Tuesday, December 23, 2008

playing catch-up

hello to anyone who still might be reading my blog!  yes, it's been awhile.  we've had internet troubles again at the house, but these are finally fixed and so i'd like to get back into blogging.  as a start... it's been a hectic few weeks and there's a little too much to catch up on, but here are some highlights as to what's been keeping me busy:

- a surprise trip to see spring in gettysburg, and visits from dawn, sarah, and warren.  all of these visits were wonderful and i am so thankful for these (and other) special people in my life. 
- nighttime tour of mount vernon (george washington's estate), sunday runs on the mall, and a trip to the museum of natural history.  (if you go there, be sure to check out the nature photography display, it's quite good)
- movie nights, house dinners (i cook, they eat), and late night dance parties at our place.  i really enjoy our house -  we've been taking advantage of the space and also exploring the neighborhood a little more.  there are some great restaurants right down the street allowing me to recently discover an appreciation for belgian beer and cuban cuisine :) 

in the new year i'm looking forward to:
- a trip home for christmas and NYE in DC
- experiencing the city during the inauguration.  not sure that i will get tickets, but i AM keeping my fingers crossed to go to the renewable energy inaugural ball ;) 
- running a half marathon with Lee-Ann in the spring
- a second trip to San Fran for a geothermal conference - hopefully with more free time
- book club with the girls
- checking out more of what D.C. has to offer.  next on my list is the IMAX theatre, ice skating at the mall before the winter ends, visiting the buildings museum, the newseum, and some photography exhibits. 
- becoming involved with some volunteer activities

and, if i have it my way, i'd also like to:
- travel to northern france to see their geothermal demonstration site (this was promised to me a few months back, but we'll see if it materializes)
- visit my brother during his study abroad in england
- visit shelly in texas
- do a work rotation in colorado?

it's an optimistic list but it fits my mood at the moment. more posts and pictures are coming soon. i hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season! merry christmas!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

the education of a co-ed household - (the LBD)

It's a typical Sunday morning.  Jesse, Lee-Ann, and me are all sitting around in the living room discussing our holiday plans for the week.  Lee-Ann starts talking about a taffeta dress she may wear for New Years Eve. Jesse is clueless about taffeta, but curious.  LA brings in the dress for show, displaying the taffeta fabric.  Then she comments about her little black dress (the LBD).

Jesse: What's a little black dress?
LA: You know, the little black dress.  Every girl has a little black dress.
Jesse: Oh.. Nicole, do you have a little black dress? 
Me: Yes, of course I do. 
*thoughtful pause*
Jesse: So, if a girl wears a little black dress out with me on a date, that's a good sign that she likes me, right?
Me: Hmm, well no, not exactly.  Actually she's probably just wearing it for her, to make her feel good about herself. 
LA: Agreed.  Now, if you've been dating a girl for awhile and she wears her LBD knowing that you like it, that's a very good sign. 
Jesse: Oh... right.... 
Jesse: So... then you wear it for special occasions?
Me: No, that's the point of the little black dress.  You can wear it for any occasion. 
LA:  Like a party, a wedding, a funeral, or even to work.  Yes, it's all in how you accessorize.  
Jesse: Right... got it. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back in Cali

So for work I get to spend a week in my favorite place to visit in the U.S. - northern California.  Every time I go there I get to experience new aspects of the San Francisco bay area, all of which have been fantastic.  This was the fourth time I've been there in the past three years and yet every trip has been so different.  This time being there was interesting because it caused me to think a lot about each of those trips and where I was in my life at that time compared to where I am now.  That usually happens when I travel and that's one of the reasons I like to get out of my usual routine and environment. I can think a lot. 

This time I get to see the world's largest geothermal field, the Geysers, and some of the sites for our field demonstration projects.  We started our trip this afternoon with a trip to Sausalito to visit Altarock, one of the newest and most sophisticated geothermal companies around.  Their office was gorgeous and the dinner we had that night at a local italian place was amazing.  Walking along the sidewalk you can look over the water and see the lights of San Francisco.  It's no surprise that people pay big $$$ to live there!  Unfortunately, the hotel we stayed at was not so posh... an old-fashioned charm, at best :) Fortunately we were only there one night.
Actually, we were at practically every hotel only one night which meant I was unpacking and packing up every morning.  

The field visits to the Geyers was amazing.  We got a tour from Joe, the resident geologist at Calpine.  He first gave us a presentation in the office which almost put himself to sleep.  Clearly this was not his interest.  However, as soon as he took us out into the field you could see his energy rise.  The more questions we asked the more excited and lively he became.  What was supposed to be a two hour tour turned into a seven hour excursion all around the area.  We climbed up hills and dug through rocks learning the local geology.  We saw and old cinnabar (mercury) mine and even found a few rocks to take home.  We also got to see some of the surface manifestations of a geothermal site - the fumaroles.  Fumaroles are basically just hot steam jets coming up to the surface.  I couldn't think of a more beautiful site to put geothermal power plants, and I can't believe how much we learned!  Check out the pictures here if you want to see what we saw out on the mountains.  

