Saturday, December 14, 2013

Work Woes and Other News

Whew! This week wrapped up my first grad school class, English Language Studies. For my final paper, which I turned in last Saturday, I had to write a 15-18 page literary analysis paper. It sounded really daunting at the beginning of the class, and finding sources was a little challenging, but I ended up with I think a pretty good final product (that clocked in at the full 18 pages... filling a length requirement has never really been an issue for me). The paper is worth 30% of our grade, so it could make all the difference for my final grade. Now, I just have to keep checking back for my grade... and keep my fingers crossed.
Next semester, which starts Jan 6th, I'll be taking a Nonfiction Fundamentals writing class. It sounds fun, I hope that it is!

Meanwhile, we've been training for the Austin Half on 2/16. Last weekend we ran 8 miles! Our neighborhood is pretty small, and the side streets surrounding it don't have sidewalks or a shoulder. We manage runs up to 4 miles just looping around the neighborhood in various patterns, but for longer runs we cross the major street in front of our neighborhood (at a light, of course). Then we have a nice wide shoulder for awhile, and then some good sidewalks, for our out and back run. Aside from waiting for lights (4 each way) we do a good job of running the whole way, so I'm feeling good about the upcoming race. But the real test will be while in VA for Christmas... I had to stock up on cold weather running gear to prepare.

Work has also been busy. In October, I was designated as the lead SPARTAN for the Cygnus flight that's supposed to launch on Wednesday. It's Orbital Sciences' second flight to the ISS, their first official cargo resupply mission (the first was a demo). Read more about Cygnus Orb-1 here.
As flight lead for my group for the mission, I was involved in planning, coordination, and some flight specific sims to practice the timeline.

Also, I was recently designated as lead for a stage EVA planned for August. Again my goal is to plan, sim, coordinate, and eventually execute this EVA. And we've had another big software project come to a close that required many meetings and lots of documentation.

And then, just when I thought it couldn't get any busier... this happened:

That was Wednesday morning. I was almost called in to help with the loop restart but someone beat me to the chair by about 1 minute.
Funny story: I had just opened my Chobani and stirred it around when someone came by my desk looking for someone to head to MCC and help. My computer was still booting so I hadn't seen the email yet. I rushed off immediately to help, and having no way to seal my yogurt but not wanting to abandon my breakfast, I ran across JSC with an open yogurt (spoon still stuck in it) in my hand. Note to self, read email before opening yogurt.
Since they had all the hands they needed when I arrived, I headed back to the office for some (unrelated) meetings. At the time, it looked like a transient undertemp that could be easily fixed, so we mostly went about our normal work. Then...
Realizing that the restart was not so simple, the team began troubleshooting while also keeping an eye on thermal clocks. In the end, while external cooling was restored (power converters outside of ISS get cooling this way), internal cooling could not be restored. Temps in the external loop must be above the freezing point of water before being allowed to collect heat from the modules to prevent the water in the internal coolant loops from freezing, expanding, and rupturing; the loop was far too cold to allow this due to the malfunctioning valve.
The rest of the day (and the next 2) was a blur of random meetings. There are impacts to the Cygnus  mission (Launch Commit Criteria we don't meet due to loss of redundancy) plus lots of work to go around our group. On Thursday I ended up staying until 9 pm (so grateful to the kind coworker who offered to bring us food while we toiled, I ate a slice of pizza in about 4 bites I was so hungry) testing various troubleshooting options and verifying procedures in the simulator.

Now I'm sleep shifting, which is why I have time to write you the worlds longest story about work and life. Saturday night I begin a 6-night (...or more?) stint on the overnight shift (11pm to 8am). This was my regularly scheduled week on console, but its shaping up to be a lot busier than I was initially expecting. That's life in the manned spaceflight business I suppose.

If you are interested in more on the developing failure story, see these links:
Spaceflight 101
NASA Official Site
JSC Twitter is updating a lot

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Last night (Wednesday) marked the first of the 8 nights of Hanukkah. We lit the menorah, and drank a bottle of wine to celebrate.
Our new oil menorah (a wedding present getting its first use)!
That makes today the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, a phenomenon that has only occurred once before and won't occur again for 70,000 years (and its pretty ridiculous to think we'll still be celebrating Thanksgiving in 70,000 years anyways) so the internet got a little crazy about it!
Thanksgivukkah official facebook
Menurkey: Menorah + Turkey 
Thanksgivukkah menu
Thanksgivukkah doughnuts
Thanksgivukkah swag
...and more
We totally bought the Thanksgivukkah cards and mailed them to the family... easy way to sidestep the holiday card conundrum this year!
Monday night we wrote them and mailed them out to relatives, so I hope they make it by the weekend.

Today we are going to my friend's place for Thanksgiving dinner. He's deep frying a turkey (perfect for a Thanksgiving overlapping with the "miracle of the oil" holiday), I'm bringing challah stuffing. For Yom Kippur I made 2 challahs, one to eat and one to freeze. I still hadn't pulled it out of the freezer after 3 months, so I figured stuffing was a good use. I cubed it yesterday and set it out to stale overnight, per the recipe.
I also made Martha Stewart's pumpkin chocolate chip squares for dessert, quickly becoming my go-to fall recipe: I've already made them for 2 other events this fall! They are delicious and pretty easy, but they do need to cool completely before you cut them (or they fall apart and end up on the floor- personal experience) so I made them last night and cut them this morning.
Now I'm chilling on the couch sipping a mimosa and watching the parade... almost time to make the stuffing before heading to my friend's house at 2.

