Sunday, August 2, 2009

A trip to the White House

I had a great time visiting with my parents during their visit down to DC last weekend.  I wasn't sure whether to relax and take it easy or go crazy with touristy trips all weekend, but I think we managed to strike a good balance.  Friday, after a long and eventful trip to the city, my parents got to come to my work BBQ at CEQ.  Van Jones was out on vacation with his family, but I was able to introduce them to most of the rest of the people I've been working with for the past few weeks, all of whom are great.  After that we took a trip down to 8th Street to Banana Cafe, one of my favorite places to go out in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  Almost every night of the week Gordon is upstairs jammin' on the piano to any song you can throw at him - anything from the Beatles and Billy Joel (just don't ask him to play Piano Man!) t0 R. Kelly and TLC.  
Saturday we took a trip to Eastern Market and wandered around enjoying the afternoon.  My dad bought me one of his favorite books - Chesapeake by James Michener.  I've got a stack of books that I've been meaning to get to but I'm really looking forward to that one.  Saturday night was a bbq with the housemates.  Since we travel so much it's rare that we're all in town at the same time, so we were thankful for the opportunity.  The menu: hot peppers and fresh baked bread, corn casserole, and chicken, beef, and shrimp kabobs.   
Sunday we got off to a slow start but covered a lot of miles in one day!  We headed up to the National Buildings Museum to see the 'Washington: City of Symbol' exhibit, which displays the history and design of the city and the first planners' attempt to balance between DC's place as a national symbol, an ever-evolving city, and the center of a government by the states.   I would recommend this free exhibit to anyone who comes to DC.  I also really love the actual building structure inside the Buildings museum itself.  It's a huge open space with enormous pillars and gorgeous detail.  What really gets me is how incredibly tiny I feel when I'm in there.  It's just such a different, fun feeling.  

Next we were off to the White House for a tour of the West Wing.  While I'm at my current job I am allowed to take people in during off-buisiness hours and give tours, and this was my first one.  I'll admit, I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to do this, but it was even more exciting than I had expected just being able to walk around inside the White House grounds.  I think we were all in awe.  This being my first tour, I brought a map and a print-out that explained a little bit of all of the rooms we were going to walk through, but somewhere between the gates and the three security checks we lost the papers!  I was feeling pretty bad about this since I didn't really know anything at all about we were looking at, but luckily we were right behind a nice boy giving a tour to a young married couple.  After trying unsuccessfully to eavesdrop on what he was saying for a few minutes, we politely asked if we could listen in, because clearly he knew a lot more than we did.  I'm so glad we did this!  As a secret service emergency responder, he's been giving tours for three years, and really knew his stuff.  We walked to the Rose Garden (couldn't go out because the Obama girls were outside playing), the Navy Mess Hall, the Cabinet Room, the Roosevelt Room (used to be called the Fish Room), the Oval Office (so beautiful), and the Press Room (a lot smaller than I expected).  We learned about Norman Rockwell's four historic pictures on the wall (worth $.25M each), the carpeting and desk in the president's oval office, why Obama puts fruit out in bowls instead of flowers (healthy eating model), what it's like on the weekends (jeans finally okay) and when he brings his kids in.  Unfortunately, we were only allowed to take pictures outside the White House and in the Press Room.   With enough notice I can take anyone in so you might just have to come down and see for yourself ;)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Zip-line - Wheee!

I wish I had more time to post but I've been awfully busy lately.  For the past month or so I have been attempting to try and do one new thing every week.  Last week it was a trip to the H Street district, which we've been meaning to get to for a long time.  This week I was feeling both curious and adventurous and found a place in Maryland that does zip-lining.  I have heard more about ziplining in places far more exotic than right outside of DC (Costa Rica anyone??) but I've never done it before, so why not?? LA agreed to come with me so we experienced the zipline and the giant swing together.  I was somewhat surprised by the adrenaline rush, especially climbing the ladder, crossing the rope ladder, and jumping off!  We enjoyed a nice cool beverage with a new friend immediately after at the Rams Head Tavern and called it a day.  It was the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.  
Next time we'll definitely have to go back and try the ropes course - it goes around and up (and up..) four separate levels in all sorts of obstacle paths.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 4th Wedding Weekend

