Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas at Jeff's House

We've been staying at Jeff's house for the past week or so, but his extended family has just started to come into town. Last night we all ate dinner together and then Jeff and I opened gifts that had been given to us, since we're headed to Minnesota later today and wouldn't see the whole family together again before leaving (Jeff's parents had to work this morning.)

Here's the Christmas tree:
Here's a gift that Jeff got for his brother - I did the wrapping. You'll never guess what it is.

Jeff opening gifts from his cousin - he got a shirt, a sweater, and a home-made scarf.
The whole family hanging out in the living room.
Jeff got his dad facebook for Christmas - here he's explaining what he set up and how to use it.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Snow Has Stopped

Sunday morning at 9:30am - it's no longer snowing. Hopefully this means the airports will open.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Not over yet...

Here's the view as of about 9pm:

And Jeff and his dad just after shoveling the driveway (for the 3rd time today).

And I baked cookies!

We'll see how much snow is there in the morning. Though my phone suggests we'll be ok by Monday...

Still going...

As of about 2:15pm:

It's Snowing!

We're currently having the biggest blizzard that DC/Maryland have seen in years. We're supposed to get almost two feet in a day and a half. In the days leading up to the storm, you'd think people were preparing for Armageddon.

People were stocking up on essentials and trying to finish last minute shopping - lines at Walmart snaked through the lines and took about 30 minutes to get through. The gas station was completely sold out of gas.

Jeff and I had a fool-proof plan to go from Baltimore up to our friend Stephanie's house in DC for a 'Tacky Xmas' party. The storm wasn't supposed to start until after midnight on Friday night, so we figured we'd get there at 9pm when it started and then leave by 11pm to beat the storm on our way back to Baltimore.

But this is what it looked like when we got to Stephanie's at 9:15pm:

So we decided to have a bit of an express-style Tacky Xmas, before turning back around and heading home.

We had some cider and brownies and took part in the Yankee Swap. (I think I might re-gift my 2010 Twilight calendar - any takers?) Jeff got this awesome grabber - 'as seen on TV.'

Then we started on the trip back to Baltimore. It took us over an hour just to get to the beltway - usually a 10 minute expedition. Traffic was pretty crazy - about a quarter of the cars just drove with their hazard lights on the entire time. Even though they were going the same speed as the other cars and they were in with the group of other cars. It's not clear how this is supposed to be helpful, and it makes it impossible for them to signal any lane changes, which seems less safe.

In any case, we made it back to Baltimore - the storm was less heavy as we got further north - I guess we were going a bit faster than the storm. We didn't quite make it all the way up the big hill by Jeff's house, so we had to do a bit of walking.

It looked like this when we woke up this morning, and it's still going strong!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Science Comedian

I came across this article in the New York Times, and I think I'd really like to see this guy perform. One thing I don't understand - how did people not find the matrix algebra jokes funny?


That's the limit...

I really enjoy keeping busy and doing lots of different things - it's fun to be working and also be in school. Usually its manageable, one thing gets busy while another is in a lull, but once in a while, everything goes crazy at once. Last week was one of those weeks.

At school, it was the last week of classes, which meant two in-class presentations, three papers due, and time to start preparing for finals.

At work, we're working to prepare our annual publication, which means lots of editing, which is time-consuming and requires a quick turn-around. I also happened to have a couple of early-morning events for work last week - I'm not a morning person, so having to be at the Capitol building by 7:30am is not ideal.

It all seemed to be going pretty well, until Wednesday when I realized I'd hit the stress limit. I had my day very carefully planned. Early telecon on campus, PhD meeting on campus, then work from home, Chinese left-overs for lunch, school work, etc. But then, mid-morning, I found out that Jeff had already eaten the left-overs. Clearly, this was a disaster. Now everything could not go according to the plan. I was convinced my day was ruined.

A little way into the complete despair caused by the already-eaten-lo mein, I realized that the issue may not actually be due to lunch, and may just be a sign that I needed to take deep breath, relax, probably take a nap, and de-stress a bit. Which I did.

So by that evening I got back on track with the work and felt much better equipped to handle things like deciding what to eat.

And clearly I've survived both the last week of classes and finals, so it all turned out well in the end!