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Thanksgivukkah! 

Edited to add:
Finally the Hanukkah float made its way through the parade. I was waiting for this all day! Yay!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tailgate Time!

Something you may not know about my family: We are a tailgate family. (Yes, that's a thing.)
My parents have season tickets to the UCF football games. They drive the 3ish hours from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando in a Suburban stuffed to the brim with tailgate gear. My mom, a combination of the ultimate Jewish mother (loves to feed people) and the ultimate organizer, throws epic tailgates. I enjoyed many of these wonders in my college career, and several since (sadly all before this blog was started so I don't have any pics for you...).

So a few weeks ago, a coworker who played football for Univ. of Cincinnati rallied the troops to attend the Univ. of Houston-Cincinnati game in Houston this weekend. In grand family tradition, I offered to organize the best damn tailgate they'd ever seen... despite the game starting at a lame 11am, and despite Houston having some even more lame weather.

But we made it work. We got there at 7:45am, set out tent up quickly in the rain, and huddled under it to stay dry.

I made breakfast burritos and mimosas (my mom's traditional morning game fare) while my coworker Melissa and her husband, our carpool buddies, brought hot cocoa and hot buttered rum to keep us warm.
The carnage: camp stove caked in egg, breakfast burrito ingredients scattered about, and a teakettle for boiling water. (Due to the rain we didn't get to really unpack, so stuff was thrown everywhere as needed; and the ground was wet, so the table was a bit crowded)
 Around 9am the rain stopped (right on cue per the weather channel app) and we got to finally emerge from the tent and set up our chairs. No longer wet, but still pretty cold: it's not every day you see gloves and knit caps in Houston!
 The whole crew (minus a couple late-comers) for a self-timer photo. I was rocking my UCF Rally Scarf for the tailgate, but I swapped it out for a Cincinnati sweatshirt for the game.

Below is a full view of our new tailgate tent, and our amazing spread of food and drinks, plus cocoa-chef Brian! If you are looking for a tailgate tent, our new tent is pretty great. Setup was easy (although we were highly motivated, due to the rain) and the curved sides and (removable) back flap helped keep the rain out. It leaked a tiny bit at the top (there's a vent flap to let hot air out- it's more of a warm weather tent) but overall kept us and out stuff dry. I can't say how it holds up over time, but the first outing went well. (I get nothing for saying this, I just liked the tent.)
 Before we knew it, it was game time. Our seats were amazing. First and second row on the sideline- pretty far down to one side of the field, but still a great view. And the Cincinnati cheerleaders and mascot were right in front of us. Sometimes, the Bearcat came to visit...
 Freezing and cheesing!

(Un)fortunately, Cincinnati won, so they are still right behind my UCF Knights in the conference standings. This means we have to win our upcoming games to stay ahead of them and secure the BCS automatic bowl berth for our conference. If UCF makes it to the Sugar Bowl, a mere 6 hours away from here in New Orleans, we are seriously considering making the drive for the game. Fingers crossed and Go Knights!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Pew Report and What Millennials Want

Much cyber-ink has been spilled on the topic of the Pew Center report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to sit down and write about it, but winter break (the end of my first grad school class!) is coming, and I'll try not to neglect this poor blog then! I have lots to say about the study, too!

Why? As a millennial, intermarried Jew, I feel as if the Pew survey is supposed to be a portrait of me. In some ways it is, and in some ways it really isn't.  For today, let's talk non-denominational Jews.
I have wondered, since the study first came out, how I would answer this question of denomination. I would definitely call myself Jewish by religion (more on Jews of no religion another time) but I don't know what denomination I would say. I go to an "Ultra-Orthodox" synagogue. In fact, I recently set up to automatically donate money to them every month, which is essentially like paying dues, so we could even say I "belong" to that synagogue. But I don't do Orthodox Jew things like keep kosher or observe the sabbath... I would not consider myself an Orthodox Jew by any stretch of the term.
I might consider myself Conservative, since I was raised that way and want to raise my own children that way, but I don't belong to a Conservative synagogue and have written before about my reluctance to join. Because of this, I don't quite fit in that box either.
And while I do certain observances regularly (Yom Kippur and Passover are the big ones), for the rest of the year I'm not very observant. So does that make me "not practicing" or "culturally Jewish?" I would say no... but maybe someone else would say that would be a yes?
Of course, the goal of this survey was how people see themselves, not as defined by someone else. But unless you are a cookie cutter Jew, this answer is really hard to come up with. I would probably answer Non-Denominational/Just Jewish. And that growing non denominational section has scared basically all of the non-Orthodox denominations into thinking that they are about to perish from lack of new blood. Millennials, it seems, just don't want to fit in the boxes our parents' and grandparents' generations set out for us. (Which, yeah, that's kind of our thing...) So how do you reclaim the "lost" generation of non-denominational Jews?

