get done every month and by the end of the month, finish it. For April, I am focusing on getting the website and save the dates out. I need the website address to put on the save-the-dates, but it doesn't have to be totally done. With most of our guests coming from out of town, we want to get them planning and saving ASAP so they have the best chance to come. I heard that married ladies need to pass on wedding planning advice or else they learned all that crap for a one-time thing... so lay it on me. What's your wedding planning advice? Should I just buy a white maxi dress from Target, forget the florist, and call my wedding good enough right here?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What I ate Wednesday- Passover Edition

Passover dietary restrictions sure make eating interesting. Think of everything in a day that you eat that is made of wheat, grain, barley, oat, corn, rice, bean. Include soy, corn syrup, and corn starch.  Now take all those things out. What is left?  Not a whole heck of a lot. We can eat wheat IF it is a special flat cracker called matzah, and they make a thing called matzah meal, ground up matzah that you can use in place of flour in baking. But no yeast or baking powder/soda allowed to give them a lift.
In general Passover promotes clean eating, except that it prohibits whole grains. I certainly have bought some extra organic stuff to get me through the week!
For this WIAW party, here is some of my Passover eats:

On Sunday I made a giant matzah French Toast: Cracked up pieces of matzah, mixed with scrambled eggs, and cooked until the eggs are set.
I then divided it up into tupperware for eating at work in the morning. I usually eat mine with maple syrup (allowed, as long as it's pure maple- the fake stuff is chock full of corn syrup) but this time to add some extra nutritional value I put greek yogurt and honey on it instead.

Yummy, and kept me full until noon!

One of the desserts I made was this Lemon Curd trifle. I had some leftover of the Passover cake, so I ate it with cream cheese and organic strawberry jam.

I've also eaten a bunch of leftovers from Friday night's big dinner. Below is the leftover salmon and some veggie matzo ball soup. The salmon recipe was so good- just sprinkle the salmon with salt, pepper, and dill and bake until done. The recipe said to serve with lemon wedges, but to dress it up a little I put thin lemon slices on top. Definitely recommend this- yummy, and bonus points for presentation!

Most of my usual go-to snacks are out, but I'm glad to see that Jason's nut butter has no soybean or corn oil so I spread some chocolate hazelnut butter on a banana for an afternoon snack.

Passover is officially half over, 4 more chametz-less days to go! I can't decide if my first bread meal should be bread, pasta, or something breaded and fried (Buffalo Wild Wings perhaps?). Whatever it is, I'll be eating it Saturday night before my overnight shift... maybe it'll be breakfast food instead!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


So Friday I spent all day cooking and cleaning in preparation for Passover. It's a fun holiday, but definitely not easy. I set the table...
Dan and his mom helped me make mini seder plates for everyone. Over the course of the meal you eat special foods- green vegetable (parsley) dipped in salt water, matzah, bitter herb (horseradish root), and a sandwich of matzah and horseradish. TO speed things up, we have always made little plates in advance so everyone has their items right there waiting...
I made a beautiful brisket (among other yummy things).
Dan's parents came from Virginia to visit for Easter, so they came to passover.
As did these weirdos: That's Katie, Nicole, and Rich, all fellow mission controllers. We took a nice picture too, but I prefer the goofy one.
After eating all those special foods, retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and saying a few prayers, it was time to eat!
Red and white quinoa with artichoke hearts in the front, kugel (Jewish stuffing) next, then salmon and brisket.
After dinner, I brought out dessert. As I mentioned, Passover rules out most normal desserts. I made special sponge cake made with matzo meal and potato starch and homemade lemon custard topped with whipped cream and strawberries. And homemade candied lemon peel.

And when I realized how many dishes I still had to clean, I thought it best to end the night this way. (Just kidding, I got plenty of help from Dan and his mom and I went to bed with a mostly clean kitchen). I just love me some Manischewitz. For the next 8 days, no breads allowed. Here we go!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Passover Prep

Passover is coming up Friday night. Passover is my favorite holiday! It starts with 2 nights of holiday meals where we recount the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt (Slavery, Moses, 10 plagues, 10 commandment, etc.) and then eat a bunch. A special rule for Passover is that we don't eat leavened products for 8 days. This basically means bread, but is expanded to most things that get bigger when you cook them. There's actually a very complicated set of criteria but the gist is that it includes: wheat, rice, beans (including soy), corn, and any products derived from those things (like corn syrup, corn starch, rice flour, bread)... a lot of things. If you are a health food person, you already know that corn syrup and corn starch are in like 90% of the things we eat.  And it's not enough to go gluten free, because rice and beans are off-limits too.  Most things are either made from matzo meal, which is ground matzah which is made with special wheat flour that is supervised by a rabbi to ensure it doesn't leaven, or potato starch flour. Thank goodness potatoes are allowed! I don't mind the passover eating restrictions too much, but I do get pretty hungry without bread.
Raise your hand if this is how you learned about Passover! Source
Before the holiday, we are required to hide from sight all the "chametz" a hebrew word which basically means leavened products. You don't throw it out, you just have to put it away. People who are very religious will hide everything that is not stamped "Kosher For Passover." This is because even something that does not contain corn syrup may have been processed in a factory that does process corn syrup and they want to be sure their food is not contaminated. People who are extremely religious will not even buy packaged products for fear of contamination. My orthodox rabbi and his family eat everything scratch made from fruits, vegetables and homegrown herbs... no packaged things or bottled spices, except kosher salt. It's all super delicious too!
Box of delicious chametz. I'll miss those oats!
Corn syrup-y, soybeany, and otherwise forbidden!

