Monday, May 30, 2011

Last day...

Today I worked my last super short (3.5 hours :) ) shift, watched Endeavour undock and flyaround the ISS, and then headed back to the hotel, where I met up with Erin and we headed out to take the Moscow River Boat ride. It had been 6 years since I last did the boat ride here, and Erin never had, so we figured it was a good excursion. After just a little difficulty finding the "kacca" (ticket booth), we bought our tickets and boarded the boat

Excited for our boat ride!

Some sights along the way - Red October Candy Factory

Christ our Savior Church

The Kremlin - river view

One of the Seven Sister Stalin buildings

After some miscommunication between us and the boat captain (well, no communication really, just gesturing...we thought we had paid for a round trip ride). Apparently, we did not pay for the round trip boat ride, so we got off the boat and started walking back in the direction of Red Square. The nice thing about Moscow, is that as long as you know where the nearest metro is, or can see one of the many familiar landmarks, you are never lost. We found a place to eat lunch and then attempted to find Gorky Park. Alas, the only metro stop that I knew of to get to Gorky Park was closed. We could have attempted another stop, but that had the makings of wandering around for a good hour until we stumbled upon the park, so we decided to head to Arbat street to finish some last minute shopping. Arbat had some new things to show us. Such as this:

Texas Chicken. We think it's actually Church's Chicken. Maybe "Church's" wouldn't draw Muscovites and "Texas" does? Interesting.

And this:

I am saddened that Moscow understands the necessity of having a Dunkin' Donuts within its boundaries and Houston does not (okay, I think there is ONE on the waaay north side of town).

We then headed back to the hotel in time to meet the rest of our coworkers for a big meal celebrating the end of the mission (salad, borsch, and creme brulee, YUM). It's been a good trip.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tsaritsyno (Царицыно) Palace

After work today, I went with two of my coworkers to Tsaritsyno Palace. This was my first time there, so it was fun to see something new! The gardens were is tulip season here... we walked around for a good hour and a half I think, snapping pictures, gasping in pain (awe, wonder) as Muscovite women navigated the garden paths in 5-inch stiletto heels, watching brides have their pictures taken...

This is what you see when you first walk in the gates...up on the hill, hidden behind the trees is the palace, which was built for Catherine the Great

Pink tulips!

Yellow and dark maroon tulips

See the palace towers peeking over those trees?

Tsaritsyno Palace

Bread Gate

These guys were the them a high five for a job well done

Church of St. Nicholas

I call this "the wedding cake building with lots of white stuff on it". Technical architectural verbiage Melissa-style.

Big bridge

There were a ton of paths through this park and I saw two gals running through it...I would LOVE to grab my running shoes and have a nice run through this park...but not sure if that will happen on this trip...that whole work thing gets in the way sometimes ;-).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Russian bread...sorta

If it's made in Russia out of an American mix, does that count? I find it kinda funny that I have to travel almost 6000 miles to finally tackle the gluten-free baking projects I've been wanting to test out, but better late than never.

So maybe pictures of making bread in my hotel/apartment room aren't exactly what you think I'd post when in Moscow, but hey, I get by with what I have :)

No measuring cups. So I used a 16oz waterbottle to see where the 2 cups of liquid measured out in a coffee pot (no real coffee here either, filters are very difficult to find, so I just do instant). The recipe called for 2 eggs, some oil, and then add water to make 2 cups of liquid...hence needing to know where the 2 cup line was on the coffee pot

The recipe also said to use a breadmaker or a standmixer. I interpreted that to say "stick your hand in the bowl and "hand-mix" for 3 minutes".

All mixed (yup, another fabulous Pamela's product)

Here, the dough is resting

Oh yeah, totally squealed excitedly when I walked into the kitchen and the dough had actually risen!

It said to bake in an oven. I suppose the toaster oven will suffice (sidenote: I was deathly afraid the bread would suddenly burst into flames so I kept checking it every 2 least it felt like it).

Voila! Gluten free sandwich bread. And this stuff is downright tasty. And it's keeping really well in the funky gluten free grainy texture yet...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Out and about...finally!

