Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's good to be home!


I've officially been home for two weeks now, and the novelty still hasn't worn off. I was in the beginning of the unpacking stages at the time of my last post, and it wasn't pretty for a while... but thanks to my 5 day weekend, I was able to get fairly settled in and have some much needed recuperation time. Look, I even cleared the living room after emptying all my bags in front of a Hoarders marathon!
A shoddy representation of my living room before and after unpacking

What else did I do on my five-day Andrea weekend in Huntsville? I deep-cleaned the kitchen, washed and vacuumed my car, did some training for my next race, went to couple of amazing Bikram classes at the new hot yoga studio in town, and slept... a LOT. All much needed, and incredibly enjoyable.


One of the best parts of being home has been the fact that I can hang out with my friends after work, spend time with my family on the weekends, and chase my dog around the house (she secretly loves this). The fact that my little brother is home for the summer has made it even better! He's so close in age to me that he generally acts like the older sibling, but we (usually) get along incredibly well. We joke that we have the weirdest family dynamic- he's a conservative Beef Cattle Nutrition major, while I'm the crazy vegan liberal. Somehow we make it work, and our relationship is absolutely perfect.

Aside from family time, I've gotten to play with some of my favorite people in Huntsville these past few weeks. My good friend Meghan and I had a fun meal at Pane e Vino, a cute little pizza cafe at the art museum downtown, and then went back to her house to watch True Blood. Earlier in the week, she had taped a giant Justin Bieber poster to her roommate's door, and unwittingly started a war with the male victims. When we pulled in to the house, there was something different about the yard...

The bottle of Coors Lite was a nice touch, boys...
Every month, my coworkers Amber, Kellie and I make it a point to go to dinner together and catch up on non-work things. We ate at my favorite Huntsville restaurant, 1892 East (which I think I've blogged about at least 4 times now), but nothing on the dessert menu struck our fancy. So we grabbed ice cream afterwards instead, and Amber showed us the correct posture for avoiding the dreaded cookie-dough-on-the-shirt when you're eating an ice cream cone.

It's all in the strategy


I joke that I'm the worst vegan ever because I'm deathly afraid of a lot of veggies. I can eat salad all day long, but the list of things I won't eat is rather lengthy. But in order to stay healthy and get the nutrients my body needs, I know that I need to face my fear and at least try the veggies that scare me. Greens are one of these scary vegetables- I don't mean dark lettuces or spinach, those are easy. But kale, collards, bok choy- they scare me to death! So I used my mad Google-ing skills and discovered that if you put kale in the oven with some olive oil and salt, they get super crunchy, like chips! I tried it, and though they were totally weird at first, they were completely addictive and delicious.

My fear of veggies is largely a texture thing, and the crunchiness of these totally put that to bed. I used Alicia Silverstone's recipe, but there's tons of ways to make these fun, like tossing them in dressing with different spices.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out of Oklahoma

I’m not going to lie- my last two weeks in Oklahoma were a rough few. My attitude towards everything was, well, terrible. I could try and blame it on the weather (106 F every day) or my 7-day-a-week work schedule, but I think the real issue was the fact that I was just homesick. I missed my dog, my bed, and just the idea of having a home. And then my angry side won out (“I’ve been in a hotel room 45% of the year so far? Who signed me up for this job?”), and thankfully, rational-Andrea decided not to blog during this period.
...and that's just since January!

I’ve been home a whole 2 days, and thankfully I’ve dug out of the self-pity hole and gotten a grip. I’ve realized:               
  • I, in fact, was the one who signed me up for my job.
  • I love my job, even when I articulate otherwise.
  • That even though being away for long periods of time isn’t easy, the soldiers I’m with every day have it infinitely harder than I do. They have babies, other careers, and are prepared to be in a warzone for a year.
And once again, I’m humbled by the people around me. A common theme, for which I’m very grateful.
Like I mentioned, I can always count on my “kids” to cheer me up, and this trip has been no exception. The unit I worked with had some of the most hilarious and kind people I’ve ever met, and all of them were nothing but sweet to me. Several of them are now people I can call my friends… and friends do nice things to each other. Like have them captured and interrogated. Right?

