Over the past six months or so, I’ve had several friends rave about the produce department at HEB.  Furthermore, one has stated that it buys local as much as possible, which is quite attractive to me.  HEB is an original Texas grocery store that was started in Kerrville, TX over 100 years ago.  I’ve seen this genuine Texan quality drive some fierce loyalty around here.

For me, though, I was not all that thrilled with my original HEB experiences 8 years ago.  An HEB had opened near my apartment, so I would switch between the nearby HEB and the slightly further Kroger.  HEB felt like a cold, impersonal warehouse, and the people struck me as a bit on the unfriendly side.  After I moved out of that apartment, I stopped my visits.

After all these years, and after these multiple endorsements, I decided to give it a try.  Actually, I decided to give its produce section a try.  So, I started my standard Sunday shopping trip at Kroger, where I acquired most of my non-perishables.  Then I set off southward for the big new HEB store.

On first glance, everything looked fresh, so that was a good sign.  After a quick stroll without a cart, I decided to break down and grab one.

I hit the blueberries first.  They were well priced and fresh, but they were from New Jersey.  (Hmmm … no blueberries left in Texas?)  I got a pint anyways.  Next, I found the peaches.  There were at least seven different varieties of peach, including Texas Peaches that were picked fresh to eat, just like the ones I picked last year.  Excellent.  I bought six.  Quick check of the apples to see if they have my favorite, Macintosh.  YES!  Very good looking ones, too.  Next, a long line of tropical fruits caught my eye, complete with pretty pictures and descriptions.  I picked up a mango and a persimmon.  And some grapes and blackberries.

On the way out of the produce, I came across a display of fresh mozzarella, small campari tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar.  I love the fancy little appetizers with these ingredients.  I couldn’t resist.  Into the cart.

I smelled the tortillas before I saw them.  Freshly made tortillas, kept hot in big coolers.  Not only did I buy a back of 10, but I started eating one before I turned the next corner.

The meat department was expansive.  The bread shelves were pretty bare.  Then, I found the aisle with a hundred bins and dispensers of granola, trail mix, nuts, shaved coconut, beans, etc.  I must’ve spent 20 minutes admiring and debating over the winning bin.  Kroger has nothing like this.  I settled on almond orange granola, just enough to try it, and a few pralines.  (Both were very tasty).

On my way out, I came across the antipasto bar.  13 varieties of olives, peppers, artichokes, feta, etc.  It reminded me of these fabulous olives that I had in Russia.  See them in the foreground?

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It was time to checkout.  I ended up at the counter of quite possibly the nicest, friendliest service person ever.  Even the bagger lady was chipper and conversational.  They actually made me feel happy and welcome to be grocery shopping.

On the drive home, I felt conflicted.  After years of not being an HEB fan, I had just had an overall positive experience.  What now?  Do I split my time between Kroger and HEB?  Do I switch over to HEB entirely for a while and really give it a try??

What do you think?

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The one place that I absolutely had to visit while I was in Moscow was St. Basil’s.  The cathedral is what I always envision whenever I think of Russia.  It sits in the center of Red Square, the focus of picturesque winter scenes and backdrops.  It has the classic onion-shaped colorful candy-like domes, which give it the appearance of a whimsical castle.

One day after work, Edgar and I took the metro to Red Square and I got to see it for myself.  As with many things, it’s even better in person.  The colors are oddly bright and fantastical, in an over-the-top sort of way almost.

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With such a vibrant outside, I was surprised at how dark and claustrophobic the inside is.  Most of the time, when I walk into a famous cathedral, there is one vast main chamber with little side vaults and exhibits along the sides.  St. Basil’s is a series of 9 smaller cathedrals, each having high columns of ceiling and topped by a dome.  The chambers are connected with an inner and an outer corridor.  Eventhough the rooms are small, they are extravagantly decorated.

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Several nights later, we came back to Red Square and I was able to see St. Basils all lit up.  Now that was even more beautiful.

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Our trip to Russia was full of revelations and drapery discoveries.  There was, of course, the ventures behind the iron curtain.  Even better were the two 11 hour flights behind the blue curtain … the elusive and exclusive First Class airplane curtain.