I read an article from Interfaith Family on What Millennials Want from organized Judaism. In the article, the following actions are suggested for creating the Judaism that millenials want:
  1. Go to them. Help infuse Jewish content into their networks.
  2. Stand for something. Help them live within the context of Jewish ideas. (If they are looking for friends, love, work, etc. they will go elsewhere. They come to Jewish institutions for Jewish content!)
  3. Talk about and teach Jewish adulthood.
  4. Organize around Judaism. (Can we have house meetings to ask them what they are looking for and work with them to create programming for them?)
  5. Open our institutions: Create low barriers with high content.
 When I read this list it sounded immediately familiar. But not because it's what I want-- it is what I found. That is the Chabad model, and this really explains why I continue to attend Ultra-Orthodox services despite it not being my brand of Judaism. If a conservative synagogue did this near me, I'd be banging down their door to get in.
What can the rest of the denominations learn from Chabad?
  • Have a functioning website and utilize social media:
    The ultra-orthodox, long beards and black hat Chabad rabbis each maintain a website for their individual synagogue (with mobile version), they have weekly email newsletters, they have facebook pages that they actually use. Chabad.org is a fabulous resource for Jews of every denomination about holidays and practices, and they have the whole Tanach (an acronym name for all the Jewish bible books, pretty much the Old Testament) in Hebrew and English on their site. They have truly embraced the way technology can be used to reach millennial and post-millennial audiences.
    Most conservative/reform synagogues on the other hand? Their websites haven't been updated in years (A few years ago I lived literally next door to a reform synagogue building that I thought was defunct, because their website was 5 years out of date. I found out recently that they are alive and kicking, but their website is still not.). You're doing it wrong. And for God's sake (see what I did there?) get a mobile website!
  • Make all the holidays the center of your calendar:
    Before I went to Chabad, I celebrated what I would deem my "big three." Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Aside from that, I didn't observe most holidays.  Most conservative/ reform synagogues do the high holidays, and maybe Hanukkah, but miss plenty of opportunities for low maintenance but high-fun holidays.
    But for Chabad, every holiday is celebrated as if it were one of the big three. It's hard not to want to join in! I started attending the community Sukkot dinner about 4 years ago. Since then I have fulfilled the mitzvah every year, at least once during the 8 day holiday, of eating a meal in the sukkah. 
    Judaism, with its multitude of distinctive holidays (just about all centered around food, of course) offers a perfect calendar for routine Jewish events. The Sukkot dinner, the menorah lighting in the mall, the Purim party, the Shavuot cheesecake party... there's so many options to make Judaism accessible and fun.
  • Create low barriers with high content:
    I'll just go right ahead and steal their #5 because it's perfect.
    Do you know what it cost me to "join" Chabad? Nothing. I showed up for Saturday services, and they fed me and then invited me back for the holiday dinner the next weekend. I kept showing up and they kept inviting me back. Sure I would donate little bits here and there, usually the suggested donation for a specific event, but never much more than that. After a year of just showing up and hanging out, I did start donating more regularly to do my part for the community. And now I actually give them more money than the conservative synagogue would ask of me in dues.
    But at the outset, I could attend every event, be treated as part of the community (despite, as I said above, my not really fitting their mold) and pay only what I wanted, when I wanted. Within the year they had me hooked, but at the beginning there was the lowest possible barrier for all the content: Just show up.
    And I did. And I stayed.
  • Cut down on your overhead:  (this will probably help create those low barriers... don't need to charge $1000 in membership fee if you don't need to sustain a large overhead)
    Dan and I have this conversation a lot, mostly in the context of the Catholic church by our house, which is really nice and fancy and spent a lot of money on aesthetics and gold plated things, which seems like a waste of money. Some people, I think, really like going to these fancy gold-plated churches or those opulent synagogues with stained glass windows and beautiful carved arks.
    But look at Chabad. All a synagogue needs is a torah scroll (not 5), a cabinet to keep it in, some prayer books, some chairs, and a place to meet. My rabbi operates a shul out of his living room. For high holidays they rent a conference room in a hotel and set up there. I don't know what that costs, but it can't possibly be anywhere near owning a synagogue building that would only fill up three times a year.
    Our running route goes by an elementary school where a church sets up every Sunday. They have a few portable signs, and a couple trailers. Meeting at the elementary school means they have plenty of space and don't have to upkeep it. It's brilliant! Synagogues are flailing because their dues-paying membership is not large enough to sustain their aging buildings. I should know, the synagogue I became Bat Mitzvah in folded before my brother's Bar Mitzvah 6 years later; the core membership still meets in a storefront. Because a house of worship is really a community of people. They can sit anywhere, look at anything, and still pray. My main advice to Conservative synagogues would be to trim the excess, cut back a bit. It'll get them through the lean years, and it'll probably attract more millenials- those kids coming of age in the Great Recession, with tastes to match- than extravagant sanctuaries and shiny things.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy End of DST!

Oh what a difference a day makes! On Saturday I woke up at 5:45 in the pitch black, drove to work (for the day shift in Mission Control) in the pitch black, and finally saw the sun at 3:30 when I left. Then we turned our clocks back. Sunday I woke up at 5:45 (really 6:45 to my body) and there was a little light peeking in the curtains as I got up, got ready, and drove to work in the daylight! Hooray! Not so hooray for a few coworkers who had to suffer an extra hour of their overnight shifts that night so the rest of us could enjoy an extra hour of sleep... but I have been there, done that, so my sympathy is limited.

While I was at work, my wonderful husband was a busy bee around the house:laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning up, and weeding the planter. I don't have a before picture, but our southern grass (St. Augustine) is a terrible weed that grows everywhere. Here's a random grass root growing up around our tree as an example:
Kind of a nasty weed, but it does well in the heat and it's better than a gravel yard! Dan really hates it, but we had the same grass in Florida where I grew up, so its really the only grass I've ever known. (Not-so-funny side story: my brother was allergic to this grass-weed, so as a kid my parents would sometimes take him to the golf course behind my grandparents' house so he could play like a normal kid. Poor guy!)
The planter was very overgrown with these grass shoots and looks a million times better now:
(I promise those spiny brown plants to the left side are much prettier when it's not "winter." They bloom with the prettiest pink flowers for a couple weeks in the spring, too!)