I am not so religious, so I just box up everything that contains those not-allowed ingredients. For most of my life I didn't really check everything for corn syrup or soybean oil, but for the past couple years I have tried to be better about it... baby steps! What is awesome is that it forces me to go through the pantry and fridge (all the cold storage stuff I hide in one drawer of the fridge and one side of the freezer) and inspect all my stuff for forbidden ingredients. While I'm there I also check for mold, expiration dates, etc. and get rid of all the stuff that is old or well past it's prime. Then, post passover, I start with a clean and organized pantry and fridge!
Bare pantry. Soon to be stocked with matzah!
For passover we are also required to clean the house to get all the bread crumbs out... it is understood that you can never get every bread crumb out so you do your best and then have a ritual where you ceremonially rid yourself of any remaining bread for the next 8 days. Passover = God mandated Spring Cleaning :-)

This year I am hosting some friends (Jewish and non-Jewish) for the first night of Passover. I started last Friday, making and freezing some things, and will work my way through the menu over the course of the next week. I'm making Veggie Soup with matzo balls. Usually we do chicken soup, but the first night of Passover is also Good Friday this year, so a few of my guests will not be eating meat for Lent. I asked Dan if the rules were as strict as not eating chicken stock... he wasn't sure, so I decided better safe than sorry.  Also I'll be making my grandmother's brisket, and a salmon recipe for the Catholics. There will also be Quinoa, which seems like it would not be allowed but is secretly a seed not a grain so it passes the chametz test, Kugel, salad, and gefilte fish. For dessert, since most of the usual suspects (cookies, cake, pie) are out, I found 2 passover safe recipes: Lemon Curd and Pecan Bars.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another Weekend of Wedding Venues

Thursday night Dan and I visited the closest of the many venues we are looking at. It's a vineyard in Santa Fe, about 20 minutes south of League City, where Dan lives.
It was quite pretty, but if you remember the map (it's that purple one at the south), it's super far from the airport... and everything else.
Reception hall
Chapel in the vineyard for ceremony.

Groom's prep and/or Rehearsal dinner... in the wine cellar!
Saturday we had a looong day of driving... to all the green bubbles.
We went to a place called Amber Springs in the north part of Houston. This place is awesome and SO pretty, but when you book you only rent the space and the tables and chairs. Everything else, you have to bring in. Though I would love to get married here, I don't think I want to really do everything myself. Too much stress.
Reception hall, completely made of pine.
Outdoor ceremony space and grounds
Since we had back to back appointments all day, I packed a picnic, but thought we might end up eating in the car because we didn't know the area. As luck would have it, when we were driving to the venue we saw a public park, so after taking the tour, we stopped there to have our sandwiches.
That's my fiancé. We love food almost as much as we love each other!
Then we headed to another venue. This was The Woodlands Resort, a fancy golf club. We wanted an outdoor ceremony and this technically met the requirement, but it was too proper and stuffy for us. When the lady we met with told us the hotel rooms were $149 a night with the wedding rate discount, our decision was easy. We can't ask our guests to spend that kind of money.
Ceremony on the deck, overlooking the golf course.
Grand Ballroom. Pretty, but not us.
The last place we visited was so horrible I didn't take any pictures. Everything was really cheap looking. It is a testament to the photographers that they made the place look so pretty in the pictures we found online, compared to what we actually saw. So, that was a big no.

Ah, but I only told you 3 of the green places. And that's because.... we decided to pick the fourth one! Actually it was the first one we saw Saturday morning. Next Saturday we have to go back and sign paperwork and leave a deposit to make it official, but we already have our date on hold. This place has so many of the things we wanted: room for an outdoor ceremony, an open bar, hotels close by that happen to be near a mall so our guests can be entertained, places for the bride and groom to get married, beautiful grounds for photos. It also has things we didn't realize we wanted until we saw it: like a fire pit at the entrance, indoor and outdoor lounge away from the party in case our guests want to scoot away to relax. It's also an all inclusive package- food, cake, location, linens, and more. Much more relaxing than a bring-your-own place. We also love the old world Mexico feel, and all the lush green grounds!
Outdoor Ceremony Site. You can even have a real fire in the fireplace!
Entrance. The two columns are also fire pits. We like fire!
Reception area. House linens and house centerpieces, which we'll probably use.
The place is already filled up next March and April. We were looking at Feb, and our first choice date was taken. We didn't want to let it get away so we had to act fast. After some agonizing, and a call to both sets of parents, we decided to go for it. So, we'll be getting married here, in Katy, TX on 2/2/13!
This outdoor seating area is Dan's favorite part!