You will notice in the pictures that I have changed the color of my hair!  I have been thinking about making this change for awhile and finally just decided to do it.  It's only hair.  I have received mixed emotions about this decision, some love it and some just can't get used to it.  I'm not sure if I will keep it myself, but it has faded even from last week and who knows?  Sometimes I miss being blonde but I might like to settle on something a little more natural.  Any thoughts?

Terminal Ramblings

In light of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I just want to express how thankful I am to be at the Pittsburgh airport. I have been to, from, in, and out of so many airports these past few months.  Although I don't mind flying or even hanging out in terminals reading a book every once in awhile, there are obviously better ways for me to spend my time.  
I am sitting in the airport silly amused over little things.  I am amazed at how easy the signs were to get here, and more in shock with why other airpots don't follow suit.  Despite the fact that it is the Sunday after THanksgiving, I breezed through security and had a lovely woman help me locate my ticket number during check-in.  And can you believe they have FREE wireless internet throughout the airport? And plugs, plenty of accessible plugs to recharge your electronic devices.  I've tried to find these outlets at other airports only to discover that they are strategically placed in locations that charge you several dollars to power up.  And finally, right by my gate is a post office.  I'd been carrying several cards and bills that needed to be taken care of and was able to quickly get these out of the way with the help of an extremely social and pleasant post office woman.  I feel guilty for not knowing her name. 
All of these tiny little pleasantries make me happy to be flying today and I don't even mind not getting a snack on the plane.  I know this charge irritates a lot of travelers, which is why I don't understand why the airlines don't just sneak in an extra dollar or two in the ticket cost to cover a snack?  No one would notice a dollar difference in their 400 dollar plane ticket, but they sure do notice when they have to fork it over on the plane for some stale cookies. 
My silly blog on the positives of an airport (keep in mind I got up at 4:30 AM) is evidence that these nice things add up and can really make people feel good.  In the age of convenience people really do not want to be inconvenienced, and this is probably a lesson that applies way beyond the airline industry. 
In the area of renewable energy, I think this means that people simply do not want to be bothered with the details as to how they are able to run their business or talk on the phone, they just want it to be easy and they'd like it to be green.  And they just want someone to make it happen or tell them how to do it, in plain english.  Just like the airport signs, they know where they want to go and they don't se why it has to be so darn hard to be shown how to get their.  
That's all for now - I think my flight is departing on time!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Real Estate

The parallels from State College = Football with D.C. = Politics are amusing to me.  For example, people here play drinking games at the bars to go along with political debates/events shown on TV.  I was never business-minded enough to capitalize on my prime location (downtown, near the stadium) and rent out my apartment at PSU for big football games.  However, I would have to be crazy not to at least 'consider' taking advantage of my new locale during Inauguration week here in January.  It looks like people are renting out rooms, and their entire houses, for thousands of dollars.  Thousands!  Just check the going rates on Craigslist or eBay.   

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama is president

As Election Night 2008 comes to a close, I can hear people running and yelling in the streets, honking their horns, celebrating the announcement of a new president, a new beginning for our country.  I knew that Obama would easily take D.C. but was surprised to see him win an amazing 92% of the votes in the District!  It was also interesting to see that (when polled) almost every country internationally favored Obama to McCain about 3 to 1, so I hope that the opinion of America will begin to change in the eyes of the world.  
Fortunately, I made it out of the polls in about 30 minutes.   Kudos to anyone who took up to three hours out of their day to stand in line and be counted after this long and grueling election season.  THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered to work the polling stations to make the voting process as pleasant as possible for the voters today.  Despite the long lines and the hot, crowded gym at 7:30 AM, I was greeted with cheerful smiles and enthusiasm, which is always a refreshing way to start the day!
I also want to take a minute and recognize/thank the hundreds of thousands of young people who volunteered as part of the Obama campaign.  Many of you I know personally.  Many of you took time out from schoolwork and work to help support this cause.  You got up early many Sunday mornings to make calls, knock on doors and speak to strangers, not to lecture them with a speech template but to have open, honest conversations on the relevant issues we face today.  You worked tirelessly for no financial reward.  
These aren't the people who want to sit back and watch the system work FOR them.  These volunteers, thousands of them, worked hours and hours to see their dream come true.  Not because they wanted life to be easier, they just wanted it to be different.  
To see it all come together tonight, to watch Obama make history, as he gave his acceptance speech, I was proud of the work he has done and especially proud of the efforts of our voting citizens to make it happen.  I hope that he treats this honor and responsibility with every bit of energy and sincerity that he has shown throughout his campaign.   
I have the utmost respect for John McCain and I have no doubt he has the ability to run this country well.  However, I am excited to see the new direction that our country is heading under our the president elect, Barack Obama.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A day but a whole year older

I want to say thank you so much to everyone who took time out of their day to send me their fabulous birthday wishes.  All I really wanted today was to hear from all of you and I got my wish :)  I am so lucky to be surrounded by a loving and supportive group of friends and family - I really couldn't ask for more.