This is the first time I’ve gotten to enjoy a flight in First Class.  Here’s my impression from my Saturday May 30 journal entry:

“(4:15 pm) First class rocks!  And we haven’t event left the gate yet.  I’m sitting in one of the two center seats, row 3 seat E, in a Boeing 767, wearing my complimentary red socks with my legs slightly elevated.  I’ve just finished my welcome mimosa and am eyeing the cute 8.5 fl oz Dasani that greeted me.  I’m seated in a chair with 12 control buttons on the armrest.  I could tip this seat back and sleep the trip away, if I wasn’t worried about missing more great first class perks.”

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“You know how I like little pouches and travel sized items?  Well, waiting for each first class passenger is a cute brown and red satchel with mouthwash, earplugs, tissues, lip balm, lotion, a toothbrush, and the tiniest tube of Colgate toothpaste I’ve ever seen.  I already laid all the contents of the pouch on my lap and took a photo.”

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“A few minutes after sitting down, we were greeted by our “Flight Leader”, by our names, and presented the menu for tonight.   The main course entry choices are Grilled Filet of Beef, Sauteed Shrimp, Butternut Squash Ravioli, and Roast Beef and Smoked Salmon.  Edgar ordered the beef and me the ravioli.

Now I’m snuggled up in my big beige duvet.  Cozy.”

They even had Wisconsin-made Leinies beer.

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Notice the linens, real utensils, butter dish, and wine.

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After being served a 5-course meal, I pulled out my personal TV set and scrolled through the list of movies, HBO shows, comedies, games, and the real-time flight stats.  I love first class.

The Medinas have returned from Moscow! We had a really great time, in large part to our friends Steve and Lisa who are living over there for 3 years and working for NASA.  They were key to showing us the city.

For instance, our first Tuesday in Moscow.  Now, I’m not generally the type that parties all night long, hitting the bar and club scene, no matter what country I’m in.  I’m more of a hang-out-with-friends-and-in-bed-by-midnight type.   Well, not that night.  You know what I did my first Tuesday in Moscow, Russia?  I went to a Motley Crue concert!

Edgar had gotten an email from Lisa: “Motley Crue, Tuesday night, who’s in?”  Before I know it, I’m riding the Metro with Edgar, Steve, Lisa, Brian, and Judith southward, under the busy Russian streets above, headed to the B1 club on the south side of Moscow. B1 Club - Motley Crue

When we emerged from the Metro tunnels, I saw two guys standing on the corner in black Metallica T-shirts, with studded jewelry, drinking beer.  Yep, I think I’m headed in the right direction.  As we approached the venue, the incidences of big hair, tight leopard pants, jean jackets, and Anthrax/AC-DC/Poison/Aerosmith T-shirts grew exponentially.  It was a scene straight out of 1989 big city U.S.A. (or so I would imagine).

The B1 club was exactly how a rock concert club should be:  two long bars, huge speakers, spectacular lighting effects, black pipe industrial 3-story ceiling.  Folks grabbed a few beers and we headed toward the stage.  I must stay, the Russians love Motley Crue.  The crowd was electricified.  Most of the people were probably in their teens and 20’s, but all ages were represented.  Every few minutes, another chat of “Mot-ley Crue!  Mot-ley Crue!” would erupt, complete with Russian accent, willing the black curtain to fall.

When the Crue finally played the first note, the crazy Russians rushed the stage.  As I held my ground, that low note actually pushed my cheeks back a bit and resonated my ribcage.  The colored lights flashed left and right, the lead singer flew onto the stage.  The guy next to me was jumping up and down, chanting for his favorite song.

Before that day, I knew that Motley Crue was an 80’s hair band, but that’s about it.  Steve was sure that I’d know a few songs when I got there.  Past the halfway point, I finally recognized the song “Same Ol’ Situation”, followed soon after by “Girls, Girls, Girls!”  Here’s the rough list of songs:

01. Kickstart My Heart
02. Wild Side
03. Shout At The Devil
04. Saints Of L.A.
05. Mick Mars on guitar/ Live Wire
06. Too Fast For Love/On With The Show
07. Tommy Lee prygaet v zal
08. Mother Fucker Of The Year
09. White Trash Circus
10. Don’t Go Away Mad
11. S.O.S.
12. Primal Scr.
13. Looks That Kill
14. Girls, Girls, Girls
15. Dr. Feelgood
16. Home Sweet Home

Also, I did not know, or at least didn’t remember, that this is Tommy Lee’s band until he left his drums to stroll along the stage edge with a bottle of Jaggermeister.  He was very … colorful.  He passed the bottle to the crowd, instructing them to take a shot and past it back.  A couple seconds later, he launched himself onto the crowd and surfed around a bit.  Needless to say, the audience LOVED that.