Before being waterboarded with a bottle of Perrier
One of my kids, Chas, knew that I was coming to our field site that day and printed out posters warning his fellow soldiers that a known terrorist operative (me) was armed and dangerous, and was to immediately be escorted to the main operation center. I channeled my inner Nina Myers, but to no avail.

When I decided to go vegan, I knew that I had to put a lot of focus into adopting a healthy plant-based diet, and not rely on processed meatless junk food. I’ve relied heavily on Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, which emphasizes fresh vegetables, whole grains and beans and gives a well-rounded approach to a plant based diet. Following this philosophy has made me feel great, and I can’t begin to express the benefits it’s brought to my body. Within a month of changing my eating habits, my skin cleared up, I had a ton of energy, and I just looked… better.
A must-read for those interested in plant-based diets
Over the past few weeks, I’ve kept the general basis of my diet, but started adopting some unhealthy vices as a result of my stress and crankiness, like coconut-milk chocolate ice cream (nondairy but fullll of sugar) and the occasional order of french fries. I don’t attribute these to being vegan- if I still ate meat and dairy, I’d have done the same, but with Ben & Jerry’s and Chick-Fil-A nuggets alongside my fries. But now that I’m home, I’m back to focusing on Alicia’s “Superhero” foods, and I have no doubt that it’s played a major role in getting me back to normal.
PS- It’s my sweet boyfriend’s 31st birthday tomorrow (or today, where he’s at!). He has been so supportive of me through everything- always finding time to talk to me around my crazy work schedule while he’s in a warzone, and making me laugh when I feel sad and miss him like crazy. Happy birthday Jeremy, and thank you for being so wonderful to me!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Breaking the monotony


The more time I spend living in hotels, the more I realize how much money I spend on little things. Thankfully, my company does pay me a per-diem allowance to live on, but I'd much rather save that money up and spend it on something fun when I leave Oklahoma! So lately, I've been trying to minimize the expenses that tend to add up, starting with my daily Starbucks habit.

My favorite part of the morning... but there had to be a better way!
When I'm teaching, I like to take some time for myself in the morning to chill out before I have to be in front of people all day. I've taken on a new class this cycle, which has made me rely on this morning ritual even more. I would leave my hotel room for SBUX by 6 AM, and spend almost $6 on my oatmeal and giant iced green tea. A relatively small price to pay for sanity, but then I got to thinking... I do this about 20 of 30 days a month, and that's $120 I'm paying for oatmeal. So I bought Irish oatmeal, dried cherries, brown sugar, and a box of green tea (under $15) and decided to try making my own. And honestly? It's better than Starbucks! I mean it tastes the same, but now I can get a little extra sleep, multi-task as I get ready, and watch MSNBC and Skype with Jeremy until I leave at 6:40. Saving $100 extra a month isn't bad either.


I am lucky enough to work with one of my best friends, Amber, while I'm in Huntsville, but when I'm at a training event, it's just me and my fellow instructors. Don't get me wrong, they're awesome and we have a great time together, but the testosterone levels can get to me sometimes. That's why I was so excited to hear that our company was flying her and others from our Alabama office to do some work at our training event! I am so used to just collapsing in my room after training and doing my nightly reports, but this week we broke up the day-to-day by doing the girliest things imaginable- watching chick flicks, painting our nails, and screaming 'NSYNC lyrics obnoxiously in the car.

Friday was her last night in Oklahoma, and even though it sucks that she had to leave, the timing of her trip was perfect. Some of the students I am teaching right now are all in a band together- called Battlesight Zero- and they happened to be playing a show the night before Amber had to go home. I have a bad habit of singing Justin Bieber during class (mostly just the "Baby, baby, baby OHHHHH" part) and begged them to sing it at their concert. Although they refused during the week, they surprised me at the show with a great rendition of it... and unfortunately, my singing drowned them out on the video I shot. Here's the band singing a quick version of Amber's favorite song, Bed Intruder!

Not only did we get to have fun watching these guys play, but we got to see a lot of my other students who came to support the band, and I got to introduce Amber to so many of my friends. When we were about to leave, Amber said (and I quote), "I can see why you love your job so much." I can't think of a truer statement. Getting to interact with my kids, to have little jokes with them, have them come visit my classroom long after they've taken the course, and especially seeing them as individuals with so much talent, it's the most rewarding thing I could imagine.