Not only did I get lovely messages, but a gorgeous package came to me while at work today.  I am not big on extra birthday attention caused by such gift items, but it was extra special in that it came all the way from the other (under) side of the world - Australia!  Well, the chocolate covered strawberries came fresh from DC, but the love came a far distance and it definitely made my smile.  Thanks Spring!  And, you couldn't help but notice the pretty balloon sticking up from my cubicle, so I didn't even have to tell anyone that 26 years ago I was born today ;)
For the occasion, a few office mates haphazardly organized a potluck.  Since no one confirmed that we were actually having the lunch I didn't make my apple cake.  And yes, I am more than happy to make cake on my birthday.  I always find reasons to make apple cake.  But I didn't want to bring it and make everyone else feel guilty for not bringing lunch, so only one person brought food, and his contribution was the rice.   Several of us had a 'potluck' around my desk which consisted of... indian basmati rice with peas (brought in this morning, cold), mixed with my standby lunch can of black bean vegetable soup (again, cold) and/or Franks red hot sauce.  Nothing fancy, but very cute and more I could ask for in the company alone. 

This weekend I got to spend some time with both my brother and sister, which was really nice.  I love coming back to western PA in the fall.  The leaves have almost all fallen off the trees but they still have color; in DC they've hardly changed.  Despite the score, Shell and I (and friends) had a great time at the Steelers game on Sunday, with the pictures to prove it. 

All this traveling has me exhausted, so I'm looking forward to spending some time here in DC to recharge.  Does anyone have a good halloween costume idea?  I was thinking about being '"Josephine" the Plumber (haha) but I think I want to go with something a little... prettier...?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day trip to Boston

I love Boston! And I got to go there for work this weekend.  I love it's oldness, and how pretty it is there... the buildings aren't too tall, there is so much to do, so much culture.  I guess these aspects are what I love about DC too, so it's similar... but different :) 

I got off to a bad start by missing my plane but caught the next one and went straight to MIT.  MIT hosts the 100K Challenge, a contest where entrepreneurs and engineers showcase and develop their new ideas in a competition made up of three parts: the Elevator Pitch, the Executive Summary, and the Business Plan.  Each of the three parts has it's own separate contest, and yesterday was the Elevator Pitch Competition.  Since the DOE sponsors their Clean Energy Prize, I got to volunteer as one of the three judges in the Energy Track. 

So here's how it works: each person has 60 seconds to "pitch" his/her idea to the audience and the judge.  No props or visual aids are allowed.  After the pitch, the judges have 30 seconds for questions before they quickly score the contestant and on it goes to the next pitch.  It all hapens VERY rapidly, especially as I was trying to understand what their brilliant (and quite technical) ideas are all about and then trying to ask concise, substantial questions after the pitch in order to score them fairly.  There were about 20 entries for the energy track ranging from a device that makes spare parts for oil rigs on the fly to a "green" way to produce silicon for solar cells. 

The winner of each track goes on to the Final Round later that night, where the ten best ideas are pitched again in front of three new judges and a packed auditorium.  No one knows who has been chosen for the final round until their names are called.  If it's called, they run down and just GO.  It was great.  

The second winner for the energy section was the last person to be called in the final round.  He gave a phenomenal pitch that earned him a huge round of applause from the crowd, plus the $5,000 prize.  His idea was a design for an ultra-capacitor (similar to a battery) that sores energy so that stop-and-go electricity sources, such as wind turbines, can provide a steadier flow of electricity.  Since one of the major disadvantages of wind turbines is that they are intermittent, his design could revolutionize the industry and a lot of other applications. 

So many of the students had brilliant ideas that really could work.  But not only were the ideas good, the people were wonderful.  I got to talk about ultra wide band radio waves, people developing solar panels in Africa, and RSS feeds I can use to gather more energy news - it was awesome.  I can't tell you how many energetic and motivated entrepreneurs and scientists talked to me about their passion for clean energy and asking how they can get involved.  There is already so much going on at MIT that I think they're on the right track, but I'd love to find more ways to interact with them.  I made some great contacts on the education side, and I'm hoping to come back in a few months and judge the Executive Summary and Business Plan sections.  It will be great to see how many of these ideas evolve and take form.  