I had a few days to transition from old job to new, so I decided to spend a few days at home in western PA while my sister was in town for Jennie's wedding.  In addition to spending a few late nights together, my family also managed to get out for a family golf day.  I've got a lot of improvement to do on my game but this was really fun - even in the rain! 
Luckily the rain stopped in time for the fireworks show Friday night.  Ever since the Tara cancelled the annual fireworks show there's been NO fireworks for Independence weekend, until my mom stepped in and lead an effort for the past three years to organize a fireworks show from Hermitage Middle School.  This year there was a DJ instead of a band, which (despite initial hesitations and doubts) worked out fantastically.  He played all the traditional dance/wedding songs, but instead of a bunch of adults he brought all the kids out - it was so cute!  I even went out for the Cha Cha slide, albeit reluctantly :)  Check out a few pictures from the party.   
Saturday was a perfect day for Jennie and Andrew's wedding.  Sunshine, low humidity, beautiful setting... it was wonderful.  We danced, I got to see a lot of people I haven't spent much time with lately, and everyone had a great time.  Check out the pictures from golf, the fireworks, and the wedding.  

I think I've been out of town more than 50% of the weekends these past four months so I think it's time to slow it down.  I'm looking forward to spending this weekend here in the city, just cleaning and catching up and relaxing sounds wonderful at this point!  

New J.O.B.

Well, not exactly a new employer since I still technically work for DOE, but I started a six month detail with the White House Council on Environmental Quality yesterday.  I'll be working with Van Jones primarily on energy efficiency and what he calls 'green jobs'.  Van Jones is an amazing speaker and pretty visionary person so I should hopefully learn a lot from him.  Plus I'm pretty excited for a glimpse at a whole different area of the government.   And, since I'm used to talking about renewables, I'm also looking forward to learning more about energy efficiency, which usually provides huge immediate payoffs both for return on investment and climate change goals.  It feels a little strange to be pulled completely away from what I've been doing for the past nine months, but I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually.  I'll really miss working with all the people from the geothermal industry outside of DOE, that was one of my favorite parts of my job.  It's amazing to think about how much I've learned in such a short time there, and this makes me look forward to how much more I'll have learned from being somewhere totally new for that period of time.  
I moved offices over to the old townhouses at Jackson Place, and share an office with three nice people.   I just started sharing an office back at DOE last week too, but I'm finding that I really enjoy it.  I feel like I'm in grad school again: I can sit and read something and then immediately have someone to discuss it with.  Then this person can tell you if you've got it right or you're way off and have no idea what you're talking about, which will help since I don't know anything yet! 
So, that's where I'll be for the next 4, 6, or 12 months... who knows.  Apparently this means I can give tours of the West Wing so maybe this will encourage more people to come down and visit me?? ;) 

Monday, July 6, 2009

A little here and there

I haven't been keeping up with my blog lately and I wonder if anyone even still reads this?  I'm always pleasantly surprised when I talk to people who comment that they like reading my posts.  But then again, no matter what the topic I always enjoy little regular updates on my friends' blogs.  When I moved to DC I started writing here for two reasons: to capture my new experiences in the city and to keep my friends and family updated on what I was up to... without having to call/email/text/write/facebook/visit each of them as much as I would like to be able to.  I've never really considered myself a writer but for the most part I do enjoy the process and coming back and reading over my journals after months or years have gone by.  And now that I think about it, the two original reasons I had to blog still hold true today.  I may be approaching the year mark in this city but there is so much I want to do and see.  I have recently started a new approach where I commit to doing one thing each week that I've never done before.   In such a big city this certainly isn't going to be that hard, but at least it's a fun way to challenge myself to think of new ideas and get out and try new things.  For example, last week I went and finally swam laps at the free community pool.  It's clean and right in my neighborhood!   It reminded me that swimming is a great way for me to clear my head and get exercise in some way besides running and cycling.  I'm happy I finally went and definitely want to go back more often!