After working the weekend, I took today off in the morning to get ahead on my homework for the week before going into work for a presentation at 2pm.  My initial post in the Discussion Board of the week is due by Thursday night, so I have been trying to follow this pattern: Do my reading for the week on Sunday (even though the week technically starts on Monday) so I can do my initial posting by Monday night while Dan is at Karate. Then if there's a paper or other project due that week, I can wait until the weekend to tackle it. This week that didn't happen because I was on console yesterday, so I did my reading and my my initial post today. Of course I planned to sleep in first, after going to work at 7am the last two days, but between turning the clocks back and worrying about everything that had to get done, I woke up at 6:30 ready to go. Whoops!

After homework, some housework. A Daylight Saving Time PSA for you: Change your smoke detector batteries for DST! I usually swap my batteries once a year, at Fall Back. This has generally prevented any from dying in the middle of the night, which is annoying and leads to sleepy and unsafe ladder operations to shut them up. If you haven't done yours in awhile (or can't remember the last time you did), now is an excellent time! I also swapped out my air filters. After a few summer months of near-constant A/C and before the furnace starts up for winter, its a good idea to get those swapped out too!

All this cleaning and preparing was because my father-in-law is coming to Houston for a week, starting tonight. He's here to help my husband work on "the bug," an old VW beetle someone else turned into a Baja bug and painted in a terrible, pseudo-camouflage fashion, which Dan then purchased on Craigslist less than a month before we started dating. Then a horrible shrew sucked up all his time and he didn't get a lot of work done on it. (Yup, that was me!) My goal for his visit is:
1. Get the bug running so it can be pulled out of the garage if we need to move it out of the way. (That's right, it doesn't run. He towed it here from his old house when we sold it.)
2. Get the bug painted so it can be parked in front of our house without the HOA murderizing us.
See what I mean about the terrible camouflage paint? Gross. But it has potential. Here's hoping next week I can post a much better "after" shot!

Hope you have a great week! I'm off to start some chili in the slow cooker!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Checking In

Hey team! I know I've been silent for a couple of weeks. Between work work and school work and my for some reason very happening social life, I've been too busy to blog.

Last weekend Dan and I headed up to the Texas Renaissance Festival. As with all things, Texas does Ren Fest bigger than any I've ever seen. There's a whole permanent fairground north of Houston (with traffic it took us 2 hours to get there). Last year I bought this beautiful purple and black corset, so I bought this dress on Amazon to go with it.
I think I look pretty hot. Corsets are certainly not something I would like to wear every day, but you can't deny it gives your waist (and boobs!) a nice shape. The weather was pretty great on Saturday and we spent the whole day drinking and eating and wandering around before making the 2 hour trek back home.

Sunday I did some homework (my second paper is due next weekend) while Dan cleaned the house... his parents are coming to visit next week for the long Veterans Day weekend, so it was time to ready the guest quarters.

In other news, we signed up for a half marathon on Feb 16th in Austin and training begins tomorrow...16 weeks to go! So that's what's new around here! Some things for your reading pleasure...
  1. My daughter got pregnant at a house party and I want the house owners to pay for it
    Wowwww. I mean, really? I suspect that this "blame everyone else" guy didn't teach his daughter about safe sex. Newsflash: Teens have sex. Life finds a way. Give your kids condoms.
  2. New last name, old email address
    I did discuss, in the context of my own name change, how terrible computer systems are at handling the married name change despite name changes long predating the existence of computers. However, for a personal email address, does it really matter so much that it doesn't match your name? As someone who still uses her old Gmail address (maidenname.firstname@gmail) even though she has a new last name, I suggest that this is a fake problem. What do you think?
  3. Six decades of the most common baby girl names
    I have a very common name- 6th most common for my birth year, with 22,000 other girls also named Stephanie (check out the stats from your birth year at Social Security administration). My mother did that on purpose, because she hated her unique name (well, a normal name, with a less common spelling). My sister (14th most common) and brother (4th most common) were named likewise. These days it seems that people are obsessed with finding a "unique" name for their kid, but somehow everyone "independently" and "uniquely" thought of naming their kid "Olivia" at the same damn time. 
And that's all for now. Have a good week!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tales from a Government Shutdown, pt 2

As I said in my last post, the hubs and I are teleworking since we are unable to go to the office except for critical operations until the shutdown is over.

It isn't exactly a picnic, but it hasn't been all bad. Here's 5 pro's of teleworking...

1. Elastic!
My regular workday wear of real bras, real shirts, real pants (or at least jeans), and shoes has been temporarily replaced with yoga pants, sports bras, Lululemon workout shirts, and happy bare feet. I'm so flipping comfortable I don't ever want to wear real pants again.

2. My favorite cubemate
Hubs and I have been working at the dining room table together all week. While I do like seeing other humans, getting married is basically admitting to the world that if you had to be trapped on a deserted island (or stuck in a house) with one other person, you'd want it to be that one. He is pretty cute!

3. Commute
My 35 minute commute has been replaced with a 35 second commute. Not to mention, I don't have to shower, and dressing takes about 5 minutes so I've really streamlined my mornings (and am turning all those time savings directly into sleeping in!). On that note, we're also saving gas... my husband and I each usually go through about a tank a week!