It was a gorgeous, sunny, cool fall day in Boston but unfortunately I spent the day indoors and didn't have much time to walk around the city.  I did however get an added bonus to meet up with my cousin Matt, a talented aspiring actor just starting his freshman year at Boston University.  The rest of his family was in town and happened to be staying at the same hotel!! We went out to a restaurant where I had my first ever bowl of New England Clam Chowder (delicious...) and watched the Boston Red Sox win.  Good stuff.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Well, I didn't get to watch the debate in a public place, but i think staying at home was better because (although the crowd reaction would have been amusing)I actually got to pay attention to what was going on.  I liked the coverage by CNN - with the split screen showing both candidates, and I also loved the real-time graph tracking the impressions of men and women.  For one thing, it was interesting to just to see the difference and how the opinions merged and diverged.  It seems like obama's cool nature appeals more to women, whereas mccain's abrasive personality turns them off.  Plus, the technology aspect is fascinating to me.  It's like watching pro football, where ever move is tracked, recorded, and calculated - which simultaneously improves the game and engages the viewers.   The amount of thought that goes into a campaign is mind-boggling.  I can just see it now - huge offices packed with statisticians, crunching numbers, all frantically and meticulously trying to figure out the key phrases that appeal to the audience and the gestures and words that should be omitted from now on. 

Although the commentators insisted that the 'Joe the Plumber' reference was effective, it was clear that women got annoyed with it after hearing it probably more than seven times.  Who is Joe?  Doe he have children?  A wife?  Ten employees or one?  I don't know, but tonight... he's famous. 

I think this was one of the best debates, although I didn't get to watch 100% of the others.  
I really also liked that Washington Post online had a 'fact checker' website so that viewers can go and quickly find reliable data to refute or backup what the candidates said during the debate.  

And of course, I couldn't help but notice that McCain mentioned wind, tidal, solar, and biomass as key energy issues, and Obama continues to mention wind, solar, and geothermal.  Although I don't know much about it yet, I'm pleasantly surprised that tidal energy got mentioned, and I think that tidal energy is going to receive a greater share of attention in the renewables vocabulary in the very near future.  But. although the words sound good, you can't just IMMEDIATELY start drilling offshore and building nuclear power plants tomorrow.  Just the amount of time it takes to get the permitting puts these project start dates probably at least ten years away from now.  It's not that we shouldn't be thinking about options, it's just that we have to be realistic and understand that, sadly, the best answers in the long run are not usually the ones that improve the immediate financial situation or show price reductions at the pump.
That's all I have to say about that.  I dont care who you vote for, just be sure to vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the first sweet tastes of fall

What a the perfect weekend to be outside!  The weather here in DC is still pretty warm - sunny and mid 70's, and fortunately I was able to make the most of it.   Although the temperatures are similar, the difference in humidity from Reno to D.C. is unbelievable!   I am hoping that once the temperatures drop a little I'll be able to enjoy the crisp, fall air that I look forward to all year long.  I know I say this all the time but I love fall - LOVE it.  My roommate Dennis keeps complaining about "all those people who try and put pumpkin into everything just because it's fall".  Well, I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into when he met me, because I am the worst culprit of them all.  I love that such a healthy, orange, robust vegetable (that's really a fruit?!) manages to merge so well into about a million foods and recipes: oatmeal, muffins, soups, pie... I think someone said it right when claiming I am the 'Bubba Gump' of pumpkin... after broccoli :) 

I had been complaining that I've hardly been able to enjoy the restaurants here in D.C. since I've moved about a month ago.  Eating at home has been a great way to save money, but it was fun to get out this weekend and sample what the neighborhood has to offer... Greek on Friday, Mexican on Saturday, and Chinese Dim-Sum for Sunday brunch (after our flag football win).  Unfortunately, Mexican cuisine is NOT the city's forte, and most of the mexican restaurants are actually Salvadorian.  But you can usually get both, so next time I'll order something more adventurous (and appropriate) than the chicken fajitas.  I never knew this, but Chinese dim-sum is where they bring dishes, prepared family-style, around on carts to your table - you just point to the ones you want and they give them to you.  It's fun and I'd recommend you do it with a small group of people for a Sunday brunch. However, I'm not so sure I'd do it again...  I'm a little too reserved when it comes to chinese and prefer to stick to chicken and broccoli :) 

Saturday night I went to my first professional soccer game!  The U.S. team played Cuba in a world cup qualifier game at RFK stadium.  We had really great seats and I wish I would have had my camera for some pictures of the U.S. winning 6-1.  Unfortunately for Cuba, they were two players short.   Two men from the team disappeared from the hotel before the game and are believed to have defected, which means they take off the moment they get a chance when they are able to get out of their country.  I guess this happens a lot and last time Cuba came here they lost about seven players. 