Here are a few of the photos I snapped with my iPhone from my vantage.

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Being 5′5″, I really only saw half of the concert.  If I was closer and/or taller, this is what I would have seen.

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After years of waiting, I finally got to see a space shuttle launch.

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Betsy, Edgar, Charlotte, and Chris on the NASA causeway.

In lieu of tethering our eyeballs to cameras for the main event, Edgar set up our good camera on a tripod and took a spectacular series of 50 photographs that capture the liftoff of STS-125 on its journey to Hubble.  Here’s a subset of 13 photos to give you a taste.  It’s particularly cool to flip through them in iPhoto and watch the shuttle launch off my screen.

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Soon, I plan to post a few pictures of the fabulous trip with our friends Chris and Charlotte to see the shuttle launch.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read Charlotte’s delightful series of trip blogs.  I’ve loved reading them all week and remembering the fun we had.

Go for Launch!

Movin’ Right Along

That’s How I Roll

Vacation By the Numbers

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While we were in Austin last week, we swung by my second favorite toy store, Toy Joy.  (My first favorite is Puzzle Box in Madison, WI.  My mom used to take us there when I was a kid, and I continued to visit it through college.  Great marble selection.)  Toy Joy is full of great toys for kids and adults.  On my first visit several years ago, I purchased a cheese-shaped scotch tape dispenser with a mouse peaking out.  A must-have for any cheesehead.

On this visit, we discovered that Toy Joy had expanded last year to become even better.  They added a cafe with teas, espressos, and soft serve ice cream, and they grew their selection of Japanese collectibles.  As we walked past the windows to the front door, I laid eyes on the most amazing sight … stacks of acrylic bins full of …. ERASERS!  I nearly sprinted in.  The Japanese make wonderful miniature erasers, often puzzle erasers that you can take apart and reassemble.  In particular, there is a Japanese company called IWAKO that I’ve dedicated an entire category to them in my collection.  I’ve bought most of these on eBay due to lack of known availability in the stores here.  I was wow-ed and impressed by Toy Joy that they had such a large selection of top notch erasers, some that I’ve never seen before.

I hunkered down with my shopping basket and sifted through the bins to find 27 IWAKO erasers that I didn’t have.  Small children watched me from afar.  I must’ve had a hungry look in my eyes.

The rest of the store yielded robots, cars, Hello Kitty, and animal ring erasers.  All told, I left with 70 new erasers … quite possibly the biggest single store eraser purchase I’ve had.  Here’s a photo of them all:

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On Sunday, I incorporated all of my recent purchases and updated the official eraser collection total.  As of 4/26/09, I have 3,313 erasers.  :-)

You know how the doctors office (dentist, eye doctor, etc) will send you little reminder post cards when you haven’t been there in a while?  Last week, I got my second one from my eye doctor, pointing out that I hadn’t been there since October of 2007.  Arggg.  Why can’t there just be one doctor that takes care of everything?

Nevertheless, I made the appointment for this morning.  I’d been having some issues with my contacts anyways.  If I move my eyes too quickly or open my eyes really wide, my hard contacts tend to pop out.  (It even happened once when driving down Bay Area Blvd a couple months back.  I kept it safe on my mouth until I could pull into the Taco Bell parking lot.)  I can’t remember how long I’ve had this issue, but it’s been many months.  I feel like these contacts have always been a bit flighty, and maybe it’s just gotten worse, and more annoying.  Also, I felt like my vision was a bit worse than it used to be.  And a new style of glasses would be a perk.  Wow.  Good thing I made an appointment, eh?

After the little reading test, blinky lines test, and the high-tech OptiMap retina photos, I hopped into the optomatrist’s chair for the main exam.   After the small talk, I mentionned to her my contact popping issue.  “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that.”

So, she looks at one eye, then the other, then the first one, then the second.  As I leaned forward, my forehead pressed firmly to the white strip and chin resting comfortably, she studied my right eye, then left, then right, then left.  And, leaning back in her chair,  she casually asked, “What if I told you that your contact lenses were in the wrong eyes?”

Whaaa?

“Hmmmm,”, I slowly responded. “Well, I guess I’d be surprised by that.”

“Yeah, I looks like they’re switched.  The dot has faded, but I can still see the little etching.”

Huh.  Well, isn’t that super?

