Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Cruise Journal - Day 3

Today was our first day in port! Well, we didn’t actually dock in a port – instead the cruise ship just hung out and we ferried back and forth between the boat and shore. But still, it’s the first time we’ve been able to get off the ship since we got on it! Our first city was Cabo San Lucas, the beach town famous for being the ultimate spring break spot. As we were pulling up to land, the view from our balcony was really quite beautiful.

The view from our balcony upon reaching Cabo.

My senior year of high school, I remember a group of about 20 girls vacationing in Cabo together and now that I’m in college, things really aren’t any different. Cabo is without question, the single most popular destination for spring break. So popular, in fact, that we ran into several sorority and fraternity groups while walking around the city. As we were sitting by the beach, we heard this boat go by as the announcers said, “are you ready to party USC?”

The USC party boat.

It was actually hilarious walking around Cabo and seeing all the different sorority girls: drunk sorority girl, crying sorority girl, desperate sorority girl, ya know, the usual.

Anyway, we didn’t have very much time in Cabo because we docked at 12 and departed at 7. Because we weren’t actually docked, we had to wait a couple hours for our ferry so we didn’t really get into Cabo until 2 pm.

Finally getting off the ship!

As expected, Cabo is a very touristy town. As soon as you get off the boat, you are accosted with people trying to sell you stuff and bars with all day “happy hours.” There artsy little statues scattered throughout the town amid the shops. It’s all very Mexican-themed like how you’d expect the Mexico section of a theme park to be decorated. I’m not sure how authentic to the true Mexico experience it is, but it makes for good tourism.

Preksha and the statue

Once you get past all the shops and people trying to sell you things, the beach is really quite beautiful.

The Cabo San Lucas beach.

It’s obviously a very popular destination for cruise ships, because there were four cruise ships (including ours) hanging out in the harbor.

The cruise ships.

Even though I’ve been to the beaches of Los Angeles fairly often, I never actually get in the water. The Pacific Ocean is really cold, yo! Figuring that it’s a lot warmer in Mexico, I figured I’d give the water a try. Turns out, the water is cool but definitely not cold. After a few seconds getting adjusted to the temperature, it was actually quite nice!

Sarah and I messing around in the water. 

One thing that I noticed in Cabo was that there seems to be a whole lot of pelicans! Even though the pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, I've never actually seen that many of them together. In Cabo, there were whole groups of them flying around and begging the fisherman for fish. They seemed really comfortable with all the people.

A fisherman teases the pelicans by offering up a fish.

Not all of the tourist traps were your traditional party boat. We saw this triple masted square rigged sailboat offering tours of the coast. It would have been 100 times cooler if it were actually sailing though. They never even opened up the sails and the boat was 100% engine powered. A little disappointing for a true sailor but a whole lot less work for the crew.

This cool looking ship has a Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to it. Too bad it’s engine powered.

Of course, we didn’t want to be left behind by the boat so we had to make it back by the 6:30 pm all aboard time. Our room being on the left side of the ship, however, had a beautiful view of the sunset as we were leaving port. We watched comfortably from our balcony as the sun set behind the cliffs.

The view of the sunset from our balcony.

Roommates! Happy to be traveling together :)

To conclude our evening after watching the sunset, we got dinner in the on-board restaurant which I like the most, Versailles. The decorations are a cheesy, movie-set take on the real Versailles, but the food is the best of the five dining options, in my opinion. We decided to get a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Preksha and Sarah left the wine selection up to me, and I picked out a Reisling from Washington State. I’ve been getting really into Washington wines lately, so I had high hopes for this selection.

The reisling from Washington that we had with dinner. I highly recommend it!

Turns out, I was not disappointed! The wine was absolutely delicious and complimented my chicken nicely. After the main course we had a cheese plate and oh my goodness the reisling paired perfectly with the sharp blue cheese. All in all, I was very pleased with my wine selection.

Anyway, night three was another night we tuned in early for movies and catching up on sleep, because the real reason we college students need spring break is to catch up on sleep!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Cruise Journal - Day 2

Today was the first full day on the ship! We spent the entire day at sea which means we had plenty of time to explore the boat and check out all the dining options.