I'm sure I'll reflect on this more over the next few months, but speaking of the one year mark, this year has been a huge adjustment time for me.  Without the independence I enjoyed in grad school, it's been hard to fit everything into my day and regain a sense of balance and control in my life.  I'm working on it... but I'm not quite there yet.  I'm working on accepting the fact that I can't have the structure to my life that I used to enjoy.   My free time outside of work is drastically reduced, and travel, friends, fun, exercise, family, surprises... they all need to make up a part of the rest of that time in a ratio I'm comfortable with.

Hmm.. I'll stop with the seriousness for the day.  I meant for this to be an update post but I'll just save that for later.  I will leave you with a picture from this past weekend's wedding festivities of me and my siblings.  


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pictures from Colorado

It seems that I have established a reputation for bringing bad weather to Colorado with only two trips under my belt.  However, I did manage to see some awesome sights and tour a few new spots in the city, so here is a link to some of the pictures.   
One thing I learned is that there are real dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Ridge, right outside of Denver.  Unfortunately the access road was closed, but we'll definitely check it out next time.  

Watch Tom on Wheel of Fortune

A fellow Penn State EMS student and my successor as Student Council Secretary, Tom Sabatelli, made it on as a contestant for Wheel of Fortune!  Tom managed to keep his fate a secret until the show aired last night.  Unfortunately I was driving and had to miss it, but I was able to watch the excitement on YouTube and wanted to share in case anyone else wanted to see how awesome he did on the show.  It's worth watching all three parts... Yay Tom! 

DONT Smile for the Camera

When I got my last government ID, I was shocked that they wouldn't let me smile for the picture.   A recent article on MSNBC reported that Virginia drivers are also restricted from showing their smiles on their licenses.  After looking it up, I learned that this is to make pictures more compatible to face-recognition software that, although it is constantly improving, still requires smile-less expressions to make an identification.  Even without smiling, I just don't know how reliable this software would be for the applications they intend to use it for.  Interesting stuff...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dropped into the Desert, Part II

Well, I survived the speech and the city of Las Vegas, although I'd never recommend anyone travel there alone.  The presentation actually went really well, considering it was my first public talk since joining DOE.  I was nervous at first since this was a group of electric utility co-ops and the only part of geothermal they were interested in was heat pumps, but they were a laid back group and I was able to make some new friends while I was there.  I also learned a lot about heat pumps and the electric utility industry, and was surprised to discover that the two go together really well.  A great deal of government money is currently available to do both large and small projects with geothermal heat pumps (GHPs), and co-ops are ideal for trying out new technology/ideas, innovative financing models, and large scale demonstration projects.  The 30% tax credit makes them essentially on par with other HVAC devices, plus they are more efficient, run at a a more consistent temperature (i.e., more comfort) and save literally tons of greenhouse gases.   With the right policy incentives the efficiency and greenhouse gas aspects are what could finally push GHPs over the edge towards greater market penetration.   There are a lot of barriers to overcome (e.g, high first cost, few qualified installers, lack of knowledge from policy makers and the general public) but I think things could really change this time.   For example, if the Climate/Energy Bill passes and we have a national Renewable Portfolio Standard where saving energy counts, heat pumps will play a major role.  Moreover, GHPs could also be major contributors towards reducing peak electricity and gas loads (meaning lower power prices).   I’ll stop with the work talk, but unfortunately I don’t have much to report in terms of fun in Sin City.  I was feeling an illness coming on and with all the traveling I have to do over the next 2 weeks I really didn’t want to overdo it, so I slept a LOT.  

This week it's back to Nevada to Reno for a conference paper review, with exactly one day of  un-traveling between visits.   The upside is that it looks like we'll finish early tomorrow and I'm thinking this could mean a trip to Lake Tahoe for the day.  Tomorrow's forecast says 83 degrees and partly cloudy and it's only 30 miles away... how can I resist??  

