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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Wish

I happened on this video a few months ago, which I think pinpoints the problem of the Israel-Palestine relations. (Fair warning: Watch it and try not to cry, I dare you.)

(via Upworthy)


I think most people see a message of peace, of hope. I think that's what they wanted you to see. But you know what I saw? Hate. How many Jews said their wish was no more Muslims in Israel? How many Muslims said their wish was no more Jews in Palestine? And how many of them were children?!

When we visited Israel for the honeymoon we saw the attempts to coexist, first-hand. Jericho, a Palestinian city, where our Israeli tour guide would be forbidden from entering. A checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Metal detectors, x-ray machines, and armed guards checking everyone who leaves the Muslim quarter and enters the rest of Jerusalem. Monitored and patrolled fences on the Jordanian border. Barbed wire. So many guns.

It was truly heartbreaking. My wish is that people would stop teaching their children to hate, and instead teach them to learn from, love, and respect their neighbors. 

What's your wish?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Finding our Spiritual Home

Recently I wrote this about conservative Judaism:
I maintain that a sect that won't let its clergy officiate your interfaith wedding, but once you're married will allow you into the fold isn't really that welcoming, but that's an argument for another day.
Well, today is that day.

While wedding planning, I looked high and low for a rabbi in Houston, and came up empty. If you've been reading awhile, you know the story pretty well. And while I have nothing against the rabbi who did perform our ceremony, I do wish it had been a local rabbi at a synagogue that we could attend together as a new family. I wish that planning our wedding ceremony would also have been putting down roots as a family, in a congregation.

What saddens me most is that it would have been like that, if we were going to raise our children Catholic. Through the months of premarital counseling we became friendly with the Deacon, familiar with the church, and could have done that even more if we were trying to put down roots there.

It upsets me on both a personal level and an community level. Personally, I wish we were not denied this opportunity and then told later "ok, you can come in now," which strikes me as awfully "love the sinner, hate the sin" of them. As a member of the Jewish community, I hate that Conservative Judaism might be turning interfaith families away because they are less welcoming than the "other" faith. One of Dan's coworkers is Jewish and married to a Catholic woman. They have it even worse than we do, due to the standard of matrilineal descent (considering a person to be born Jewish only if their mother was Jewish at the time of their birth). I wonder how many families like ours and theirs leave Judaism due to the lack of welcome, especially when most Christian denominations would welcome the whole family with open arms, unburdened as they are with religion by birth.

Now, Dan and I have to confront this problem head-on. For the past 5 years I have attended Chabad, a welcoming but ultra-Orthodox community. While they wouldn't officiate my wedding, they have invited us both to holidays and dinners and events. Because of the personal commitment required for an orthodox conversion, and the emphasis on having a Jewish soul, they would never attempt to convert my husband just because he married me. And because I am Jewish, they will consider our children fully Jewish.

But. I've written before about my desire not to raise my children Orthodox because I value gender equality and non-strict gender roles. Even before I was dating Dan, I would have the same intention to one day join a "regular" temple in which to raise my children. It's more difficult for Dan at Chabad, too, where he would have to sit separately from me on the men's side, where I can't help him follow along, explain things to him, translate Hebrew for him.

A reform rabbi would have performed our ceremony. A few I spoke to would have done it- no strings attached- were they available on our date. A few more would have done it if we were congregants but did not perform weddings at all for non-members. In addition to these particular synagogues being very far from where we live and therefore not feasible for us to actually attend regularly (in effect we would have joined for the sake of being members and getting an officiant, a rather expensive proposition), Reform Judaism is not quite observant enough for my personal taste. What I want is conservative Judaism. What I've always wanted is conservative Judaism.

But how do I get past the feeling that they don't want us?

How do I accept that they wouldn't help me create my interfaith family, but now that I have one they're willing to take me back? How do I accept that their stated goal is conversion of the non-Jewish spouse?

How do I allay the fear that they will talk down about interfaith marriage to my children in Hebrew school, behind our backs?