All three of us are fairly athletic, so we started the day out by heading to the fitness center. As I’ve posted before, I’m currently training for a half marathon. I’m currently in week 10 of 16 of training, so I can’t afford to slack too much on my runs. There is a track on the ship, but it’s on the top deck and it’s so sunny and hot, I figured it’d be more comfortable to run on the treadmill even though I definitely prefer running outside. The interesting thing about running on a treadmill is that I hadn’t noticed the ship rocking side to side until I was on the treadmill. As I said before, the ship’s floor has a ~10 Hz constant vibration to it, but I hadn’t noticed any rocking. The treadmill that I was on was perpendicular to the length of the ship so that I was looking out the window at the sea. When I first got on the treadmill, I felt like I was running downhill, so I increased the incline a bit. Next thing I know I feel like I’m seriously running uphill. Finally, I figured out that the boat was actually rocking left to right making my treadmill feel like I was running up and down hills. It was kind of a surreal experience. It seemed like the left to right rocking of the boat was a second-order, long period (phugoid) type oscillatory motion with a time constant of ~5s (yeah, that’s how I think about things…sometimes I hate being an engineer).

Trying to maintain that girlish figure!

In spite of the constant swaying to and fro, I somehow managed to get in a decent 4 mile run. I’m not really following my training plan this week; I’m just trying to get in enough distance that I don’t lose any aerobic fitness. The break will probably actually be good for me since my shins had been hurting lately which was likely the result of an overuse injury.

After our workout, we spent most of the rest of the day lounging by the pool. It’s pretty cool sitting at the top of the ship and looking out to see nothing but ocean all around you. I chilled and enjoyed my magazines and Preksha and Sarah both got some good naps in. I thought I had been very thorough with my sunscreen, but somehow I missed a spot under my right arm pit and now have a stripe of sun burn. Thankfully that’s the only part of my body which seems to have been over exposed to the sunlight.

Apparently, the ship also has a small library. In addition to books, they also had a decent selection of board games. We hung out for a while in the library to play a game of Scrabble.

Preksha being a dork while playing Scrabble.

Messing around waiting for Preksha to move.

They also had a Monopoly board available but we knew there was no way we would be able to quietly play a game of Monopoly. So, we snuck the board out of the library and brought it back with us to our room.

Setting up the Monopoly board. This is where friendship ends.

Now – Monopoly is not a friendly game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Monopoly, played properly, is ruthless. So, we put our friendship on hold in order to really, properly play Monopoly. I ended up having some very good luck during the game and landed on “free parking” – and winning all the money from taxes – at several points during the game. Once I had hotels on all of the green properties as well as the blue properties, the game was over. Yet another Monopoly win in the bank.

We had dinner at one of the on board restaurants, Aqua which was quite good. It’s so great getting to eat at actual restaurants on the cruise but not having to pay the bill at the end. It kind of feels like we’re skipping out without paying the bill. All the food thus far has been quite delicious and I’m looking forward to the rest of the meals!

Enjoying yet another delicious cruise meal.

Anywho, that's it for day 2!  After dinner we went back to the cabin for movies and an early bedtime.  Vacation is for catching up on sleep, right?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Cruise Journal: Day 1

Hello All!  I know I'm terrible at posting - but this time I have a legitimate excuse!  I've been out of the country with very limited internet access!  For my last ever college spring break, me and a couple friends went on a cruise down the western side of Mexico!  But - I kept a journal while on the cruise and over the next 8 days, I will be sharing my cruise journal with you!  So... here it goes!


It’s finally spring break!! I can’t believe this is my last college spring break. While it’s exciting to be entering the “real world,” I’m definitely trying to make the most of what time I have left in college. So, what to do for my last spring break? Go on a cruise! Since we live in Los Angeles, it was fairly cheap for us to find a 7-day cruise down the western coast of Mexico. Now the time has finally come and to Mexico we go!

Here we are at the port of Los Angeles getting ready to board the ship!

Here we are after dropping off our luggage and about to check in! We’re sailing on the massive Norwegian Star.

Now, I’ve never been on a cruise before so there were definitely a few things that I’ve noticed. First, the ship has a very specific vibration. Obviously this is to be expected because the engines to move a ship this big this fast through the water are massive, but I was surprised by how consistent the vibration is throughout the entire ship. Our room is in the aft end of the ship, closer to the engine, but the vibration is equally noticeable regardless of where you are.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that you definitely don’t get the traditional “ocean waves” sound. Instead, there’s a consistent “water rushing by” sound which is rather soothing. It’s cool how from pretty much anywhere on the ship, you can look out and see the ocean. In fact, I’m sitting on the balcony of our room right now to write this, and since we are on the left side of the boat, it’s pretty much just ocean as far as you can see. I’m amazed by how much light pollution there is, even this far off of shore because I still can’t see very many stars.