4. Nice weather
Houston has been hit with a spell of pretty nice weather. We have left the windows open in the house until lunchtime every day to take advantage of the cool breeze, which we wouldn't be able to enjoy if cooped up in an office all day.

5. So long 'To-do List'
I had a growing to-do list at work of "nice to have" updates to products that I was saving until I had time. Well guess what? Without meetings, sims, or marathon software testing sessions, I suddenly have time for it! Is it the most thrilling work? Well, no, but it will make our procedures all shiny and new when we get back to the grind!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tales from a Government Shutdown

(Disclaimer: These views are my own. These experiences are my own. I don't speak for my company, NASA, or the federal government..)
 
Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably already know that as of midnight on Monday, the federal government shut down due to lack of a budget to begin the new fiscal year.

I could go on and on about politics, but instead I thought I'd tell you about our lives while the government is shut down. Though Dan and I are contractors, not civil servants, we support a federal agency and therefore are definitely impacted by the shutdown.

For civil servants, there is a complete work stoppage. They are not allowed to come to work, not allowed to work from home, even answering an email is against the law. They are also not getting paid, although Congress is able to pass a resolution to back-pay civil servants for the time they were furloughed (which they are already considering doing).

As part of the shutdown, people are only allowed to report to the physical space centers for critical operations. Civil servants are already forbidden from work, but for contractors (which are the majority of workers all across NASA centers) there's a mixed bag... from furlough and no pay, to mandatory vacation, to paid telework, etc.

As luck would have it, I was regularly scheduled to be on console last week. Everyone scheduled for console (civil servant or contractor) is allowed to report on-site for duty and work as normal. Console is considered a critical operation: we have 6 astronauts/cosmonauts and a space station to keep alive and well, and we fly 24-7-365 regardless of the shutdown.

For the contract Dan and I are on, we cannot go to work except for critical ops, but are allowed to telework using NASA assets (our NASA-issued laptops and the VPN system) as much as we can. However much of our jobs involves being on-site- sims, crew training, flight controller training, and testing software. There's only so much paperwork we can do, probably enough for a couple weeks before we would need either help from a civil servant or a JSC facility to do our jobs. For the hours we cannot make each week, we are able to charge either vacation or no pay. Dan doesn't have a lot of vacation, so he will be taking a reduced paycheck rather than use his vacation hours. Dan already teleworked all last week while I was off being "critical," and we both will be teleworking starting next week until the shutdown is over.

And Dan and I are the luckiest among my contractor friends. Some of my coworkers on other contracts are getting paid still, but are not allowed to work. They are forced to use their vacation time, which could be a big impact for them if they were trying to save their vacation time for the holidays or other plans but have to use it now instead. Another friend on another contract is also in the telework wagon, but they are not able to use any NASA assets (including their laptops and even the government-owned servers!) so are basically unable to work very much. And all contractors are only this lucky until their contract's forward funding runs out- anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. Then they go on indefinite furlough as well.


On the bright side, since we have been home more than usual, we have had a chance to clean the house and I spent all Friday (since Thursday was my last console shift) working on my first paper for grad school that's due tomorrow. So it's not all terrible, but we certainly can't go on like this forever. Besides, we came here for a job, and we'd really like to do it!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Busy Busy Bee

Sorry for my radio silence over here this week, we've been busy bees!

Sunday evening we got back from a quick weekend in VA to attend the wedding of Dan's elementary school friend Kevin. We had a great time, but I didn't take any pictures at the ceremony and took only a few at the reception...

 Our first placecard as Mr. and Mrs!
 The bride and groom met at law school so each centerpiece had a law book under the flowers. So cute!
The bride and groom's first dance!
I danced my feet off (literally, they hurt so much by the time we left) and drank a lot of wine and had a really great time!

When we got back, we went into crunch mode with Dan's house. For the last 8 months we've been married, we have lived at what was "my house" before we got married. Dan moved most of his stuff over right after our wedding, and we spent several weeks getting his house ready to go on the market.

As "luck" would have it, we accepted an offer at the beginning of September, which was super busy for us. Of the three weekends we were under contract for the house, we were out of town for two of them (one to visit my family and last weekend for the wedding). Plus of the one weekend we were home, I spent all of Saturday in synagogue fasting while Dan spent the day fixing things the buyer requested after the inspection. Already tapped for time off, we spent a lot of long days going straight from work to the house to get it ready.

But, we got it all fixed up and cleared out in time, and this morning we went to sign the papers to officially be a one house family. Hooray!

There's more excitement coming this weekend: I'm on the team for the Cygnus berthing. After some slips and then some conflicts with the range (launchpad availability, basically) and ISS vehicle traffic, Cygnus was finally scheduled to launch last week and rendezvous with ISS last Sunday... while we were still away for the wedding, so I was going to miss it. But then there was an additional slip in the rendezvous plan, to this weekend, so I'm back on. Cygnus is now scheduled to rendezvous overnight Saturday to Sunday, so I'm scheduled for console Saturday for prep and Sunday for the berthing: Cygnus doesn't dock, it is caught by the robotic arm and then moved to the hatch and attached, aka berthing.

Meanwhile, some other news...

Over the summer, I applied and was accepted to an Online MA program for English and Creative Writing. My first class officially started Monday, so I spent a couple evenings this week doing my first assignments. My first paper is due by next Sunday. Exciting and scary... I haven't had homework in 5 years!