How do I accept that by a stroke of biological luck they will consider my children fully Jewish, but won't do the same for families like our friends described above, where only the father is Jewish?

How do I trust them to be our spiritual home and to take care of our family? In short, I don't know that I can.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A New Direction

When I started this blog, I wanted to get healthier and more active and thought the accountability to internet strangers would help. And it definitely did! Knowing that every week I would have to report when I did- and didn't- workout gave me the motivation to be more diligent with training. I had been reading some fitness blogs for awhile and thought the community looked friendly and welcoming (for the most part, it is) and I wanted to give it a try.

But here's the truth... I am not a fitness blogger. I am not one of those people who looks forward to workouts. I don't run because I am a runner, I run because I like to eat and also fit into my pants. I sign up for races because I like the challenge, and because committing to a race means I'll have to do it, and if I have to do it then I'll have to train, which means I might still fit in my pants when it's over.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the accomplishment of finishing the half marathon or the triathlon. I loved both of those (well, for the half that more true after I could walk again) and am already eager to plan my next races for each event. But I want to focus on other aspects of my life.

Nerds-in-love.net was the domain name that Dan and I bought for our wedding website. After the wedding was over, I cancelled our wedding website but kept the domain name for some future use. And now its the new home of my blog. (If you subscribe in a reader you may need to update your subscription to point to the new page; although spaceysteph.blogspot.com address will redirect, I'm not sure how it will affect apps.)

The Nerds In Love name was inspired by a comment from my rabbi's wife when I brought my Catholic boyfriend to Sukkot dinner almost 3 years ago. "If you have a Jewish soul, you have a Jewish soul mate," she said to me. I came back to this thought for months, as things became more serious between me and Dan, as I considered that he was perhaps more future-husband than fling.

It's true that we don't have religion in common, but we do have other things in common. While our names for God and the rituals we relate to him through are different, I believe we share faith in the same God. Many of my coworkers actively try not to date inside NASA, but I loved that we could talk about our days using so easily, could use technical terms and shorthand. I loved that we could both look at the sky and see the same desire to explore. I may be Jewish, but I don't define myself solely by my Jewishness. I define myself often by my nerdiness. I have a Nerd soul. And so does my husband. Nerd soulmates.

Though people thought it was cute, and most assumed it related to our Mission Control engagement or was predictive of a space-themed wedding, "Nerds in Love" was part of what I consider to be our actual wedding theme: What we have in common is more important than what divides us.

On the revamped blog, I'll continue to explore interfaith marriage (and maybe one day, interfaith babies!). I have more to say about being Jewish in America, especially now that I have a front row seat to how "the other half" lives. There's another half marathon on our horizon and you'll hear about that too (because, still, accountability to the internet makes me try harder.) I'll keep showing you yummy food and fun adventures and the occasional tales from mission control. This is now Nerds in Love, and this is our story.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Houston Eats: RDG for Houston Restaurant Weeks

After the triathlon, we came home to clean up and take a quick nap before heading out to a 12:30 brunch reservation at RDG (named for it's chef-owner Robert Del Grande). It's also #35 on the Top 100 list that we've decided to follow around town. It's in the fancy Galleria area of Houston and you can tell from the decor, the prices, and the Lamborghini parked out front.
Wearing 3/4 sleeves and a maxi dress to cover my body markings!
Their HRW menu was a 3 course brunch for $35, which I decided was perfect for post-triathlon... I sure was rungry and I was not disappointed.

We started with mimosas! (bottomless for $9 and I definitely feel I drank my money's worth!)
 

First course: Cold corn soup with queso fresco and chipotle chiles in adobo for Dan
...and smoked salmon on toast with a fennel salad and some to-die-for lemony cream dressing all over everything for me. I scraped the plate clean.
Main course: A fancy version of steak and eggs (huevos rancheros style) for Dan- there was an amazing sear on that steak and the rest was spicy and delicious.
 I had the crab and potato hash with a fried egg. Two standout sauces here too- the white mustard cream sauce on the bottom, and the salsa verde on top.
 Finally, for dessert: A chocolate bread pudding for Dan, and a pecan pie for me. I love that the desserts were both individual sizes rather than slices of a larger dessert. Too cute.