Another note is that the ceilings are all very low. Again, this is to be expected since it’s a ship and they are trying to fit as much stuff into it as possible, but as a 6’ tall person, this can be slightly unnerving. Since I’ve been walking around all day, I’m starting to get used to it, but it was definitely a little weird at first. Being on the ship essentially feels like being in a weird hotel where the floor vibrates, the ceilings are low and the rooms are tiny. And I mean really tiny. We’re not even in the smallest size room since we upgraded in order to have a balcony. If I ever cruise again, I would definitely pay more to have a larger room. Our room is essentially just one big bed with very little room to walk around it.

I can already tell that I packed too much luggage. Obviously, having never been on a cruise before, I really wasn’t sure what to pack so I brought some clothes for everything. I’m realizing now that it probably would have been a lot smarter to bring less clothes and just recycle them throughout the trip. Especially since our room is so small, it makes it hard to search through all the luggage I brought along.

Saying goodbye to Los Angeles as we pass the harbor light house!

Anywho, the cruise so far has definitely been very relaxing! One of the first things we did was grab some magazines and go lounge by the pool. My goal for this trip is simply to relax. Honestly, the fact that I have to set goals for “relaxing” should be an indication of the fact that I pretty desperately need to let go a little bit.

The pool on this ship is pretty cool. Definitely very kid friendly with lots of slides and water games but also adult friendly with all the bars and hot tubs!

I mean, it’s vacation! Of course we had to acquire a beer bucket pronto.

Trashy magazine, check, alcoholic beverages, check, sunshine, check, alright I’m ready to cruise!

For our first dinner on board, we ate at the complimentary French-themed restaurant, “Versailles.” It’s got that cheesy, movie-set French d├ęcor going on, but honestly it’s kind of fun. The food was definitely delicious so no complaints there! I’m going to have to be sure to go to the gym in the mornings otherwise I am going to completely derail my two months’ worth of dieting!

After dinner, we came back to the room to get dolled up a bit before heading out to some of the ship’s bars. After a few drinks, we were having a great conversation about Boeing, work, and life post-graduation. So, overall, a very fun night.

Anyway – it’s only day 1! There’s still so much to come and it’s all very exciting! Day 2 is spent entirely at sea so we’ll be exploring the boat more tomorrow. But that’s all for now!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Steak Cooking Adventures

Those of you who know me know that I LOVE steak.  I mean I really really love steak.  And so, when I first became a vegetarian about six years ago, many people were rightfully skeptical.  "How can you give up steak?" they would ask, and for good reason.  Steak was the one thing that I really really wanted.  Even though I used to love bacon, after a few months of the vegetarian life, the smell of the fat and the oil became unfortunately unappealing.  Yet the allure of steak remained.

Now, I've never cooked steak before but I've always wanted to and thus begins the steakventure.  Since I don't have a grill, after some research we decided a cast iron skillet would be the way to go.  We didn't get a more traditional "flat bottom" skillet, but rather a "griller" one with ridges in it.  While a skillet with a flat bottom may be more versatile, but I really wanted steak and this skillet is ALL about the steak.  Of course, I've never owned a cast iron skillet so Step 1 was going to Sur La Table and acquiring the necessary skillet.

Next step, acquire quality cuts of meat.  For this, Ethan and I ventured out to the Whole Foods in Pasadena which is more of a "Organic Food Theme Park" than a grocery store.  Seriously, it's the biggest grocery store I've ever been to and it's freaking ridiculous.  This is what it actually looks like:

This is really what the place looks like.  Only in L.A. right?  Image source here

We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the guy at the meat counter about the different cuts of meat and how to cook them.  We left with two rib eyes and one New York strip.  Personally, I have always been a lover of strips which is why I insisted on getting one.  If I'm going to eat meat, I want it to have that stringy meat texture which I love in a good NY strip.  It's also why I've never been a huge fan of fillets despite their supposed superiority.

When eating great steak, it would be a crime to not also have great wine, so the next stop was BevMo to acquire a couple bottles of red goodness.