Turns out my eye prescriptions are close, but not the same.  And the curvature is close, but not the same.   So she couldn’t really tell if my prescription had changed because I’ve been squeezing my eyeballs into the wrong plastic discs, or if I really needed a change in prescription.  Thus, in two weeks, after my eyes have had a chance to rebound, I’m going back in to get re-evaluated.

Can you believe that?  For months and months, I’ve been monitoring my eye motion and catching my contacts in my eyelashes as necessary.  I suspected that the contact prescription was just a little bit off.  Maybe a faulty eye measurement, or the contact should’ve been a little bigger.   All along, the problem is that I swapped the lenses.  It’s like I’ve had my shirt on backwards for the last six months, irritated day after day by the tag poking me in the chest and not doing anything about it.  For pete sake!

While I was there, she also had the technician lady put a fresh dot on my right contact lens.  I knew I would never remember which one had the dot … I needed a pneumonic.  After deep ponderance, I came up with this:

“The “i” in “right” is dotted, just like your contact.”

It’s not my best work, but it’ll do.

Edgar and I just got back from a fabulous 5-day get away to Austin.  I encountered so many blog-worthy topics, it’s hard to pick a starting point.

Let’s begin with our impromptu tickets to Broadway.  As we were paging through the happenings of Austin this weekend, my eye was drawn to the four-day showing of “Avenue Q” at the Bass Concert Hall on campus.  I’ve been wanting to see this musical for quite some time, ever since I heard that a musical full of dirty puppets had won the Tony for best musical a few years back.  I love puppets, I really love Sesame Street, and I love musicals.  Perfect.

This musical exceeded my expectations.  It is in the style of Sesame Street, with several of the characters even based on Sesame’s.  There’s a Bert and Ernie pair and a Cookie Monster-like character.  No Big Bird though.  But the songs address topics a little racier than counting to twelve.  The catchy little tune that I’ve had stuck in my head for two days is entitled “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.  My other two favorites are “It Sucks to Be Me” and “The Internet is For Porn”.  In my search for blog images and sound clips, I discovered the latter two on YouTube as tapings of the cast’s performance, as well as amazingly funny and well done spoofs using Sesame Street characters.  If you only have time to watch one, the last one of these four is the best.

It Sucks To Be Me“  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pq8PwHFhy8>

“It Sucks To Be Me (parody)” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBMAnX2qHJ0&feature=related

“The Internet is For Porn” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-TA57L0kuc

“The Internet is For Porn (parody)” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNARJPNz2CA

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Last Tuesday was a big day for NASA public relations.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the hub-bub surrounding the naming of the new ISS Node3 module.  Basically, NASA is launching another living quarters for the ISS astronauts later this year and decided to open up the naming of this module to the public.  This isn’t the first time they’ve done this.  The last time, I believe Node2 was named “Harmony” by a bunch of 5-year olds.

So, NASA puts up a poll online.  This poll attracts the attention of Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, who starts a campaign for all of his followers (his “Colbert Nation”) to write in him name in NASA’s poll.

It works.  COLBERT is the number one write in name with 230,000 votes.  NASA is faced with a choice:  name it something like Serenity (the 2nd highest vote getter with 190,000) or name their new ISS module after a US comedian.

This past Tuesday, NASA agreed to announce their decision on the Colbert Report.   Gutsy.  NASA astronaut Suni Williams gets on the show and reveals that the Node3 will be known as “Tranquility”, honoring the moon voyages to the ISS and the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.  Then, she made the second announcement:  the Node3’s new treadmill will be named the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill … the COLBERT.  “Everyday somebody will have to jump on the Colbert to work out,” she joked.  The audience loved that.   Colbert liked the outcome too.  “I think a treadmill is better than a node … because the node is just a box for the treadmill,” Colbert deadpanned. “Nobody says, ‘Hey, my mom bought me a Nike box.’ They want the shoes that are inside.”

I’m impressed that NASA was so hip throughout this whole naming deal.  Although, when I mentioned that to a NASA friend, he pointed out that NASA really didn’t have that much to do with it.  It was like Colbert handed them a shiny box full of funny hip presents and all they had to do was open the box.  Good point.

Another friend pointed out the uncertainty and potential downfalls of the verdict.  You see, the ISS currently has a treadmill on orbit called TVIS.  Let’s just say that TVIS doesn’t always work so well.  Although we all have great hopes for the next treadmill (which can’t really be any worse), it’s bound to have some problems.  It’ll be interesting to see how Colbert handles that.

Overall, I LOVE that NASA made it an acronym, and I love love LOVE that they made a matching patch.  I have got to get me one of these!

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