What does that mean for the blog? Honestly, I don't know. My priorities are work work first, then school work. Everything else, including the blog, will have to come in whatever time remains. So posting may be a little less than it's been the past couple months. But I'll be around. Now might be a good time to plug Twitter: When I don't have time to write a post, I still have time for 140 characters. Follow me on twitter if you'd like to keep in touch!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Yom Kippur: The Fast

On Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world partake of a ~25 hour fast. From 18 mins before sundown on Erev Yom Kippur (Erev is the Hebrew for Eve) to 3 stars in the sky the next night, the fast requires "nothing to pass your lips."

This means no eating, which everyone expects, but it also means no drinking. Not even water. The really hardcore do not shower (or even wash past their knuckles on their hands), do not brush their teeth (they do it after the pre-fast meal, but not the next morning when they wake up), do not take medications (unless a matter of life and death- the one exception to all Jewish laws is to preserve the sanctity of life), do not use lotion or chapstick or any salves/creams/balms of any kind, all prohibitions for the fast day.

Yeah, it's intense. I follow the majority of the rules (especially the ones not to eat or drink, I'm a little more lax on the showering, tooth brushing, and the lotions some years) and have ever since I was 13. The very orthodox fast while pregnant, while nursing, while moderately ill, while elderly, etc. The fast of Yom Kippur is considered so important to the observance of the holiday that you should do it above all other things- it is preferable to stay in bed all day fasting than to break the fast but go to synagogue.

To make the fast better, I follow these simple rules every year in preparation/day of:
1. Cut caffeine a week in advance.
2. Hydrate like it's your JOB all week long.
3. Pack in the food at dinner before the fast.
4. Take a nap!

Honestly I dread the fast every year because I really like to eat. But every year when the fast is over I feel like the anticipation was worse than the actual fast. For one, you're around fellow fast-ers all day, and misery loves company. For another, well, I mean it's just one day. They've been fasting on this one day for literally thousands of years. I know a lot of (non-Jews) think the no water thing sounds dangerous, but it's just one day. Honestly, it sounds worse than it is.

And, I don't mean to sound ridiculous, but there is kind of a new spiritual plane attained. Yeah, that sounds ridiculous. But you can maybe imagine, in hour 24 of the fast, you're just kind of over it. You're not really hungry anymore, you have gotten used to being thirsty. You're tired and a teeny bit loopy... and you're standing there (the last hour or so of services is all standing although you can sit for parts if you're too weak) and you're praying literally for your life and... it's just kind of awesome, in a weird way that makes it sound like I joined a cult.

The rabbi said one year that we fast because Yom Kippur is about honoring the needs of your soul and ignoring the needs of your body. And for a few hours in the middle of the day, it's hard to forget the needs of your body. The need for a drink (especially of coffee/caffeine of choice), the need for a snack, the need to sit down. But then, the needs of your body fade away and you can almost visualize yourself as pure soul, slipped the surly bonds of earth, having a chat with God.

The final service, Neilah, means closing. We traditionally think of it as the gates of heaven closing, that God opens the gates to listen for the day, but closes them as the last service ends. Alternately, we think of it as the book closing; the book of life is sealed as Yom Kippur ends and you're in or your out. This year the Rabbi suggested we think of it a different way; yes the door is closing, but we're on the inside- we're getting a closed door, private session with God. I like that idea.

Then its over. The shofar is blown, a quick evening service is conducted, and then you dig in. People hit the buffet, a cup of water (or two, or 10) is chugged, and people go back to talking and joking and eating and being normal. But for that one day, or at least for that one hour, you were special. You were pure soul.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Morning Reality Check- Girls Don't Suck at Math

 You've probably already seen this since it's kinda old, but whatevs...



Now I'm not a computer scientist, but engineering falls under the same stereotype: "I'm too girly for math, let's go shopping." Crap like this and this. And engineering, like CS, requires only moderate use of actual math... once you've got the degree you can basically get machines (but not your brother) to do it for you.

There is no gender/biological difference that makes all men good at math while making all women good at shopping (For me, shopping is a necessary evil since its frowned on to go to my nice engineering job with holes in my clothing).

I wish I could say things are different regarding women in STEM fields since the days when my mother got her Chemical Engineering degree, but they really aren't... women still overwhelmingly do not choose technical degrees. And that's weird and it sucks, and stereotypes that a) girls are bad at math or b) being pretty means you shouldn't have to do your own homework are NOT helping.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Avodah

Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day we believe God seals the Book of Life (you're in or you're out) for the next year. To beg for mercy, we spend the day fasting from sundown tonight until about an hour after sundown tomorrow (the technical end is when 3 stars are visible, but these days we use science to calculate the exact time rather than go outside and sight-see).

There are 5 services on Yom Kippur (3 on a regular day, 4 on the sabbath, Yom Kippur gets a bonus). The first, the Kol Nidre prayer, (asking God to release us from any vows we made to him and didn't fulfil) happens tonight.

Tomorrow is a marathon of services. About midway through the day will be the Musaf service, which is the Additional Service added on Shabbat, and also on Yom Kippur. It is representative of the extra sacrifice that used to be performed on Shabbat. On Yom Kippur, Musaf contains a special prayer called The Avodah.
Source
Avodah generally translates as "work" and describes in great detail the service that used to be conducted on Yom Kippur in the time of the holy temple.