Since the rest of the blog is so long, we'll keep this section short today. Amber and I took a road trip to Oklahoma City for dinner- BJ's Brewhouse has her favorite pizza ever. Pizza sounded good to me, so I ordered it as well- just in vegan form. Deep dish, no cheese, no butter crust, with extra tomatoes and basil. It looks like it could be boring (like tomatoes on bread...) but I swear it was phenomenal. The crust had a ton of flavor, and the tomatoes and basil were super fresh. And without all that cheese, I still had room for Jamba Juice on the way home!

So hungry, I started eating before I remembered to take a pic!

Friday, June 3, 2011

After Arizona

So I've been on hiatus for the past 2 weeks without meaning to... "busy" doesn't begin to describe the workload here on this training event! Since my last post, I was able to take a few days to visit family in Phoenix- a fantastic and much-needed vacation- but in the process, had to check in and out of my hotel home. Here's how it's going:


After the mess I created in my last room, I decided to try and turn over a new leaf when I checked back in to the hotel a few days ago. The front desk threw me a curveball, however, and since there was a conference going on the day I got back, all the rooms were full... except one. A handicap-friendly room. Now to don't get me wrong, the extra space has been great for the most part- but I should note that the room is not only wheelchair accessible, but "little-person" accessible. The counters are dropped, there are two peepholes (one at a normal height and one below the doorknob), and there are stools under every sink. Since the bathroom is enormous (partly because of the bench...) the kitchen is a bit smaller, and includes the tiniest dishwasher I've ever seen. Overall, the room is a plus... and I'm finally on the first floor (and not the 4th!)

Note that the microwave is wider than the dishwasher...

There hasn't been much time for play in Oklahoma... hence the lack of blogging these past few weeks! Thankfully, my trip to Arizona came at the perfect time. I stayed with my aunt, uncle and 4-year-old cousin Sofi in Scottsdale for a few days, and it was just amazing. We walked every morning, shopped as much as possible, visited family friends I hadn't seen in ages and met extended family I didn't know existed. Some of the best times I had were with Sofi, who I hadn't seen in over a year. She is currently experiencing an affliction commonly known as the Bieber Fever. We watched his movie, listened to the CD constantly, and forced his likeness to interact with the Barbie cheerleaders.

Me, Sofi and Biebs


I kind of left the food section of my last blog on a bad note- as I recall, my tempeh-and-quinoa dish was plain inedible. I had another unfortunate tempeh incident after that; soy sauce + Bragg's liquid aminos + sesame dressing = way too much salt, and I had to toss it in the garbage after two bites. Confidence shaken, but needing a good tempeh fix, I busted out my pre-marinated coconut curry variety, and put it on an english muffin and paired it with raw spinach. It was, in a word, perfection. Cheating? Perhaps... but until I learn to replicate 1892 East's recipe, I'll stick to what I know.


Friday, May 13, 2011

On the road again


So I'm back to "normal"- which means another 2-month stay at a hotel in Oklahoma. And I don't mean this in a negative way at all; on the contrary, I've grown to love living on the road. The hotel we're at this time is wonderful, and I've already started making myself at home.

Some things never change...

Luckily, our suites are pretty big, and this is actually  just one tiny, isolated messy area of the bedroom. The living room and kitchen portion are much cleaner I promise... but really, who wants to see a photo of a clean kitchen? The real challenge will come a few weeks from now, when I leave for the weekend to visit family in Phoenix. My coworker is letting me borrow some space in his suite to put all my stuff, but I'm really not looking forward to the packing that it's going to entail.


This week has been a fairly busy one for my job- we're preparing to train several hundred soldiers, and have spent the majority of our time getting our classes and materials ready for this event. Yesterday was our first day of class, and my kids are absolutely wonderful so far. But too much work and no play has a tendency to make me a little crazy... so in my free time, I've been crocheting like a madwoman, reading the Pretty Little Liars books that Ames let me borrow, and shopping for things to put in Jeremy's next care package. In other words, I have the personal life of an 84-year old woman... and for the record, I am completely OK with this.

Everyone needs an obsession... thanks for this one, Amy!