Monday we took a day trip to Annapolis to check out the city and visit my friends Brandie and Matt.  I've posted some pictures here but enjoy the rest from this link.  For lunch I had steamed and seasoned shrimp and a bloody mary Annapolis Style (i.d., with Old Bay seasoning).  Unfortunately most of the bay area was closed off for the sailboat show and we were too stubborn to pay the 16 dollar entrance fee but managed to find some space near the water at the Naval Academy right next door.  Lee-Ann and I each found great hats at Hats In The Belfry - adorable and perfect for walking to work when the mornings get a little cooler.  We had drinks at the Chart House, which is a gorgeous (yet slightly pricey) seafood restaurant with amazing windows that look out onto the waterfront and the boats in the harbor.   We hopped onto the water taxi to meet Brandie and Matt at the Ram's Head Tavern, which had an awesome outdoor patio, live acoustic music, and a phenomenal happy hour.  Apart from my car getting locked in the parking garage at the end of the night, all in all it was a great day, and a perfect way to end an active, yet enjoyable, three day weekend.  

Tomorrow night is the last of the presidential debates, and I'm looking forward to watching it here in D.C.  Most of the bars in the city get big crowds and have specials as they cover the event, and viewers can pick a democrat, republican, or bi-partisan location.  I think we'll go neutral but no matter what it should be an entertaining way see the debate!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Into the Nevada Dessert

Today was our last day in Reno.  We've been here for over a week,  so I'm definitely ready to go back to the East Coast.  It's been mentally exhausting meeting so many people!  I managed to make a lot of really good contacts, especially on the education side, so I'm excited to see what happens after the conference.   Speaking of education... it looks like I may get a chance to head up to Boston next weekend to judge the energy track of the Elevator Pitch Competition at MIT.   I love Boston, so I'll gladly spend a Saturday up there for "work" scoping out new ideas for university challenges. 

We took a field trip out to two other geothermal sites this afternoon located about 60 miles from Reno.  I posted some new pictures at the end of the geothermal album.  When we drove closer to the site we were overwhelmed by the smell of... onions!  The most common industrial use for geothermal energy is food dehydration, and we happened to find an onion dehydration site.  (I can only imagine what it must be like to come home from work every day... ) 

Unless you're a geologist, there's really not much to get excited about at a geothermal plant. However, getting away from the city was awesome!  We had fantastic weather again today - warm and dry with big clear blue skies and hardly any wind.   The dryness is a welcome change from the DC humidity and driving through the dessert reminds me how much I love the mountains... it's a good thing we're leaving tomorrow or I might never make it back! 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

To the Big Little Town of Reno, NV

I've been in Reno, NV since Thursday for the National Geothermal Conference.  Geothermal energy has been receiving much attention lately from new investors, the federal government, and even Google, so the excitement level here is high.  Google recently made a big announcement for major funding for the next generation of geothermal energy, called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), which the DOE is also strongly supporting.  I got to meet the Google.org president today, who is very cool and just how I'd expect the 'Google guy' to be, but I'm also meeting a lot of other really interesting, intelligent people and learning little by little along the way about how things work in the industry.  Even though I know it's not an "academic" conference, I am amazed at how political this whole business is... but geothermal's a big deal to the western states and especially to Nevada.    

On Saturday I got to see my first geothermal power plant in Steamboat just 15 minutes away.  It was a lot of pipes and such, which I would love to explain to you here but in the interest of time (and your attention) I'll spare the nerd-talk :)   But if you want, you can check out the pictures.  Our team gets to go on site to another well on Wednesday, which is actually the location of the project I'll be managing, so it will be helpful to have something to compare with. 

Here in Reno I'm sad by how flat and spread out everything is.  There is nothing to do but gamble (which is not really appealing to me) but I will say that it's gorgeous out here in the west.  Looking out of my hotel window you can see evidence of the year's first snow out on the mountain tops just right outside the city.   My favorite discovery thus far is the quiet (albiet, man-made) lake I circled on my early morning run.  I was stopped by the fragrance of lavender and juniper bushes growing all around, a scent I recognize from potpourri and body sprays but not ever from nature.  The desert yardscapes are also very cool. 
Lake Tahoe is only about 45 minutes away and Yosemite National Park is a little over a two hour drive - It's killing me to be so close! I really hope I can make a trip out there. Yesterday was really my only hope until my supervisor encouraged me to stick around the hotel in case I need to be in meetings (which I didn't...) but I haven't given up yet.

Tonight we're off to a little Mexican place called Beto's, where I enjoyed my first ever fish taco the other night. Michael and I discovered it on Saturday night and now we're taking the rest of the work crew.  It's very small and one of the most authentic mexican places I've ever been, so I hope they like it too.  No matter what, I'm sure we'll all enjoy a night away from the hotel casino scene.   