Pooja's Visit - Two weeks ago...

Two weeks ago, Pooja came to visit Jeff and I in DC, and it was a really fun weekend, coming right as we transitioned from fun-middle-semester time to finals-prep.

Jeff and I are trying to convince Pooja to move to DC (and I think its working). She was checking out schools for potential master's programs.

One of the highlights of the weekend was the crazy blizzard we had on Saturday - though nothing really stuck on the ground, it looked beautiful and winter-y, prompting us to go on a little walk down to the White House to enjoy the view, and then led us to grab some gourmet chocolate before going back to the apartment.

It kept snowing during our walk.

This is the White House Christmas tree. The ornaments are really big.

We came across this park that I thought was really cool - it really doesn't look like it's in the middle of a city.

You can barely see the capital building in the back of this photo - yay winter weather. From here we headed straight to the hot cocoa place.

I'm Back!

As the end of the semester papers, finals, and other work started to descend on my life like ominous storm clouds, I retreated to my study-cave, which explains why I haven't posted anything in the past two weeks.

But now the clouds have parted, the sun is shining... the finals are over. So I'm back.

(Not to be over dramatic, or anything...)

More to come on some of the ups and downs of the past two weeks...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Decorating

Jeff and I got a Christmas tree from Whole Foods - our first live Christmas tree! Now it's all decorated, and we've got Santas sitting on our desk and snowflakes hanging from our lights.

Audrey Hepburn Movies!

While I was in Minnesota Annette and I got together and watched a couple of Audrey Hepburn movies - both of which I loved and would recommend.

Roman Holiday - This was Audrey Hepburn's first movie - 1953 - and she won an Oscar for her role. It's about a princess from some unknown country that is in Rome at the end of a political European tour. She skips out on the royal schedule for a day to see Rome - with the help of American reporter, played by Gregory Peck. It's a well done and cute movie.

How to Steal A Million - This movie was incredibly adorable - not at all realistic, but super cute from start to finish. Audrey Hepburn lives with her father in an estate in Paris. Her father makes money by selling fake masterpieces. The other main character, a young Peter O'Toole with incredibly blue eyes, enters the story when Audrey catches him trying to steal a painting from her estate. Somehow he convinces her to forgive him and give him a ride home. It only gets more rodiculous (and adorable) from there. If you feel like smiling for an hour and a half straight, I highly recommend checking out this movie.


I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota, and it was tons of fun! My aunt and uncle and cousins came over for Thanksgiving dinner, and we played games and watched football.

I also had the chance to hang out with my brother and his wife - Emily hosted a cookie-bake party, which was a ton of fun. Plus, now I have about 100 cookies at my house. :)

I had the chance to hang out with Annette and have a mini-Audrey Hepburn movie marathon. We watched 'Roman Holiday' and 'How to Steal a Million' - both awesome movies worthy of their own post.

I hung out with Paul Colling a couple of times - enjoyed the Friday-night happy hour at TGI Fridays, which includes $3 drafts and half-price appetizers. Not bad. I also started Paul on Battlestar Galactica, which somehow he has never seen! We got through the mini-series and two episodes of season one, but he's still got a ways to go.

As always, the weekend went by extremely quickly, but luckily Christmas break is coming soon - I'll be back in Minnesota three weeks from today!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Club - The Lost Symbol

Yep. Our book club read 'The Lost Symbol' this month. It's a national (maybe international?) bestseller, and it's set in our city. Every tourist is going to ask how to find the 'secret' buildings, so we might as well know what they're talking about.

To be honest, I've read both 'Angels and Demons' and 'The Davinci Code.' I thought they were fun, easy reads, interesting, but not to be taken too seriously. This book was the same. The plot was very similar to the other two books, which is ok, since that's about what I expected.

It actually was fun to read a book like this that is set in your own city. Lots of the highlighted sights are within just a few blocks of my house, and they do have interesting histories. Though I don't buy into conspiracy theories, I thought you could still get the 'stop and smell the roses' lesson from reading this book. It's fun to take the time to notice your surroundings and learn about the history of the city and its various buildings, and this book reminded me that there are lots of fun things still to be discovered and learned about in DC.

