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February 26, 2006

Ice Skating

I stepped onto the ice for the very first time today as we went ice skating in the center of DC at the Sculpture Garden ice rink, right on the National Mall among the interesting sculptures. While I'm not quite ready to bend like a pretzel, as the Olympic skaters have done recently on TV, I didn't do that bad. I didn't fall (though came close several times) and was able to make my way around the rink with relative ease. It was lots of fun.
View more photos...

February 21, 2006

Islamic Relations with the West

How can the Islamic world and the West live together? We went to a video-conference discussion of this topic with students from 7 sites at schools in 4 countries. Read more to find out what we learned... For our Monday holiday, we woke up early to travel to American University in DC for a special international videoconference on relations between the Islamic and western worlds. It was a miracle of modern technology as 7 sites from schools in 4 countries participated (Qatar, Jordan, Ivory Coast, U.S.) and we could all see and hear one another at once, live via video. The moderator from the Brookings Institute wanted to get a brief discussion of the Muhammed cartoons out of the way, but they ended up being a main focus of the discussion. Nobody liked the cartoons on any side and nobody thought they were appropriate. Absolutely nobody endorsed the violent reaction, with all Islamic countries insisting that the riots represented a tiny fraction of the Muslim world. Nonetheless, american schools reported reacting with some surprise that the cartoons drew such ire while the Islamic countries reported that it reflected their impression that much of the west did not treat Muslims with respect. Some of the interesting questions raised:
  • Is there really freedom of hatred? Is this something we should support?
  • What is the role of economic hardship in discontent throughout the Islamic world?
  • Around the world, how do we deal with the balance between preserving tradition and the evolving secular?
  • Does the US support of Israel, which is a religious state, violate our separation between church and state? (While this is a question raised by some of the Muslim students on the conference, my friend Ori points out that it is an argument without merit: Palestinian Arabs make up 20% of the Israeli population, hold citizenship, vote and even have parties in parliament with representatives. However, no Jews are allowed in any Arab country, cannot hold citizenship, cannot vote. Israel is a democracy that respects religious pluralism. The interesting question is, "Why did the islamic students bring this up?")
Some of the most important things I went away with:
  • Overall, the muslims of the world feel like the West does not respect them and dehumanizes them.
  • Many Muslim-Americans often feel like America is a Sharia-compliant environment. Partly because it is justice-based.
  • Democracy has firm roots in Islam, largely because they are both founded on the principle of justice. However, the exact definition of the word justice is hard to pin down and may not be the same in both.
  • Islamic countries seem to have substantially higher voter turnout (often >80%) than most developed countries such as the U.S.
  • Violence is the only thing making front page news. Is this conference on Islamic relations on CNN? Things like this are happening all the time.
  • Western leaders are only focusing on the violent reaction to the cartoons, Muslim leaders are only focusing on the duhuminazition in the cartoons. Both need to change.
  • The world should not be divided into "East" and "West" -- it is divided into "stupid people" and "intelligent people" which appear among all groups.
  • The popular phrases "Islamic extremists" and "Islamists" should not be used. The "Islamic" adjective does not apply because there is nothing related to the teachings of Islam about them. From now on, I am going to try to use the unmodified description: "extremists" and will save the word "Islamic" for describing things that are truly "Islamic."
  • 87% of Indonesia is Muslim, but they do not have Sharia because they acknowledge that they are a diverse country with a range of religions.
  • Denmark has denied permits for Mosques to buy their own property or start an Islamic burial site. Danish Muslims cannot be buried inside their own country and must be flown to their ancestral homelands. (I have not fully verified these statements, but they are also reported in the New York Times. In a sense, it doesn't matter if the statements are true -- the well educated and thoughtful students in Islamic countries believed that they were true, so we need to address the problem either way).

February 19, 2006

Sunday Walking

An adventure walk through Arlington cemetery, the mall, and the public library... We woke up and got organized around the house. Then, I began my big adventure for the day. I walked through Arlington Cemetery, following the path that L showed me last week, on my way to Pentagon City mall. I was on a quest for new shoes, though I'm afraid all I ended up with was a few pairs of new underwear and some socks that turn out not to fit me. As consolation, I treated myself to a wonderful chocolate chip cookie with Macadamia nuts.After shopping, I made my way on the Metro back past our house and out to Ballston to get a library card. It was quick and easy, and I went right to work by checking out a bunch of books and two DVD's on Egypt, so that we can begin planning our trip better. We spent the evening video chatting with L's parents (including a video tour of our apartment) and catching up with them. All-in-all, a very pleasant day.

February 18, 2006

Second Week

Sunday, 12 Feb 2006

We woke up to a winter wonderland...