So delicious. We'll definitely be back!

Monday, August 19, 2013

TriGirl- My First Triathlon

Spoiler: I lived!
First alarm: 4am. Second alarm: 4:02. Third alarm: 4:05. The first alarm woke me, but I laid there until the third alarm. "Terrible idea. Who gets up at 4am?" I thought to myself, before realizing that this won't be the last time I see 4am this week. (I start the night shift on Friday.) Then I hopped up and turned on every light in the house.
Since it was my first tri, I wanted to get there early. We ended up arriving before the park opened. Luckily there were a couple other people also waiting outside the gate with bike racks, or we might have thought we were in the wrong place. Transition was even more confusing in the dark, but I managed to rack my bike (it's so short that the front wheel didn't even reach the ground when racked, which made it a little complicated to get un-racked) and set up my stuff.
Do I look a little scared here? I think so...
Then I got to a pitch black (what you don't know CAN hurt you) port-o-potty before the line started. By 6:15 there was a huge line for getting marked, so I'm glad we got there early. Hubs and I milled about until the festivities started with a prayer (surprisingly non-denominational, for Texas) and the national anthem a little before 7, then headed to the water to watch the wave starts.
Sunrise over Lake Houston
300* yd Swim
They did wave start by age group, starting with the 30-34 ladies and ending with the 20-29 so I had to wait until about 7:20 for our turn. We're having a little cold snap (for Houston, for August, anyways) so I was a little chilly before the start (it was about 68 degrees... I'm such a wimp, I know) and worried that the water would be cold. Nope. The water was magnificently warm, even warmer than being out in the air.
We got into the water and stood on a little sandbar, then they started us with a horn. I was a little disoriented when people around me took off , but I rallied, scooted toward the outside (yes that means more distance to swim, but less chance of being kicked in the head) and started out. There was a pretty strong diagonal current dragging us back toward shore. I felt like I'd take a couple strokes and barely get anywhere. So I did some doggy paddling and some sidestroke to catch my breath. I'm surprised I came in 17th of 40 in my age group for the swim, which was my highest place of the day, since I would have pegged it as my worst of the three sports.
*There's a discussion on the race's facebook page- the race director confirmed that swims were about 2 mins slower than usual across the board, and speculating that buoys may have moved due to the current. A few people with waterproof Garmins say they were reading over 400 yards rather than the expected 300. I can't be sure, but it definitely felt like a long way!
Time: 11:24


T1
I knew this was going to be my long transition and I decided not to rush too much and screw something else (a DQ would really ruin my day!). I did run from the water to the transition. Then I threw down my beach towel and took a seat. Whatever. I wiped off my grassy, dirty, wet, gravely feet and pulled my capris up to my knees. Then I put on my socks and shoes, stood up, hoisted up my pants to my waist, got my sunglasses and helmet on, and headed off.
Time: 2:45 (actually, I was expecting like 4 mins, so this isn't bad)

11 mile Bike
I started the bike feeling pretty good, despite the swim being a battle. I passed a few people early on, but got passed plenty on the hills that came later. I felt the burn for sure on those hills, but overall the bike was pleasant. Based on my training rides I was expecting close to an hour for the bike, so I'm pretty proud of my time even if I did come in 30th out of 40 in my age group.
Time: 46:16 (avg speed 14.3 mph)