A few weeks ago we celebrated Jennie and Nikki's upcoming weddings in typical fashion with a girls night out in State College.  I think it's safe to say it was great to be back and we all had a blast.  I haven't posted pictures in awhile so I'll post some here of all the pretty girls. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dropped into the Desert

I walk into work on a normal Monday morning and before I can even turn on my computer, my boss signals for me to come into his office.  “Are you able to go to Las Vegas today and give a speech on geothermal heat pumps tomorrow morning?” he asks. “Sure,” is all I reply, with not the slightest idea what I am getting into.  I have enough time to download the slides, send a few quick emails, and check the weather in Nevada (97 degrees and sunny!) and six hours later I’m on a plane.  I’ll be back Thursday with enough time to go to work on Friday to catch up before my next flight out to Nevada on Sunday – Reno this time, and then off to Denver for a few days before heading back to PA for Memorial Day weekend.   Whew!  Getting up early tomorrow to give that speech... not even enough time to be nervous.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunny Sunday

Today was the most relaxing day I have had in a very long time.  On a perfect sunny 70 degree day, I really had nothing that I had to do.  For the past few weeks I've spent my Sundays in the car driving back to DC, so this was a welcome change.  After sleeping in I walked lazily over to Eastern Market for my weekly stop at the vegetable stand.  My inner voice kept telling me to make my lists and start "doing things" until I realized how neurotic this was and cut myself a break.  I found a chair at the coffee shop while a band played music on the corner, I wrote in my journal and started my book club book, "Brother, I'm dying".  The rest of my day consisted of catching up on the phone with my sister and my parents, heading to the park with LA and laying on a blanket in the sun, grilling chicken for a salad outside on the deck, and playing with baby Byrom.  Rested, relaxed, and only slightly sunburned, I am ready for bed.  Not a bad way to get ready for the week :) 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Adding some graphics

I haven't taken or posted many pictures lately so here are some from Inauguration weekend

I'll also include some here from Missy's superbowl party, just for decoration :) 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Playtime in California

Here I am, back in San Francisco for a weekend of personal time before a geothermal conference at Stanford on Monday.   I'm staying at the same hostel that Dawn and I stayed in last March because it's so affordable and in such a great location, right near Union Square.  My own room, own bathroom, free wi-fi, free coffee and oatmeal in the morning, friendly people - what more could I ask for? I love spending time in this city.  It's nice to be back to familiar territory and hardly even need a map.  
I was afraid the rain would get me down but since I arrived yesterday afternoon everything cleared up.  Did you know that the sun always shines when I come to San Francisco?  If you take me camping you are guaranteed to have a near-tornado experience with lightning and maybe even some hail, but if you take me to San Fran the forecast is for sun :)  
So far everyone has been SO nice, which is a relief because I am traveling alone.  My friend from work was supposed to join me, but he ate some bad peanuts in a trail mix and is stuck back in DC with salmonella eating bananas :(   I was slightly distressed about this as I left the airport, but it feels good to move to my own beat.  This weekend is a lot less busy and scheduled than my erstwhile trips - since I've done most of the touristy things already I'm just planning to enjoy myself.  I went down to the Embarcadero to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, walked to Pier 39, hiked up to Coit Tower (never did this before!), strolled through the little Italian cafes in North Beach, and cut through Chinatown on my way back. This weekend they are celebrating the Chinese New Year, so the whole place was packed.  I was feeling a little claustrophobic so I didn't hang around too long, but stopped for sushi on my way back.  This is the second time I've had sushi since arriving yesterday and it might be the only thing I eat while I am here this weekend!  I've hardly had any these past few months so I'm going to get my fill while I can.  I haven't really felt like taking pictures but I'll post a few here from my walk just for some visual effects.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