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Miss my blog

I have been neglecting my blog lately.  This week I've had no internet at home.   For those of you who've actually been reading I promise to do a better job of keeping up :) 
Last week was my first full week of work and it got a little crazy.  It's been somewhat difficult to get into a routine but thinking about it... I guess it's because I really don't HAVE much of a routine anymore, with the exception of going to work every day.  I'm usually home by six, so I feel like I have quite a bit of free time to work with and I'm just not use
d to this yet.  Which is pretty lame, I know, but I'm getting used to it.  However, I don't think I can expect it to get that much more comfortable, since I'll be traveling for work and don't expect things to "slow down" anytime soon.  

I do love my DC neighborhood, but there are aspects of State College life that I miss.  I don't have the community here in DC that I was able to establish outside of grad school in State College.  At Penn State I spent a lot of time avoiding doing work in the lab.  Which translates into a lot of time spent either: at a coffee shop, taking long walks at night, or hanging out at the gym.  So far, even though the neighborhood is adorable, I haven't found any cozy local coffee shops near my apartment.  I haven't joined a gym or found a yoga studio.  And, although I consider my neighborhood to be 'safe', it's probably not smart for me to take off on my own at 10 PM at night to walk for an hour in an unknown direction.  

My job... so far I love my job.  It started out pretty well, the people have been great, and it keeps improving now that I have more and more on my plate.  My boss put me in charge of the new educational effort for the geothermal program, which is a dream for me - I have a lot of freedom to take this in any direction that I want.   Our office is small, but we're on the same floor as the other renewable programs (wind, solar, hydrogen, biomass) - who all have contractors working for them.  The contracters are mostly all young engineers so I think I should be able to build somewhat of a social circle through them without having to also work closely with them every single day.  

My family met up at PSU to tailgate for the Illinois game last weekend.  The weather cooperated and, as usual, we had a great time. It was the first time I've ever come back as an alumni! I must say, it was kind of fun to come and invade someone else's place for a change ;) Here's some pictures from the weekend. I caught the rainbow on my drive back to DC - it was amazing and I'm so glad I had my camera handy.
Alright... nothing earth shattering but that's my update.  I just arrived in Reno, NV for a conference so I'm sure I'll have better pictures and stories to share soon!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Thousands have lived without love, no man without water"

Saw the movie FLOW (For Love Of Water) this past weekend at the E Street Cinema.  FLOW is a documentary on many of the serious water issues our world is facing today.  I know that water is a serious issue, but I feel that, unfortunately, it's very hard for the average American to grasp the level of seriousness of the problems we're facing, and the consequences that water quality issues and water shortages can bring.  Similar to climate change: how can the human mind grasp such a huge problem?

Unfortunately, I don't think the movie helped matters.  I was slightly disappointed in their approach; either show more issues in an organized and strategic fashion (instead of skipping around from country to country), or focus on one serious issue that can be explored and learned about so that people can be informed on what they can do.  To me, the movie left you with a helpless, slightly confused feeling.  If you want the spoiler, the final request of the film was for viewers to support a new article to the UN on water (explained below).

However, one pretty amazing thing about seeing the movie was the panel Q&A that was held after the film with 4 professionals who are active community members in the pursuit of accessible, clean, and affordable drinking water in the Washington DC area.  It's not that the discussion was mind-blowing, it's just that I am used to academic audience and now everyone asks about policy.  Having these opportunities makes me happy to be in the city.  I don't know how politically active I'll become, but I do want to learn something while I'm here.  We haven't gotten too deep into policy with my job at work yet, so for now it's fun.  

So, I'll do my part: If you believe and want to support Article 31, which states that "everyone has the right to clean and accessible drinking water, adequate for the health and well-being of the person and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic cicumstance" you can sign the United Nations petition here: Sign Article 31

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Into the Routine

I start work tomorrow.  Woohoo!  I'm actually temping with a consulting firm that supports the DOE Geothermal team until my clearances go through, but I'll be in the same office, earning the same pay (with full benefits) so it's fine.  More than fine, I am ecstatic.  I've had a rough time this week trying to remain content with not going to work.  It's not that there aren't plenty of things to do here in the city, it's just that I've been off for about two months.  I am ready to start DOING something with myself.  

I found a new art class here in the city that runs for seven weeks every Wednesday night for only five dollars, total, for everything.  Check out ArtSpace on my links.  They've got everything from pottery to photography to drawing, and all the instructors are experienced yet kind enough to donate their time.  The program isn't offering watercolors, which I just got into last year, so I'm taking drawing.  I always wanted to take drawing.  We're using charcoals, which somehow I wasn't expecting.  I managed to leave with an entire arm covered in black, and only minor black smudges on my nose and upper lip.  It's pretty clear that I wasn't born with a natural talent for charcoals but I'm hoping to see gradual improvements from week to week.  If nothing else, it's a great way to unwind and put the rest of my thoughts aside for a few hours.  