Our first bottle, Power Keg Demolition Red was a delicious, savory not too sweet, table wine blend.  Got a second bottle for 5c (thank you BevMo!) so can't wait for another night of this stuff.  

Didn't get to taste much of this bottle but what I remember of it was good.  I've recently been enjoying more reds from Washing State so I thought I'd give this Washington syrah a taste. 

Now, this is my first cast iron skillet but I do know a thing or two about them.  For instance, I know that they have to be "seasoned."  I feel that this is a really confusing term because "seasoned" actually means "have a layer of fat baked onto the outside."  I guess it's called "seasoning" because the "seasoning" can add flavor to the food...but I digress.

So, in order to season our brand new cast iron skillet, Ethan and I turned to the internet for advice.  The manufacturer's website recommended coating the skillet in oil and baking it at 350 F before cooking on it, so we did that the night we bought it.  Then, the next morning, the real cooking started.  The first thing we cooked in the skillet was sausage because that's a great fatty food for seasoning a skillet and it's absolutely delicious.

Mmmmm, look at that yummy sausage.

Those sausages cooked so nicely and tasted sooo good. 

Of course, this created a ton of grease which we knew better than to pour down the drain.  We poured it all into a green mug and solidified it in the fridge.  We have since cooked more and added more grease to it and the green mug is still in my fridge.  I've been meaning to throw that out but hey, it's not hurting anything in the fridge right?

So much grease.  It's kind of gross if you think about it too much. 

Then, after lunch, the REAL cooking started.  Once again, we turned to the internet and watched some really helpful youtube videos about how to cook steaks in cast iron skillets.  We decided on a method where you sear both sides of the steak then put it in the oven to continue the cooking.  Personally, I like my steak rare (Ethan likes his more medium) but heated on the inside.  The couple minutes in the oven at 350 F keep the steak rare but make sure the whole thing is heated through.

We got three really great cuts of meat.  Two rib eyes and one New York strip. 

Just getting started with the cooking. 

I love a good feast, so I spent a lot of time preparing the side dishes while Ethan handled most of the meat cooking.  I made a great spinach salad, some delicious mashed potatoes, and some cooked carrots.  We invited our friend Jordan over and shared our feast with some great music and awesome company.

Deliciously cooked!  Probably could have been a bit more rare but on the whole it was delicious.  Of the three cuts of meat, the New York Strip was my favorite.  

Setting the table and preparing for our guest.  This is about as good of eating as it gets for a college student!

Anyway, the steak adventures turned out great.  We learned a lot about how to cook steaks and had a really great time cooking them.  Plus, we had some great company to share our food with and an awesome excuse to crack open an amazing bottle of wine.  Overall I'd say the evening was a huge success!  Can't wait until we can cook some steaks again!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections on Four Weeks of Jogging

Since this past summer, I've been a casual runner (read: jogger).  At first I just ran as a way to burn calories to lose weight, but lo and behold it turns out I actually like it.  I tried running cross country when I was in middle school but I never trained right and didn't perform well and other things were more interesting at the time.  

Anyway, this year as one of my New Year's Resolutions I decided that I want to run a half-marathon.  Well, the real goal was "lose weight and get in shape," but I needed something a little more tangible and measurable, so half-marathon it is.  In order to really force myself to "step through the irreversible door," I figured signing up for a half-marathon and telling people I was going to do it would make me more accountable towards my resolution.  I like the 13.1 mile distance because it's long enough to be a hard endurance event without it being so hard as to require a lot of specialized training.  

First things first, I had to find a race.  I wanted the race to be close to graduation because I'm still not sure what I'm doing after graduation and I wanted my fitness to peak around that time.  I also didn't want to travel too far for a race, so I limited my search to Southern California.  With those parameters, I ended up deciding on the OC Half-Marathon on May 4th.  That gave me about 17 weeks to prepare.  After a little research, I found a 12 week training plan that I like here.  I wanted a few weeks of "building up my base" and figuring out my pace before I got really into training.  Since I was starting out 16 weeks before my race, I named the first few weeks -3 to 0 to show that they are preparation weeks.