Craig & Patrick Visit DC

Last weekend, Craig and Patrick flew down to DC to visit. They arrived on Friday evening, and after a looong drive from BWI airport (welcome to DC traffic), we got back to our house. We ate out at Logan Tavern, which has a neighborhood pub feel and great American food - wings, burgers, etc. Then we headed out for a pub crawl to show them our neighborhood. We stopped by Churchkey to show-off our new fancy-beer bar. We walked down 14th Street, stopping in Bar Pilar, which has a great laid-back atmosphere, even on a busy Friday night. We wandered down U Street and on to 18th Street, where we stopped at Duplex. Eventually we circled back around to our house - with some live jazz at 18th Street Lounge on the way. It was a nice long walk and a great way for them to get a sense of the neighborhoods near us.

We also made a post-midnight stop at one of Jeff's and my favorite little food spots - Yum's II. It's a tiny Chinese place a block from our house with not chairs or tables and bullet proof glass. The Chinese food really is pretty good, and it also serves philly cheesesteaks, mozerella sticks, and all sorts of other American food - I'd never really tried the American food, but Patrick got mozerella sticks and they were surprisingly good. In fact, Yum's was packed when we got there - it was the only time I've had to wait in line, but the lo mein and crab rangoons were worth it.

On Saturday, we continued our walking tour of the city. We made our way around the White House to the national mall.

We saw the Washington Monument and then walked around the tidal basin - seeing the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial - both of which I'd never visited before.

After that, we grabbed a cab to the Capitol and ate lunch on the run as we hurried to make the start of our Capitol tour.

It was the first time I've gone on a tour of the Capitol building since my family visited DC in 1997, so everything was pretty new to me. The little video at the beginning of the tour was actually pretty good - it goes over the history of legislation in the U.S. - but is much more interesting than it sounds (and it mentions the NASA Act!). The Senate was in session, so we decided to be really good citizens and check out the action from the gallery. Though the chamber wasn't very full, senators from Maryland, Minnesota, and Massachusetts were all there debating health care - so we felt well-represented. We also saw John McCain speak, which was neat.

Once we'd had enough of the health-care debate, we decided to walk home along Pennsylvania Avenue. We stopped at the W Hotel to enjoy the view of the city from their roof-top bar, and then continued on to the apartment. Dinner was at Lauriol Plaza - which has amazing Mexican food - and it was even better than I remembered. In a food coma from our fajitas, we only lasted through one beer at Bar Pilar before we (yawning) decided we'd rather sit at home in our PJs. So we introduced Craig and Patrick to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" before falling asleep.

Sunday, the last day Craig & Patrick were in town, we headed to the Holocaust Museum - another DC tourist destination I've never visited. The museum is really interesting and well set-up, taking you on a path through that details, chronologically, the build-up to the holocaust, the actual policies and carrying out of the plan, and the post-war events. Since I'd never visited, I had lots to read, so it took us almost three hours to see the whole thing.

From the museum, we went for a late lunch at Ella's Woodfired Pizza in Penn Quarter - which has incredible pizza - I think we finished it in about 10 minutes, since we were so hungry at this point. For there it was a quick walk home to grab some gelato, pack, and watch a couple episodes of "It's Always Sunny" before heading to the airport.

It was a really fun weekend - I think Craig and Patrick got a good sense of the city and saw the things they really wanted to see, and I got to see quite a few things that are new to me, too. And there was lots of good food. But we also got plenty of exercise - I mapped out the walks we did over the weekend and it totaled to about 13 miles of walking.

Space Foundation Testimony on the Hill

After the Wednesday event on the hill, my co-workers and I were back on the hill the next morning, since my boss had been asked to testify to the House Science and Technology Subcommittee. He, and the other expert witnesses, talked about the status of the United States space program with regard to other countries' programs.

A number of newspapers carried stories about the event:

U.S. losing its lead in space, experts warn Congress
(Miami Herald) November 19, 2009, By Robert S. Boyd

Experts claim U.S. needs partners to maintain space prowess
(Florida Today) November 20, 2009, By Bart Jansen

2 key lawmakers dig in their heels to back NASA's troubled Constellation program Ares V

(Orlando Sentinel) November 19, 2009, By Mark K. Matthews