I switch to the morning shift today and was feeling pretty wide-awake after work, so I decided to mosy on down to the metro (subway) and hit up a few of the usual sites. I was excited to see that I could still navigate the Moscow metro, after all, it has been two years since I used it last :)

Love how they captured the Russian flag with these pansies. Appropriately patriotic for being just outside the wall of the Kremlin

This is always a mandatory picture - St. Basil's Cathedral

As is this...except for the fact that the guy didn't frame it right ::sigh::

St. Basil's, Lenin's tomb, the clock tower, and part of the Kremlin wall- money shot :)

The Bolshoi Theater - alas, they are all sold out for ballet tickets for the month of May. I checked.

Still my favorite - the old KGB building.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Working in the HSR in Moscow Mission Control

HSR stands for Houston Support Room. This room is staffed with NASA folks from the Houston Support Group (HSG) 365 days of the year (or pretty close to that). During mated missions (when the Shuttle is attached to the Space Station), my group sends two people over to help out. This is because mated missions can be extremely complicated and tricky from an attitude control perspective and from a paperwork exchanged between my group and our Russian counterparts perspective. We found it to be necessary to send two people out (working a shift apiece) to be able to interact face-to-face with our Russian counterparts and explain issues that come up, answer any questions, and do some of the digging around for information that the on-console team would normally take care of, but have their hands full with Shuttle stuff. We are basically an extra pair of hands (and maybe part of a brain :) ) for the on-console team.

The afternoon shift getting ready to head out...this was Sunday, which is jeans day...normally we are dressed in our professional best :)

Erin and I during shift handover

Doing some plan reviews

Gluten free in Moscow

So since I am still eating gluten free, I brought an entire suitcase full of gluten free food with me to Moscow (small suitcase) and figured I would supplement with produce and dairy here. I brought several Pamela's Products mixes with me and tried one of them the other day

I borrowed some muffin pans from one of my coworkers, Carla, who stays here for months at a time and therefore has lots of domestic muffin pans. I then borrowed my fellow group-mate's, Erin, who is here supporting the mission as well, room key, because my room does not have an oven (this required her to knock on my door at 445am before heading to her shift to hand me her key).

After looking up what 350F is in Celsius (~176C in case you were wondering), I put the chocolate-ly goodness in the oven:

27 minutes later...(not the 16-22min later on the bag)...out popped these:

I sprinkled them with some sugar and voila! Gluten free chocolate cupcakes the easy way (i.e. out of a mix):

They were pretty tasty and my coworkers seemed to enjoy them (they disappeared pretty quickly). Another score for Pamela's Products!

Farmers Market

I have been such a slacker since I got to Moscow. I've actually adjusted pretty decently to the time change...however, that's probably because I am sleeping about 11 hours each night! This leaves little time for me to get out and about before my shift starts at 1pm. However, the other day, I managed to drag myself out of bed at the early hour of ::ahem:: 9 am and meet up with one of my coworkers to go to the local farmers market. I wish the farmers markets in Houston looked like this - I would do most of my grocery shopping here...I didn't take any pictures because my hands were full of bags, but here are the fruits (and veggies) of my shopping trip. Yum.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Grandma, Carter, and I on a post-dinner walk, laughing it up, the day before Easter

This is a long post. Because I need it to be.

As most of you know by now, my trip to Nebraska to attend my Grandpa's funeral didn't go as expected. We ended up having a joint funeral for both Grandpa and Grandma.

The memorial service for Grandpa was supposed to be on Easter Sunday. Grandma didn't come back from her walk. After several search parties, a police officer directed my uncle to the hospital, where a woman had been taken earlier that morning who matched Grandma's description. It was Grandma.

She had had a heart attack in the grocery store parking lot (she was planning on buying strawberries for our breakfast). Now, Grandma was insanely healthy - she hiked the Grand Canyon every year (and had a trip planned for this year) and rode her bike 5000-6000 miles every year (and she was 77...seriously...HEALTHY). There was nothing wrong with her heart...except she had just lost my Grandpa. Her heart literally broke. The attack was, in terms of heart attacks, a "minor" one, the doctors expected a full recovery. After some sad moments by Grandma's bedside as she expressed her desire to "be with Bob", she started rallying, talking, and joking...I chastised her for causing so much drama (don't worry, she laughed :) ). My siblings and I left the hospital shortly after 10pm on Easter to head back to our hotels. Each of us had had a conversation with Grandma, and told her goodnight. She and I shared some particularly sweet words.