Many forget that Judaism is a truly ancient religion and it used to be practiced in a very different fashion. Now practiced with synagogue services and books and prayers, it was once about making pilgrimages to the holy temple with livestock in tow, for the ritual animal slaughter. The animals were then burnt as an offering and the blood that drained from their throats when they were slit was sprinkled around the ark containing the tablets of the law. Sorry if that's a little graphic... welcome to 1000 BC. Men, women, and children would journey for days to reach the Temple to watch the sacrifices. Aside from animals, crops, incense, and wine were also burned as offerings.
Um, sure, those tablets of the law... Source
The description of the sacrifice service is unlike anything else in the Jewish liturgy, in a way it's the most authentically Jewish thing, because it tells of the original Judaism. The service also discusses another authentically Jewish artifact, this one more commonly known: the name of God.

Jews do not believe that the name of God can be pronounced. Hebrew has vowels as dots and dashes below the consonants. Consider the following word, which you probably have heard before, Shalom:
Source
Hebrew is read from right to left, backwards from English. The letters are basically S-L-__-M. The vertical-ish line third from the right, the Vav, is a kind of mute consonant: with a dot above, it becomes an Oh and with a dot in the middle left becomes an Ooh. With no dots it's pronounced like a V. Above the first letter (right-most) is another dot: this same letter can be a Sh if the dot is on the right like above, or a S if the dot is on the left. Anyways, the point is that if you take away the dots and the little T below the right-most letter (an Ah sound) you get an unpronounceable jumble of letters: SLVM. You figure it out.

The same is true of the name for God, but we believe the vowels were lost so it cannot be pronounced. Some people say it as Yahweh, some as Jehovah, but the truth is that without the vowels we don't know. It is written probably over a million times (without vowels) in the Torah and in our other prayers. When we come to it in a formal service we say instead "Adonai" which means "Our God." When we come to it outside a formal service, we say "HaShem" which means "The Name."

Even in the temple times, it was a holy name that was only said on special occasions by the high priest. After all, we were told in the 10 Commandments, Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. The Yom Kippur Musaf sacrifice service was one such special occasion and the Avodah prayer tells us how it went:
Every time he uttered the holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton which was uttered only on the Day of Atonement, the people prostrated themselves and responded: "Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever" Source
By the way can we focus for a second on how cool the word "Tetragrammaton" is. So what if it just means "four letters," it sounds pretty cool. But not as cool as the actual name. The story above tells of a name so powerful that people fell to their faces upon hearing it. It is believed by some to be a punishment for our diaspora that we lost the vowels so we can no longer hear it. They also believe that when the Messiah comes and completes the foretold ingathering of exiles, we'll find the vowels and get to say it again.

Definitely an interesting prayer and I'm looking forward to reading it again this year. I know the day is long and hungry and thirsty, but the Avodah is kind of the best part of the year. 

For those of you observing Yom Kippur, I wish you an easy fast. And a question for everyone else: Tetrgrammaton, great word or the greatest word?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rosh Hashana Weekend

Whew! I really wanted to put this post up Monday but instead I took a nap Sunday afternoon. Seriously. And it was glorious.

Wednesday we arrived in Fort Lauderdale and headed straight to my favorite chicken wings restaurant, then headed home to clean up before going to my uncle's house in Palm Beach for the first night of Rosh Hashana festivities.

Thursday night my parents hosted the second night of Rosh Hashana:
The fam!
My honey cake and babka turned out amazing, thanks for asking. Seriously, that honey cake recipe is the best I've ever had.
Babka was a little harder to make (with the rising and the waiting and the rolling and the twisting) but it was delicious! See the pretty marbling?

Friday night after synagogue and a family lunch, we headed to my favorite store in the world- Publix. There's a huge new one near my parent's house where they go to cooking class all the time. We were lucky enough to be in town for nice Jewish girl Chef Michelle Bernstein's just-post-Rosh-Hashana cooking class all about shellfish and pork. Which I ate all of. Happy New Year!

She was adorable and funny and the food was amazing. My dad says the short ribs at her restaurant are the best thing ever, but she can feed me tapas anytime!

Ah, to be a celeb chef and not have to clean up your own messes...

And how was the food? Um, incredible.  Clockwise from top right:
Pan Con Tomate (like a Spanish version of bruschetta with jamon serrano on top)
A to-die-for chorizo and clam dish topped with crispy garlic (yum) and gremolata (double yum)
Fried calamari with a coconut milk and cilantro sauce
Cinnamon Torejas (like a desset french toast)
Aprons, the Publix cooking school (no sponsorship here, but I freaking love Publix!)
And the whole spread of deliciousness!


To finish out the awesome weekend of eating too much, my parents made me a birthday dinner: Rack of lamb covered with the most delicious BBQ sauce (another thing they learned at Publix cooking school) and some yummy funny colored potatoes (which I now have a bag of on my kitchen counter for Friday's dinner)
There was champagne!

And cake!
And a flashback to my parents senior pictures...
Yes, Dad rocked the ultimate Jew Fro!
Thanks to my parents for an awesome weekend! Hope your holiday (or random weekend) was great, too!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

Monday was my 27th birthday so it's a new year of my life. (Didn't you know: Labor Day is a holiday to celebrate my birth... like President's day celebrates Lincolns! Or is it Washington's?) We celebrated with food. Of course.
Saturday night was the season opener for my husband's beloved Hokies (where they were expectedly crushed by my mother's Crimson Tide). I perused Cooking Light for some lighter football party foods and picked artichoke dip and buffalo wings. I also threw together a taco dip (I guess it's called 7-Layer Dip, but I only came up with 5 layers) when my husband decided to invite a friend over to watch. The artichoke dip was amazing and super easy, highly recommend!