T2
I didn't have that much to do, but it was much harder to rack up my poor, short bike with all the others around me. I wasn't changing shoes (no clips for me) so I just had to drop my helmet and my (thankfully unused) spare tube. Then I grabbed my shirt and hat and walked out of transition while putting them on. I also grabbed a gatorade from the water stop that was right at the transition exit and drank it before running.
Time: 1:23
3 mile Run
Whew, almost there! As I exited transition and saw that I was just reaching an hour, I realized 1:45 (which I thought was my pipe dream goal) was well within my grasp, which I was pretty excited about. So I headed off on what I hoped was a steady pace (I decided to forego putting on my non-waterproof Garmin in transition and just used a regular sports watch, so I didn't know distance or pace all day). The run was lovely- half pavement, half trail, mostly shade. I train at a 13:20 pace on the treadmill (4.5 mph) but I already noticed in my bricks that the numb biker butt makes me run faster than usual and then I get tired out because I can't sustain that pace. I think I did a good job of trotting along at a pace slightly faster than training, and when I saw the finish line I still had enough juice to pull out a pretty decent sprint.
Time: 37:14 (12:25 pace)

Total time: 1:39:03. 35th overall in my age group, 295 of 400-something overall.
New bling!
Thoughts: I loved the tri. I didn't love the swim, but I did enjoy being wet and cool for the rest of it. I loved the bike, I loved the run, I loved being out there with everyone (people were friendly, helpful, and encouraging all day long, which was great). I also really love training for a tri- training for a running-only race gets a little dull. I don't think I can get another tri done this season, but you can be sure I'll be back next summer!

Finally, a huge thank you to my husband for getting up at 4am with me, loading and unloading my hefty bike from the bike rack, holding my crap, taking all these pictures, cheering for me, and being right there when I came back from each leg and giving me a reason to smile. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jewish Gender Roles

I came across this article on Interfaith Family, about the problem with teaching strict Jewish gender roles to children of interfaith families which might not match what they see at home; and then I saw this article, about an engaged interfaith couple struggling with those same gender roles.

According to Judaism, the Torah gives us 613 commandments (in hebrew, mitzvot), not just those first 10. There's plenty of mitzvot everyone is expected to follow, things like eating kosher and not working on Shabbat. There's a group of commandments, the positive time-bound mitzvot, which women are excluded from having to perform (but not forbidden from performing) so they can go raise babies or something. (Positive means you are commanded to do something rather than not do something, not that it's a "good" commandment. A good Jew would say they're all good commandments!) This always makes me think of that scene in A Knights Tale where she's all "Why should everything for a woman be done on a man's schedule?" and he stammers something about men having more demands on their time... only in this case it's the women who have more demands on their time, hence why they don't have to keep to God's prayer schedule.

Aside from that, there are many things traditionally broken up between men and women. For example, women are the ones who light the candles for Shabbat and holidays (except Hanukkah, which everyone lights). When I was growing up I learned this. And I learned it was always two candles, but never really explained why. When I started going to Chabad I learned that you light one for yourself and one for your husband; in fact the mothers also light one for each of their children so my rabbi's wife is up to 15 candles. But even unmarried women light two candles, and girls can start lighting their candles as young as 3, and even they light two. Why is this? For your future soulmate. Judaism, especially Chabad which is heavily based in mysticism, believes in a single soul mate for each person. Even if you aren't yet together, even if you live your whole life without finding each other, when your soulmate lights a candle for you, it counts as if you had fulfilled the commandment yourself.

This is a very romantic and interesting idea that captivated me before I was married. When I was dating my ex and would light a second candle, I would think maybe it was for him. And when I was single after that, I wondered who I was lighting for and felt glad that I was scoring him some brownie points. But my husband doesn't have to fulfill the mitzvah of candle lighting. Jews believe that God is ok with non-Jews as long as they follow a smaller set of commandments which mostly mirror the 10 commandments- don't kill, don't steal, don't commit adultery, etc. Candle lighting isn't in there, so my husband is off the hook and I guess that makes my second candle a waste of wax.

Since orthodox tradition does not accept same-sex marriages or interfaith marriages, there is no conflict. Furthermore, orthodox Judaism enforces all the traditional gender roles- only men are obligated to pray, only men are called to the Torah, only men lead synagogue or home services such as the Passover seder. So there's no problem saying that only women light shabbat candles, one for themselves and one for their soulmate.

