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.
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:
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:

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,
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!