It is to be noted that most of the meals that I've eaten this past week have been great- I've been incorporating lots of whole grains, beans, and more vegetables that I usually do. Since going vegan, I've discovered a new favorite food- tempeh. It's kind of the halfway house between actual soybeans and tofu- slightly fermented, and mushed up into a cake that has a much better texture (in my opinion) than tofu, and it's so full of protein and fiber, and super filling. I've always bought the pre-marinated kind, but I wanted to replicate my favorite dish at 1892 East- their grilled tempeh is to die for. So I marinated my own in some Bragg's and spices, and sauteed it on the stovetop in my hotel and paired it with some steamed red quinoa. It looked pretty...

Just. Plain. Bad.

But it was probably the worst vegan dish I've ever prepared. I should have cut up the tempeh or found an actual grill to cook it on, because it had no flavor and tasted almost raw. I even managed to mess up the quinoa- since I cooked such a small quantity in my rice steamer, it got crunchy to the point of having the texture (and for that matter, the flavor) of gravel. I tried to convince myself that it wasn't too bad, but eventually I gave up and microwaved the incredibly unhealthy vegan taquitos I keep in my freezer for just such occasions.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our local news calls it "April's Fury." I call it "Andrea's Lesson in Getting Over a Power Outage and Realizing What's Important."

As most of you are aware, last week was a rough one for Alabama. Wednesday morning at the office seemed normal, even with a visit to the tornado shelter before lunch, which happens fairly often this time of year. That afternoon, my boss sent us to work from home for the remainder of the day, as the weather looked worse and worse. By that evening, we had lost power, along with everyone else in my part of the state, and what we thought was just another mild round of tornadoes was much, much worse. Dad and I were incredibly lucky and had no damage to ourselves or our property, but the week was not without its challenges.


Last week was already supposed to be a busy one- I'm leaving for Oklahoma very shortly and had planned on updating some material for work, getting my laundry done and packed, and mentally preparing for another 2 months on the road... but nature had other plans. We were without power from Wednesday until late Sunday evening. At first, the cell towers were not affected, but apparently once their backup power source was exhausted, we were also without phone coverage. We were basically off the grid until Friday, when cell service was restored, and I had already started to get stir crazy at this point. I had to use flashlights to read, almost fell in the toilet on several occasions due to the dark bathroom, and had honestly become kind of hard to live with because of how cranky I had become. And then the universe gave me a much needed smack in the head, and an attitude adjustment to go with it.

A coworker's house
The rest of the neighborhood

I received a message Saturday morning from a friend at work, letting me know that one of our coworkers' homes had sustained severe damage and that people from our company were going to help clear some of the debris. Anxious to help, an honestly, wanting an excuse to get some air, I headed over that afternoon. My perspective was completely changed when I saw what these families were faced with. Her beautiful property was now covered in uprooted trees, shingles and insulation. The structure itself?

Needless to say, it gave me the dose of "Shut up and be thankful that you HAVE a house" that I desperately needed. Thankfully, the colleague and her family were alright, but they and many families in our area have a long road ahead of them. If you feel compelled, please make a donation to the American Red Cross or Salvation Army- these funds have been crucial in aiding families in Alabama and other affected areas.


Most of Huntsville shut down that Wednesday night, including all the businesses in the research park- where Dad and I both work. My father is one of the most resourceful people I know- he makes MacGyver look like a pansy- and had the storm radio, camp stoves and lanterns set up within an hour of the power outage. By the time we got electricity five days later, we were working with a fully functional, generator-based "power grid" and watched disaster movies and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia every night. But what kept us going during the days in between was listening to the wind-up radio- I joked that it we were like Ralphie and his brother in A Christmas Story, listening to Red Ryder every night. 

We played countless games of cribbage, went on field trips to Publix, and just got to catch up with each other, which ended up being pretty wonderful. I won't go as far as Dad, who said yesterday (and I quote) "I really miss the power being out!"... but we learned to cope, and I wouldn't trade our hangout time for anything.


It took some creativity, but I was able to eat pretty well without power... we did have the advantage of a small 800-watt generator from the get-go that saved some of our refrigerated food. The first night I kind of got a kick out of making miso soup on our deck, thinking that the outage was going to be an hour-long event, tops. Once we were made aware that all of the Tennessee Valley's transmission system was down, I became proficient with the Coleman burners my dad brought out, and was easily able to eat a normal, plant-based diet during the entire situation.