However, for conservative and reform traditions, there is a huge disconnect between teaching children that only men can say the blessing over the wine and only women can light candles, and what they teach about other things. Women can be rabbis, both men and women are counted in the required 10 people to have a prayer service and can be called to the Torah. We've already broken down most of the gender rules, so it's odd that these persist.

Conservative and reform movements welcome LGBT couples and interfaith couples* and in this light it makes even less sense to enforce that there are some observances that men do and some that women do. What does a family with two dads do? Who will light the candles, who will bake the bread?! And what does a family where only one partner is Jewish (or only one parent is present) do? Who will bless the wine- the non-Jewish dad or the Jewish mom?

Of course the answer is simple, if you decide it can be. In a movement where already most traditional gender roles have been abolished, dad can light candles and mom can lead the seder. If the goal is children raised with Jewish observance, then the end result is the most important thing. A house with seders and challah and candlelight are more important than who struck the match.

*I maintain that a sect that won't let its clergy officiate your interfaith wedding, but once you're married will allow you into the fold isn't really that welcoming, but that's an argument for another day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Houston Eats: Houston Restaurant Weeks at Melting Pot and Haven

Last weekend we hit up two places for Houston Restaurant Weeks. Saturday night we trekked over to Melting Pot. I try to avoid chains for this event, but I think Melting Pot is different because its so freaking fun. I didn't take a lot of pictures because the lighting is not so great, but we sure enjoyed the cheese, cooking, and chocolate fondue!

We ordered the Mexican Milk Chocolate, which is chocolate with a bit of cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Spicy, but not too spicy. Yum!

Sunday after the long bike ride, we cleaned up and headed to a new-to-us spot on the top 100 list, Haven (#38).
They do southern food with a fancy twist, but the majority is sourced locally and in season, so their menu changes seasonally to reflect what's actually growing in Texas right now.
Brunch for Restaurant Weeks is a 2 course for $20. First up:
Beer from local Houston 8th Wonder Brewery for Dan, fresh squeezed OJ mimosa for me! I was trying to be good, so even though the french toast sounded the best, I ordered the arugula salad and stole a bite of Dan's french toast. His was really was amazing, but mine was pretty good too.

Arugula, peach, candied pecan salad with a goat cheese crostini.

French toast with peach syrup.
 And for the second course:
Dan ordered the fried catfish which came with an amazing hollandaise sauce, a fried egg, and on a bed of cheese grits. Every part of it was fantastic, and yes I stole a couple bites.
 I had the forest mushroom pasta, which was also delicious and topped with a variety of very interesting local mushrooms. Cool.
When it came time to pay, the pen that was dropped off with the credit card slip was cardboard, wood, and recycled plastic. Neat!
 Another successful Restaurant Weeks adventure!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Triathlon Training Week 7

Another week of tri training in the books, and only one more to go!

Monday- 40 min run
After last summer's training, I swore never to run in heat like that again. So I took to the treadmill, even though all previous treadmill experiences were soul crushing. However, my new gym has individual TVs on the treadmills. Getting to choose what I watch makes a huge difference.

Tuesday- Brick: 30 min bike, 10 min run, 20 min walk
Last week I tried my brick on my real bike outdoors, but there were so many cars on the road that I felt stressed and uncomfortable the whole time. So I decided to keep my outdoor rides to the weekends and out of rush hour traffic and stick to the stationary bike. This time I used one of the computerized ones rather than the spin bike and set it to random hill to try to mirror the heaviness of my real bike.

Wednesday and Thursday were rest days for a home-related appointment and a work happy hour. I don't like doing rest days back to back, but this week it happened that way.

Friday- 40 min run and...
It wasn't on the schedule, but I kept walking on the treadmill after my 40 mins of running ended because Law and Order: SVU was on and I wanted to find out how it ended. Yes, really. See? Those treadmill TVs are priceless! So tack on about another mile for 25 mins of walking.