That's all for now.  I actually have to get up early tomorrow morning :)  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gym Woes

I found a gym that is less than one mile from my apartment.  And it is one of the best gyms in DC. However, it costs $97 per month.  Yes, per month.  That is about what I paid for an entire YEAR at Penn State for fantastic fitness facilities.   The salesman gave me a free pass to check out the gym for a few days and the fitness classes I've been to are really good.  But... that's a lot of money.   I still need to check out other gyms in the city, and there are probably some close to my work (that maybe offer a government employee discount), but it's still going to be expensive.  I've been running outside and that seems to work for me, and the weather should stay nice for quite a while, so it's probably not necessary.  

But I love the gym.  I love going to classes.  Cycling, aerobics, kickboxing, yoga - everything.  I love sweating and agonizing with a group of people around me who are mutually miserable and yet elated to be there.  I love smiling at the people I walk by and getting to know the regulars who show up at the same time, even if it's not on a first-name basis. It's a way for me to feel connected to the world, to my neighborhood, to other people who care about their health and actually enjoy working at it.  For me it's fun. 

My dad used to tell me that working out was an investment.  Put in a little now and get a lot out down the road.  I agree with this, but I could be doing other forms of exercise - and also making a financial investment with that 100 dollars each month.   I'll have to think about this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

City Bike Tour

Today was an fantastic day to be outside.  Low humidity, with temperatures in the upper 70's - a welcome break to the tropical 80's we've experienced since I've arrived here in the city.  I thought that taking a bike ride would be the perfect activity for the day, with not being able to work yet and all. Using my bike would at least make me feel better about storing it in the living room!  

I needed to go to the Dept of Energy building downtown for fingerprints, so I ventured down Pennsylvania and Independence and, to my surprise and dismay, there were no bike trails, no bike lanes... nothing.  I figured that a town with such a phenomenal public transportation system would have at least made some accommodations for the bikers, but this is not so.  I am disappointed and do not think that I'll be biking to work as I had originally intended, but at least we do have a great metro system. 

I rode (slowly and carefully!) all they way to the Department of Energy building to get fingerprinted, which was quite an educational experience.  I learned that they do not even use purple ink to take fingerprints anymore - it's all done electronically.  All I had to do was roll my fingers over the scan pad and it was done.  Painless and no mess.  In the lobby downstairs I stopped to browse an exhibit on the Manhattan Project, which was fascinating.  I read the original letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt that relayed information on the recent discovery of nuclear fission and its ability to potentially create a real weapon of mass destruction.  I was amazed to see how this enormous scientific discovery directly influenced WWII and the entire world.   

Here is where I will be working, which is only one block from the Smithsonian museums: 

Once I arrived at the Washington Monument I was able to catch some bike trails for several miles.  I figured I would bike until I was too tired or too lost to go anymore.  I found a small trail around a pretty lake (I think it was Tidal Basin) and stumbled upon the FDR memorial.   From the lake I had a view of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. The city was also laid out such that I could see, clearly between two buildings, the US Capitol.  

Can you see it?

This is not the only time they thought about point-of-view when laying out the monuments and walk spaces.  At the FDR memorial I turned around and was in a perfect place for the next shot: 

I continued my ride down the Rock Creek Parkway all the way to the Kennedy Center, found the Watergate Hotel (and of course stopped to snap a pic), then traveled across the Memorial Bridge.  I found a nice-looking trail but decided to turn around (I was still in business-like attire from my trip to the office earlier that afternoon) but considered it a pretty great afternoon.  

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend Recap

Despite the rain, my first weekend in D.C. was a lot of fun.  On Friday night, I tagged along with my roommates to a benefit/party in honor of two fellow peace corp volunteers who passed away during their time of service.  The party was at the Ghana Cafe, a west african-style hotspot in Dupont Circle.   Great music, good turnout and lots of dancing!

I stuck to the plan on Saturday and stayed inside the entire day, even though the rain ended by about 7 PM.  Hannah dropped quite a bit of rain and wind in our neighborhood, and some places lost power, but it really wasn't bad.  Our one front window did pop out though.  We didn't even realize it was broken until several hours of wondering why the downstairs was as humid and moist as a cloud - despite a functional central AC system.  Fortunately, the window landed on the couch so we were able to put it back together in one piece.  