the amusing highlights of my workday

George Bush decided that for security's sake, everyone needs a standardized personal identification card, so I am called in from work to get mine set up.  I was not made aware that I'd be taking a picture and was not having a good hair day.  Worser yet, I wasn't allowed to smile!  I looked at the photographer incredulously and she says, "well you can smile... but you can't show your teeth".  Seriously?  Apparently smiling changes the attributes of your face and showing the whites of your teeth changes the whites of your eyes... who knew?  I can't remember the last time I didn't smile for a picture, and I'd like to think that I smile enough that this looks more like 'me'.  For some reason this whole scenario was hilarious to me and I kept laughing, making it almost impossible to get a picture.  I'm sure I ended up with some kind of scrunched up, silly, half-scowl and half-grimace face on my Official Standard US Identification Card but at least we know why.  

Later on, an official correspondence letter lands on my desk, handed down from my boss.  We get these all the time, where people write in or email the Department of Energy and we have to write a response.  The reply is printed on fancy D.O.E letterhead, copied, documented, and filed away before it is mailed.  I normally don't mind writing them but this particular letter is from a senior in high school in NYC taking a public policy class.  He has chosen to write to the Secretary of Energy to ask four rather difficult questions about the Secretary's position on renewable and alternative energy in the United States.  Because he mentions geothermal energy once or twice in his questions this letter gets passed to my office and passed from my boss to me.  Keep in mind that to be Secretary of Energy you have to be chosen and appointed by the president.  I'm a little in shock as I start to craft a response, and do my best to write something as politically correct as possible!  Don't be alarmed, I did consult with several people in my office and got my manager's blessing before sending it off.  And hopefully the Secretary of Energy checks it over too.  Oh what a funny day. 

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Joy to the Weekend

Hmmm, no posts in awhile so I figured I'd check in. Today is a cool but sunny Saturday, which mean I should (?) be out and about exploring the city.  Instead I've been quite content hanging out at the house and being productive around here.  My housemates LA and D are traveling, so I've had the whole place to myself since Wednesday.  I was looking forward to solo time and a little peace and quiet, but when I came home the other night it felt surprisingly... empty.  I lived alone for years (in a basement, no less!) in State College, but I guess I've gotten used to coming home to friendly faces.  I've really come to enjoy weeknights cooking dinner and sitting around the living room and unwinding with my new friends.  I was feeling a little bummed until Jesse popped in with Sky and the baby, a welcome surprise for a weeknight.  
Things have slowed down a lot around here since the Inauguration.  Did I tell you that I got to go?  I meant to post a recap of those few days and never got around to it, so maybe I'll do that later tonight.  Socially things may have quieted down but it's been crazy at work.   Everyone is running around (literally) trying to respond to urgent requests from the Transition Team for this stimulus package ordeal.  I'm not sure if you heard, but the House has 400 million dollars specifically for geothermal, which all comes from our office.  Our little office, which now manages only 20 million.   It's a little hard to grasp (I'm still not used to talking about money in millions) and we are literally scared of what this means.  If this indeed passes, what it means is that we have to a) put a LOT of thought into how to spend this wisely, b) spend it FAST, which is more difficult to do than it sounds, and c) justify everything we do, how many jobs it creates, etc.  It's exciting to be involved in the process and I'm learning a lot.  It amazes me how quickly certain things can change in government while other simple things can take FOREVER.  
Last night I went to see Thievory Corporation at the 9:30 Club, a place I've been meaning to check out for awhile.  They played a great show, which inspires me to see more live music here in DC. 
I'm traveling back to the west coast on Friday, so today I'm doing tasks to put my life together - aka, laundry, dishes, sorting mail, grocery shopping.  For me this is always extremely therapeutic.  I'm trying to figure out what to make for Missy's superbowl party tomorrow.  There will be plenty of I.C. Light and pierogies, so I'm thinking about sharing some of the hot peppers and making banana bars.  They aren't exactly Pittsburgh-esque but I'm thinking I can doctor them up with a little yellow food coloring in the cream cheese icing :) I am excited to watch the game with some Steelers fans.  I'm off to the store now...  Steelers here we go!