Saturday- 500m swim (planned), 700ish yd swim (actual)
TriGirl is really beginner friendly. The race organizers put on an open water swim clinic and Q&A with a local triathlete this weekend at a lake nearby my house (which is lucky, since the race is an hour from my house). I was really nervous driving there, I figured it was just because I have some social anxiety and was worried about interacting with strangers (yes, the girl who communicates for a living and writes about her life on the internet is afraid of talking to strangers- really its about the awkward party dynamic of wandering up to random people and making small talk) but as I was getting out of the lake I realized there was another fear too. After doing all my training in the pool, was I going to find out that I couldn't handle the lake?
But it turned out great. Yes the lakeweed is icky, and it's weird not to be able to see a foot ahead of you, or the bottom, or be able to stop and hold on to the wall... but its not so bad really. Plus the water was warm and pleasant,not cold and abrasive like the pool. I did get a little water up my nose when picking my head up forward to sight until I got the hang of breathing into the wind, but I also learned that I can swim the required 300m without stopping at the wall, tread water like a champ, and swim in a mostly straight line (actually its easier than I thought it would be). So now I'm feeling really good about the swim portion next weekend, and I got some good tips for transition and the tri in general. Hooray!

Sunday- 15 mi bike, 20 min walk
Another ride out on the roads. Dan came with me for the first half (actually 8.6 miles), then I went out and did another loop without him to finish off the 15. It began to drizzle when Dan and I were on our way home, but really started raining about a mile after I left him. I finished the ride soaked. I'm lucky the really bad weather held off, I heard the first thunderclap just as I pulled into my driveway so I decided to skip the walk. Then, continuing our Restaurant Weeks fun, we had brunch reservations at 1. I read once that brunch is just breakfast where you're allowed to drink, and I do love when I earn a mimosa!
Beer for Dan, mimosa for me, afternoon nap for both of us when we got home. (I also love to earn an afternoon nap...) And with that, we're at race week! Here goes...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Houston Eats- Tokyohana for Restaurant Weeks

August 1st kicked off one of my favorite Houston traditions- Houston Restaurant Weeks. I'm sure it started as a single week once, but as long as I've lived here it has been a few weeks, and this year is up to a whole month.

What's the scoop? Restaurants sign on to offer set multi-course menus for a fixed price. Depending on the price, a specific portion of the proceeds is donated to the Houston Food Bank. Its a good opportunity to try some new restaurants while also helping a charity- let's face it, you were gonna go out for dinner a couple times this month anyways, so the donation is icing on the cake. (Sometimes, there's actual cake!)

For the first weekend of the month, I was craving some Asian food and we decided on Tokyohana- a Japanese/hibachi restaurant. The menu they offered was:
Choice of soup/salad- we chose the onion soup because its kind of the best part
Choice of appetizer: I chose the chicken gyoza, which were quite delicious.
 Choice of one of three sushi rolls:
I chose this roll with tuna, avocado, and a wasabi honey sauce.
 Dan chose the New Orleans roll with crab, cream cheese and crispy bits. (I only eat cream cheese in desserts and on bagels. Otherwise the texture creeps me out.)
 Then it was time for the main event! I ordered chicken/scallops combo, Dan had the steak/shrimp combo.
 Fire!
 And for dessert, tempura bananas with green tea or vanilla ice cream.
Yum! This weekend we're going to Melting Pot, which offers their usual four course meal (salad, cheese fondue, cooking fondue, and chocolate fondue) at about $5 cheaper than regular price. So we save $5 and get $5 donated to the food bank for each of our meals. Sweet deal!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Houston Eats- Kata Robata

Dan and I are on an adventure to eat our way across Houston. We are working on this list of the Top 100 Restaurants in Houston. Though I'm sure not exhaustive, and your mileage may vary, and whatnot, we like food and we like lists to we figured we'd give it a shot.