Sunday after a 10 mile bike ride, we headed for brunch at Brennan's of Houston:
Turtle Soup!
Chop salad with avocado dressing


 


Bread pudding
 Their specialty is Bananas Foster, made tableside:

Yum!
 
Sunday afternoon and Monday I baked Honey Cake:
and Chocolate babka:


and Challah (one for the meal before the Yom Kippur fast next week, one for... some other time):
Monday night we headed for my birthday dinner to the Oceanaire Seafood House (also Houston Restaurant Week- Monday was the last day. Til next year awesome multi-course menus...) but I decided to take the night off from photographing everything and enjoy the food and company.

As for this week, Wednesday night begins the Jewish holiday Rosh haShana (literally Head of the Year) which celebrates the beginning of the Jewish year. It's 5774! (...Feels like just yesterday it was 2013,
Source
amazing how time flies!)

Dan and I are heading to Florida, where my parents and grandparents live, for the holiday festivities. I actually cannot remember the last time I went home for Rosh Hashana... it might have been while I was still in college. Usually I don't travel for the Jewish holidays because unlike the big Christian/American holidays they happen in the middle of the week and with no holiday time off.

Because of this, Dan has never gotten the chance to go home with me for a Jewish holiday. So it'll be a new experience for us. He even agreed to give services a try... on the first day, anyways.

Since we'll be enjoying the holiday and time with friends and family, you won't be hearing from me until next week. Have a good weekend and a Happy New Year!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Zionism: It's Complicated


After the Holocaust, the rallying cry for Jews became "Never Again." Never again would we be in the position to be exterminated. Never again would we be like lambs to the slaughter, unable to run, unable to fight, unable to escape. Zionism was a huge part of that protection. Jewish immigrants were turned away from other countries and sent back to Germany to die, but with a nation of our own we would always have a place to go.

When I changed my name, I dropped my middle name and moved my maiden name to the middle. Why? "Because it's Jewish." As a blue eyed blonde with freckles, there's little "Jewishness" about me. I was always at least recognizably Jewish by my name, but my American first name (of Greek origin) next to my husband's Italian last name was not going to cut it. But its not just so people I meet will be able to tell, not just so I'll fit in at synagogue. It's also... just in case. Israel's Law of Return allows any Jew to be granted a visa to settle permanently in Israel. If the unthinkable happens, how will I prove it?

Does it shock you to know that everyday people- your neighbors, your friends- have these fears? I'm sure you want to tell me "There's no way it could happen here!" I hope you're right. But sometimes, I just don't know. When terrorists come to our country and fly planes into our buildings, I worry. When people believe they have the right to legislate their religion into civil law, to mandate teacher-led prayer in public schools and creationism in text books... when politicians say "freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion," I worry. And though none approach the scale of the Holocaust, genocide is still going on (Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur...). We either can't or won't stop it there... could we stop it here? Being Jewish means that the fear of extermination exists somewhere in the back of your mind: It happened before. What if it happens again?

Without Israel, Jews are the only major world religion without a homeland or a majority in a country, and that is a very dangerous position. We need Israel as insurance, as protection. There's also another reason, even more emotional. If you do not know what it is like to be a minority in your own country, then you cannot understand what its like to visit your homeland.

When we visited Israel on the honeymoon, we were only there for 2 days. I learned Hebrew in elementary and middle school but since then it has fallen into disrepair, to the point that I could barely follow a conversation in Hebrew, let alone conduct one. But being surrounded by all that Hebrew felt comforting and familiar. I don't keep kosher, but being surrounded by kosher restaurants felt... good. Having grown up in the US, I have always known that the majority of the people around me are not like me. Here it was different. I said last week that I usually feel like I have a nerd soul. But standing in Jerusalem... well, there's a bit of Jewish soul in there too. I may have been a foreigner, but I was surrounded by my people.

Recently, reading about the Alice Walker kerfuffle I've been trying to distill my thoughts about Israel. There is a part of every Jew that needs Israel- their homeland, their safety net. Because of this, many Jews- even the less religious- will endlessly, ferociously, defend Israel, and blame Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations for causing the problem. They will assume anyone who is anti-Israel is an anti-Semite.

But that's not true. Remember the video I posted on Wednesday? When people on both sides would rather get rid of the other than live peacefully together, both sides are the problem.  Consider how controversial the creation of the State of Israel was:  Britain was occupying Palestine and decided, with no regard for the people who already lived there, that they'd give it to someone else. Essentially, Israel was created as a United Nations sanctioned occupation, in no small part to assuage guilt over the Holocaust. So, not the best start.

I do believe Israel has earned the right to exist. They fought and won 3 wars and winning wars is how basically every other country earned their right to exist too. But I also believe that occupied Palestine was a victim there and two wrongs don't make a right.  I believe the two-state solution in which Palestinians are granted freedom and autonomy is the desirable outcome. If people would stop trying to kill each other long enough to reach that agreement.

Can you be anti-Israel without being an anti-Semite? I think it depends on the extent of the anti-Israel sentiment. The solution to peace in the Middle East cannot be eradicating the State of Israel any more than it can be eradicating Palestine. But I don't think that anyone who criticizes the government of Israel is automatically attacking Jews. We need to step back and remember that its politics, not personal.

But for Jews it will always be a little bit personal, because somewhere inside each of us, Israel matters. I don't just visit Israel or see it on a map, I carry it in my soul.