So, this was all four weeks ago!  Somehow, I've managed to stay on track and have only skipped one planned run!  They say it takes 21 days to form a habit (which is probably not true, but whatever) so I've definitely made it past that first hurdle!  I feel like every day it gets a little easier to go out and run.  It's also been extremely encouraging to see myself improve.  I made a spreadsheet to track my runs and it's really awesome getting to see myself improve.  The first week I had to stop and walk in the middle of my runs, but now I ran jog a whole six miles without stopping!  I took a screenshot of my spreadsheet so you can see how I'm improving here.  

Surprisingly to me, I've found that I really enjoy running.  In the past, I've always given up on running and expected that I would hate it.  Now, I put on some good music from Spotify and spend a good 45 minutes to myself thinking and reflecting.  As an introverted only child, I've never minded time to myself, and I find the time alone quite enjoyable and relaxing.  Additionally, the increased fitness is definitely a plus.  I already feel better and more energetic and I'm only 4 weeks in.

All this progress so far has been really encouraging and motivating but I still have a long way to go.  My next goal is to break through the jogging/running barrier and cut another couple minutes off my average pace.  We'll see how much I can shave off before the half-marathon because I also need to focus on my endurance.

Anywho, I'm becoming a runner!  It's been a lot of work but I actually enjoy it so that has made it a lot easier.  I'll continue to post updates as I get closer to race day!

Monday, February 10, 2014

I wrote a paper!

Hey!  I wrote a paper (shock!) about the Challenger O-rings and I thought it was interesting enough to share.  It was supposed to be an analytical essay in which we "Choose one object and in a 4-6 page essay consider the object as both a representation of its class and as a unique artifact in its own right."  The essay was supposed to "describe your object in a way that engages its complexities and reveals its richness—you should learn something new as you write this essay and you should teach something new to the reader."

Check it out here and let me know if you learned anything!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Magnificent Rose Parade

This year we decided we wanted to get out of snowy St. Louis for New Years and decided to spend the day in Los Angeles!  My parents both flew out and stayed with me in my apartment.  It was fun having my parents stay with me, especially since it was the first time they had seen the apartment since I moved in and a lot had changed.  I picked up my parents on the 31st early in the morning of a beautiful, crisp day.

On a totally unrelated side note, I happen to love the view when coming off the 105 E onto the 110 N when driving home from LAX.  On a clear morning, you get a great view of the downtown skyline straight ahead and the Hollywood sign off to the left.  Beneath is a great view of the complex concrete structure which supports all the myriad freeways.  At the same time, it reminds me of the beauty of civil engineering and the excitement of a vibrant, urban city.  But I digress.

I'm not entirely sure how they managed it, but Ethan's parents arrived just on time around 6:15 in the morning.  Somehow, they left San Diego at a grisly 4:30 am and were still cheerful when they made it to Los Angeles.

 Ethan and his brother getting ready to go to their seats. 

We arrived around 7 am to make sure that we got into our parking spot before they started closing the roads.  The parade started around 8 but didn't reach us until about 9:15.  Our tickets were in one of the scaffolding grandstands near the end of the parade route.  This turned out to be a great decision since many people had camped on the street the night before in order to get their seats!  As it turned out, we were a few feet above the ground and ended up having a great view of the floats.  We took a few early morning shots before the floats showed up.

Here we are standing at the front of the grandstand with my mom, Ethan, me, and my dad from left to right. 

Ethan and I early in the morning before it started to warm up. 

When the floats finally showed up, they did not disappoint!  I've always enjoyed seeing the parade on TV but the images really cannot compare to seeing them up close.  Not only are they extraordinarily intricate, they smell amazing!  Each new float brought with it an amazing new cornucopia of smells.  My favorites were, not surprisingly, the float with giraffes on it and the wine float.  

My personal favorite float - giraffes made out of flowers!! Incredible!

A close second for favorite float.  Stellabrate! 

After the parade, we went to see the floats up close at a local high school.  It was great getting closer to the floats but it was really ridiculously crowded.  For those wishing to see the parade in the future, I would recommend waiting until early the next morning to go.  By the time we got to the floats, I couldn't believe how much it had warmed up!  The forecast predicting a high of 81 was not kidding around.  I was wishing I was in short sleeves like my better prepared mother.

 A rare photo of my mom and me together.  The weather was amazing!

Overall, getting to see the parade was great fun!  I'm really glad I got to see (and smell!) the floats up close and personal.  Now that's two years in a row I've traveled for NYE - who knows where I'll be next year!