We've already eaten at a couple of these including our beloved Beavers (which never disappoints and I'm amazed it's all the way down at #86), Dolce Vita, and Kenny and Ziggy's (a restaurant my grandparents love so much they went there twice while in town for my wedding).  So I'm expecting some pretty good eats from the rest of the list. We tried to go in order, but number one is a small place that only seats 30 people at a time and was already booked solid for the next two months. So we started with #2: Kata Robata. In addition to sushi they have an interesting cooked food menu with meats and noodle bows and stuff. We went there on literally the hottest day of the year so far- it was 108 degrees in the city- so we opted for a bunch of cold food. (We actually ate this dinner over a month ago, but bad blogger Steph is just posting it now.)

The reviews were mostly good, except for the few old people claiming it was too loud and they would never go back. It has mostly unfinished ceiling and there was a bit of a din, but it didn't bother us. If you're big on atmosphere then maybe it would be a problem, but honestly I don't give a crap about decor or noise level or even not-great service if the food is awesome.
 And the food? Was awesome. We started with some Japanese craft beer, so that was cool. I had the white ale and Dan had Red Rice Ale. Both were tasty.
 We ordered all manner of sashimi, sushi rolls, and sushi. The white stuff here is a cauliflower puree, which I found tasteless and odd, but the kumquat slices stuck in it were a thing of beauty.

 Those red lines here are chili strings. Um, can I have these on everything please?

We finished our meal with dessert- Root beer floats with homemade beignets. The caramel dipping sauce in the foreground was good, but the blueberry dipping sauce in the back was the real star.

So what's the verdict? The dessert was incredible, the rolls were good, and I love that they had Japanese craft beer instead of just the usual boring Kirin Ichiban... but it was not particularly special considering the drive. Honestly, I think the sushi rolls are just as good at Tokyo Bowl, which is right next to JSC where we are nearly every day. Overall I'd recommend it, especially if you're already in the area, but not make any more special trips for it. If you want good sushi while visiting Houston, drive down to take the space center tour, and hit up Tokyo Bowl while you're there.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Triathlon Training, Week 6

Holy crap, 2 more weeks! Now that I know I can swim/tread water/bike/hobble enough to survive the race, I'm more preoccupied with all the other things that I can screw up in the race. A running-only race is pretty minor: remember your shoes and you'll be ok; sure it sucks if your Garmin spazzes out, but there are mile markers, it'll be fine. In the bike and swim there are so many more things to worry about. Flat tires, thrown chains, lost goggles, wardrobe malfunctions... Ack!

Enough panicking, onto the training! Here's this week in workouts (and some foods).

Monday: 400m swim, 30 min run

Tuesday: Brick- 5 mile bike followed by 10 min run
Oh you guys, Bricks are damn near impossible. I did my ride on the road and then ran around the neighborhood when I got back. It was weird... rather than dragging in the run, my numb jelly legs were going too fast. I was running at a 10min/mi pace while my usual pace is about a 13:30 and this quickly left me exhausted/winded. I can't sustain that pace, and to avoid burning out I will plan to start the "run" leg of the race with 5 mins of walking. Sure it might hurt my time in the beginning, but not like dying after the first mile would.

Wednesday: Rest Day
To celebrate Pumplemas, we went to local burger joint Tookies- home of the Squealer (a burger with bacon ground into it.) I had a regular burger, which was also delicious.

Thursday: 400 m swim
I'm on a team at work I alternately call "the pep squad," "the booster club," or "the committee for planning parties." (We have an actual name, but these are more descriptive.) We are charged with coming up with awards and fun activities in and out of work to make it a happy place. We had happy hour and bowling competition on Thursday and since I was one of the organizers, of course I went! I went and snacked a bit, plus had a beer. When it was over I went right to the gym and swam my 400m. I'm pretty proud, because exercising after happy hour is rarely my thing.

Friday: Rest Day
I grouped my run and swim earlier in the week in order to get two rest days in the week. Working out hard 5 days a week is already too much!

Saturday: 16.5 mile bike
Was supposed to be a 15 mile bike but ended up down a street that didn't cross back to the street my neighborhood is off of. I went almost a mile down the street before I realized my cross-over wasn't coming. Turns out it was only about 2 blocks from where I turned onto that street.. if only I'd turned right instead of left.
I did hop off the bike and walk for a few minutes when I did hit the 15 miles before hopping back on to pedal home... needed to give my poor butt a rest.