At 1am, my phone rang. Grandma's pressures were dropping (she was DNR) and we needed to come to the hospital immediately. When I walked into her room, I wasn't sure I could stay there. She was hurting. The awesome nurses (really, incredibly kind and thoughtful staff) made her comfortable with some morphine, and we (my parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, and cousins) surrounded Grandma, holding her hands and patting her arms, telling her we loved her. And then she was gone. I've never seen someone die before.

Thus began a week of "someone pinch me because this can't be real".

It was pretty awful. Still is, truth be told.

I'm doing...okay. As my aunt put it, "we are all looking at what happened out of the corner of our one wants to stare it in the face". Well put. I am fully aware that I am in the whole pretending none of this happened, everything is still perfectly normal phase of grieving.

Still can't believe that the letter I received from them the day after Grandpa died is the last letter I will ever get from them (I've written them fairly regularly since I was 10 years old).

Words cannot sufficiently express how thankful I am that I had a good relationship with both Grandpa and Grandma. And that I got to spend the Saturday before Easter with her, laughing and talking. And that our last words together were so sweet.

  • When I was little, I told Grandma I wanted to learn how to cook. She and Grandpa bought me The Joy of Cooking (yeah, a 700 page cooking book for an 8 year old :)...I still have and use it ). She then helped me plan a three course meal, helped me grocery shop for the ingredients, and then helped me prepare and serve it to my family and my Uncle Mike's family
  • She taught me how to roll out the perfect pie crust
  • I vividly recall her teaching me how to address an envelope
  • She introduced me to the "The Pirates of Penzance" and organized plays for my cousins and I to act out for our families
  • When I started learning Russian, she thought that was "cool" and learned along with me. We wrote letters to each other in Russian. It will be weird to go to Moscow this summer and not stop in a bookstore to buy some books to take back to her
  • I showed up at their house three years ago during the Christmas holidays and asked her to teach me how to quilt. When I was at my uncle's house, I slept under the quilt that contained my first stitches ever quilted, stitched as she watched and instructed me
  • Grandma and Grandpa loved to read. They volunteered at the local Book Barn in Tucson and would always have a pile of books to send home with me. Our letters were filled with different book recommendations
Grandma and I had a good thing between us and I am grateful to God for that...

Love you Grandma, and thank you for the memories.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tri Girl Tri Super Sprint

Wahoo!!! I am back in the tri saddle and it feels GREAT!!!

Lisa, Erin W., Pooja, Erin S, and me at the start line...getting nervous

It's been a long road getting back here, and the journey probably isn't over. I just take one day at a time and today was a good day. Thankful to God for the work He has been doing in me, and the people He has put in my life to help encourage me and to help my body to heal (big shout out to Dr. Alice!).

I raced the Tri Girl Tri Super Sprint this morning (200yd swim, 8 mile bike, 2 mile run) with 5 of my friends (who also happen to be my coworkers as well). It was so much fun hanging out with these ladies and doing this race together!

My stats:
Swim 7:17
Transition 1: 2:18
Bike: 28:33 (16.8mph average!)
Transition 2: 1:16
Run: 20:20 (10:10 mile pace!)

Total: 59:46

My goal was to finish under an hour and I did! :)

Swim gear has been donned...almost go time!

Do you see me? Yeah I grinned like this through a LOT of the race! It felt so great to do this again!

My swim time wasn't what I had hoped for, but I did it. Time was 7 min, 17 sec. Open water is so different from the pool (for comparison, my pool time for this distance is 4:31). There's the people, the freak out factor, the choppiness of the water's a whole different world from the pool.

Coming in from the bike

I hadn't been on my bike in over two weeks, so I was a bit nervous about it, but kept a good pace, a lot of that due to the lack of wind :)

Finishing the run

The run went well, even sans Garmin ;-). I started out too fast as usual, but tried to really listen to my body, and got into a comfortable rhythm. It always amazes me how much faster I can run during tris (during my 5k a few weeks ago, I averaged a 11:10 pace, during the tri - 10:10)

Tri Girls!

I finished. And that is a huge milestone. But what makes it even better is that I finished well and with a bunch of my friends. Extra blessings just heaped on me. Wow.

Next tri? I'm looking online now for a good race :)