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.