Sunday was a fantastic day.  I woke up early to a clear blue sky and relatively low humidity, and decided to go for a run.  I live right off Pennsylvania Avenue, so I ran several blocks down and around the Capitol Building - which is beautiful. I kept going down past the Botanical Gardens, which are currently featuring some colorful and creative environmental displays in the front yard.  I continued down to and along the National Mall all the way to the Washington Monument and back.  Being able to throw on my running shoes and take off to enjoy a Sunday morning in our nation's capitol bypassing so many fantastic structures and landmarks is something I really love about where I live.  Taking the run was both soothing and exciting, so it might have to become a weekly ritual for me. 

I later ventured two blocks over to Eastern Market, a well-known flea market/farmers market in the city.  Eastern Market has been around since 1873, but the main building was unfortunately destroyed in a fire last year.  The market has moved outside and into a temporary building, so it's still quite large and fantastic.  Saturdays feature the market produce and Sundays have more arts and crafts.  I managed to restrain myself from buying several interesting pieces of jewelry and a purse, but did purchase some delicious fresh apples!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Here comes Hannah

Instead of spending my first Saturday searching for yummy local produce at Eastern Market, I'll be cooped up indoors for my first tropical storm!!  Tropical Storm Hannah is nearing hurricane strength but is expected to make landfall further south around Charleston, SC.  We're under a Tropical Storm Warning here in Washington, DC.  

In preparation for the big event (and to give me something productive to do) I checked the batteries in my flashlights and went to the grocery store to buy some big jugs of spring water. My housemates and I are planning to stay indoors, watch college football, and play some of the new games I brought to the house.  The last roommate (Charlie) left enough canned tuna to feed a family of six for two weeks - so I'm sure we'll be fine.  

Those of you who know me well should not be surprised that my first weekend spent living right near the East Coast would bring a major weather system upon me! However, I'd much rather deal with a lot of rain and wind than an unanticipated thunderstorm with the potential to bring hail and tornados.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

to be employed.. whew!

I just heard from my supervisor for the first time in about two weeks.  I have not received the official offer letter yet (yikes!), so I was seriously worried about the fate of my career with the government, and even put off making a big mattress purchase until I knew I'd be receiving a paycheck...  

Anyways, my boss said that I do indeed have a job (whew!) and that my official transcripts got lost somewhere, but they are doing everything they can to get me in as soon as possible.  Since I told her I had already moved into my apartment in DC, I may even be able to be hired through a temp agency before my clearances go through, so that I can get in and start working.  It's not that I don't mind the time off, but after this week I'll have most of my 'business' taken care of, and it's not cheap to live here in DC.  

I'm excited to start my new job!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I have arrived

I moved into my apartment today!  I live near the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market area - and I love it!! It is everything that I had hoped moving to a city would be.  My neighborhood is made up of a bunch of row houses right off of Pennsylvania Avenue.  I have three roommates and they seem great so far.  The house now has two girls and two boys - a nice balance.  They others have all been friends for awhile, so I'm hoping I fit in and we can maintain the friendly, relaxed vibe that they've had going for the past year.  

Before moving in I took a bunch of pictures of the place, which you can look at if you want.  I'll post some updated ones after I've moved in and settled into my room.  Moving makes me realize how much "stuff" I've accumulated over the years... and it doesn't make me feel good.  I'd like to try to get by on a little less from now on, but we'll see how that goes.  It never seems to register when you are buying one thing at a time, that I'm sure I "need", but after moving it out of Penn State, into storage, out of storage, and up the stairs into my apartment - I realize it!  

I don't have a parking pass so I need to move my car every two hours during the day, so I'm staying close to home.  Our internet is down so I happily walked 3 blocks to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts, assuming I'd get free wireless, but this was not the case.  I forked up ten dollars for a day pass, assuming that I'd need to take care of a bunch of business online (car insurance, etc).  After re-moving (?) my car, I decided to explore the neighborhood some more, and one block down I found the public library!!!  I was assuming I'd have to walk up the big steps to the Library of Congress (where you can't even check out books) to enjoy the library, but I found the small neighborhood branch of the public library right near my apartment.  I discovered my love for public libraries while living in State College, but far too late in my educational career to enjoy it to the fullest.  Not only does the library have free books, big flat tables, and bright sunny windows, they have FREE wireless internet.  And I don't even have to spend $2 on a coffee for the privilege of using it.  Life is good.  

From Happy Valley to Capitol Hill

I've always wanted to blog, but I haven't really found a good enough reason/topic/emotion/obsession to write about and share with close friends and/or random strangers.  I've never really even gotten into reading blogs until recently, but now I love it!  The blogs that I read usually fall into one of four categories: friends, cooking, fitness, and energy/environment... go figure ;)  I'll keep a list of my favorites on this site.  Anyways, I figured that moving to a new city, complete with new job, friends, and experiences, justifies at least a post now and then to my friends and family and whoever else cares to peek into my new DC life.   Wish me luck!