Things have gotten so much closer to being normal this week. My office reopened yesterday, and though everyone in my sector is thankfully accounted for, many had severe damage and one completely lost their home. I'm so grateful to have gotten the perspective shift I needed all along, and, cheesy as it may be, I'm also just grateful to have a roof over my head and a healthy, injury-free body.

Next week begins a two-month stint in Ft. Sill, OK, meaning the next several blog posts should be more relevant to what I originally intended- a place to share my attempt at balancing work, fun, and a plant-based diet while facing the challenges that come with living in a hotel. Nonetheless, it's been so much fun being able to share my adventures at home and traveling for pleasure with everyone these past few weeks!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pittsburgh Edition

I know this is super late, but we've had some extenuating circumstances here in Alabama... that's for a future post! Last weekend, I visited some of my favorite people in the world, the Gougler clan! (You can get a glimpse of them here...) Amy, a frequent mention in this blog, was my college roommate for 2.5 years, and her husband, JP, is one of my good friends. They recently relocated from Houston to Pittsburgh, so naturally I had to see what this was all about.


Travel proved to be a challenge this trip. From Huntsville, I had a connecting flight in Memphis, which was delayed... and then CANCELLED. Words can't express the disappointment, and although I made a new friend (thanks for those vodka-waters and the Arrested Development quoting matches, Garrett!), the airline one-upped themselves by sticking all of us stranded travelers in a sketchy hotel. Delta received a strongly worded email from me this week, and I'm expecting a nice, fat voucher in return.

For someone who took 4 years of German in high school, this Spanish phrase was a bit alarming at first glance.
But once I made it to Pennsylvania, I was greeted by my favorite hosts- Amy, JP and Maggie! Their new home was absolutely wonderful, warm and inviting- just as I knew it would be.


One of my favorite things about Amy's family is that whether we're doing something new and exciting, or just relaxing and hanging out, it's never any WORK. It's always PLAY! The day I finally got into town, we caught up with each other and watched Harry Potter, and it was absolutely perfect. Saturday morning began with a trip to the Strip District for some exploring and brunch, followed by a bus tour of the city. The tour was great- super informative and not at all boring- and allowed us to hop on and off as we pleased. Which meant we needed to stop at the casino... where Amy absolutely BANKED on penny slots! We drank to her success and hopped back on our bus, stopped for some beer at the Hofbrauhaus (so much fun!) and did a little shopping before heading home. We had picked up some fresh produce at one of the markets in the Strip District, which meant a delicious dinner when we got back... after a well-documented trip to the grocery store for some last-minute necessities.

Quadrupling your initial amount of gambling money? We'll drink to that!
Sunday began with Easter services, followed by the traditional Gougler/Timmer + Andrea Easter Egg Hunt. It was very successful for all involved, including Maggie, and proved to be entertaining for longer than expected, thanks to some straggling eggs. The rest of the day was relaxing and low-key, and included a monster walk with Maggie and another round of Harry Potter, sprinkled with some pre-Royal Wedding coverage. It was an absolutely perfect Easter in every sense. The next day was wonderful as well- even though Amy had to work from home, we still made time to play! We took an excursion for lunch, discussed work the way we used to discuss our classes, and just got to hang out. Every time we visit, it's like no time has passed since the previous meetup- we just pick up right where we left off. Amy and I might be polar opposites in some ways, but I think that's really what makes our friendship so unique and special.

I'm 7 months older and 7x more immature. And it's love.

This of course, means that our visit was over entirely too soon... yet before we knew it, it was time to head back to the airport and leave for home. All in all, we declared it an amazingly successful weekend... and that's not even considering the...


It was determined pretty early on that it's hard to fully experience Pittsburgh without the meat. And since I was on vacation, and needed the full Steeler-nation experience, I decided that my veganism should be on vacation as well. What began with a ham-and-cheese croissant ended with a roast beef sandwich from Primanti Brothers, and whoaaaaa.... I've never had anything like it! A Pittsburgh staple, the sandwich was full of beefiness, cheesiness, and my personal favorite, FRIES. Amy had a turkey version... and we killed them! They were a delicious treat that Monday, and a perfect ending to my weekend of being an omnivore.

So. Delicious.
I don't know if it's evident by the length of the PLAY section, but it's safe to say that my weekend in Pittsburgh was absolutely wonderful! Ames and JP- thank you both again for being some of the most enjoyable people in the world to visit.