Sunday: 400m swim, 30 min run
The pool is closing from Monday through Friday this week for annual cleaning (why they picked this week I will never understand... I would think it would make more sense to wait until school started, and then it wouldn't interfere with my training!) so I did my first swim of the week early, and will make-up the second swim next Saturday. I'm not so pleased to have to spend 5 whole days not swimming in the middle of my training, but I'll live. Probably.
While I was in the pool today I also practiced treading water for a few minutes. Its the one thing they teach well in Florida- chances are high that you will not make it out of childhood alive after driving into a canal, being thrown overboard from a boat, falling into a pool, getting swept out to sea, etc, if you cannot tread water. I bet it will come in handy during the race.

And this week's planned eats:
Slow Cooker Curry Chicken is on right now, for dinner tonight and leftovers throughout the week. I was afraid of curry for years after a scary and puffy allergic reaction to some Indian food when I first moved to Houston. Good news is, while I was allergic to something in that Indian food, it was not the curry and now Dan and I are on a major curry kick.
Another night will be Oven Fried Chicken, and then the Nut Burgers here. We've been hunting for a nut burger recipe that tastes close to as good as the amazing Beaver Nut Burger. Maybe this could be the one. (Fingers crossed!)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

It's not Writer's Block...

As my few faithful readers have probably noticed, posting here has gotten a little thin. While I'm training I can always be counted on for a thrilling recap of training and how much biking hurts my lady parts (answer: A lot!). But lately that seems to be all this blog is good for.

It's not all about time (although that does play a part- tri training is occupying a substantial chunk of previously free time of late) but also about not having the wherewithal to formulate a post.

But it's not writer's block. It's anger.

What I am angry about is this: When pro-life and pro-choice people talk to each other about abortion, they will always ALWAYS be talking past each other. The argument is cruel, and frustrating, and endless. There is no common ground here, and BOTH sides are guilty of the loss of the middle. Both sides refuse to acknowledge the humanity of the other side. And for that, both sides are wrong.

What I am angry about is this: Our -isms have stopped being overt. When women weren't allowed to vote, when blacks were forced to the back of the bus... nobody could look at that and truly say "there's no sexism here," or "there's no racism here." And since our -isms are not obvious, it's like they don't exist.
But now we have race jokes and rape jokes, now we can think that because a few women and minorities have made it to the top means every woman/minority can make it to the top if they would just work hard enough/not have too many babies/whatever things all people do but only the disadvantaged are blamed for. Now we can sit comfortably on our haunches and declare that racism and sexism are over, and affirmative action is no longer necessary. But they aren't over, they are so quietly encoded into our system that we can't see them anymore. Hate isn't gone, it's just gone underground.

What I am angry about is this: Jews who want to create a modern mental ghetto. Who want their children to grow up in and around mainstream was society, with all the advantages that entails, but who must still marry Jews for it's own sake. Who decry intermarriage as not producing Jewish children, while turning away intermarried families who want raise their children Jewish. You cannot have your un-Kosher cake and eat it too. The price of living in the world is living with the world.

What I am angry about is this: The price of living in the world is living with the world, but nobody seems to know that. Those who think their religious beliefs apply to you, despite your having a whole other religion. Or that their religion overcomes your bodily autonomy. Or that their religion gives them the right to [kill, terrorize, threaten, ban, outlaw, proselytize to, etc.] adherents of others. (And I'm not talking about any one particular religion here, because plenty are guilty of it, including my own.) Or that because God will judge someone at the pearly gates, they need not feel the full weight of justice here on earth. Civil law is not religious law. Except in [Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Mississippi, Florida, etc.] where it is.

So what I am is not quiet, but angry. And ranting is all I feel like doing right now. Not coherent ranting, not helpful ranting, just ranting. So I'm keeping quiet. For now.