Sunday, 12 Feb 2006

We woke up to a winter wonderland. Several inches of snow blanketed the ground, but by 10 am a good portion of the roads near our house had been plowed. L promised me a special morning walk, and led me outside the apartment and through the snow (sidewalks were still covered in snow, and we had to blaze our trail in some spots). We walked across an overpass, which by this time was covered in a dirty slush. Every time a car went by, it splashed a huge amount of dirty, cold water onto the sidewalk. We timed things just right to avoid any cars. On the other side of the bridge, L told me to look up and I noticed the famous statue of the US Marine's Memorial celebrating the battle at Iwo Jima and other battles since then. The larger than life soldiers struggled to hoist the flag pole in a scene that looked even more dramatic as they battled against the Washington DC snow (not very realistic for Iwo Jima, but it added to the effect of a struggle).

We then crossed into Arlington National Cemetery. It, too was covered in snow and we had to blaze a trail through the powder to walk along the paths that L had apparently explored on a sunny day in the past, though they looked much different now. We pondered the rows and rows of tombstones, each topped with a fresh layer of windblown snow. It was very powerful. We explored along. At one point, L wondered who a particularly tall headstone belonged to. We didn't want to walk out to it across the other graves, but our binoculars allowed us to get closer to it and read that it was none other than William Howard Taft! While it was on the map we received a bit later, it was so much more interesting to have L discover it. We also used our binoculars to admire a beautiful hawk that flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree. As a fan of both hawks and hummingbirds, it was nice to know that Mrs. Hawk had made the trek across country to visit me! We stopped by the National Women's memorial on our way to the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was still quite snowy, so the cemetery was not very crowded. When we arrived, we were the only ones there except the guard on duty, who stared straight ahead (at us?). He went through his routine, pacing back and forth, only to pause in silence at each end of his journey. It was very moving. Eventually, his replacement came (along with several other bystanders) and the cycle resumed. We stopped by the eternal flame burning over John F. Kennedy's grave. He has a truly dramatic spot, on a hillside looking over the Potomac.

We eventually made our way back to the metro stop, went shopping at the nearby grocery store, and came home after a very full day of journey.

See our photos...

Monday, 13 Feb 2006

Back at work for another exciting week.

Tuesday, 14 Feb 2006

We woke up well before dawn on Valentine's morning. L has been volunteering in the local homeless shelter/soup kitchen, Miriam's Kitchen, each week before I arrived. This morning was the first time I got to join her. We took the metro and found our way to the shelter. Some of the clients were already lined up outside the kitchen when we arrived, and they directed us to the correct place to start cooking -- interesting how they knew the drill yet we were there presumably helping them. It was a hectic morning. L got put in charge of cooking up pancakes for 250 people, and I was quickly drafted onto the fruit salad team. Pineapple and Kiwi were labor intensive fruits, and I enjoyed chatting with the two veteran fruit salad makers as we frantically chopped to get things ready in time. As a first-timer, I was given the honor of working on the serving line as we opened up. I was in charge of syrup (a touch of sweetness to go on L's pancakes :-). Some of the guests were enthusiastic and some of them were stone-silent, perhaps still thawing out from the cold overnight on the streets. From a purely selfish standpoint, I really enjoyed the preparation and the teamwork. Everyone was working very hard, putting their heart and soul into making that breakfast (and making sure that it would get on the table on-time).

The day was uneventful, but we went out to dinner with L's friends from work. It was amazing the conversations we had -- all about energy policy, economics. Everyone at the table made a contribution, and most seemed really excited to share ideas with like-minded compatriots. A perfect way to spend Valentine's!

Wednesday, 15 Feb 2006

After work, I met L at a "climate change mixer" -- an event at the science museum affiliated with NAS designed for young professionals in DC to meet and discuss the current facts about climate change. I had some very good conversations with different people.

Thursday, 16 Feb 2006

It was beautiful here -- I even ate outside for the first time (and without a jacket). Not quite as fun without my favorite lunch bunch (I haven't yet met anybody that takes a lunch break around here), but still nice to see the great outdoors and bask in the sunshine. Unfortunately, that may be my first and last day for a little while because it was sprinkling when I left for work this morning and may have small snow flurries tomorrow morning.

Friday, 17 Feb 2006

I had a nice time out to lunch with several other people at work for Friday Sushi. It was nice to meet with people and interact with them for a change.

I met Loraine downtown after work and we headed to a Malaysian place near Farregut Square where we partook in Vege-duck. Very tasty!

Saturday, 18 Feb 2006

We spent most of the day planning our Egypt trip and watching the Olympics. Who knew curling could be so fun?!?!

We decided late in the day to try to get last-minute tickets to the Capitol Steps, political satire musical theater that I fell in love with during high school and have enjoyed listening to ever since. It was very exciting to be able to see them perform in person, and from the Ronald Reagan building here in our Nation's capitol no less! We weren't sure if they would still have tickets available, but we showed up as soon as the box office opens. We got some of the last remaining seats and then headed upstairs to a nice place called Aria for a very efficient light meal. The show was everything I wanted it to be. Very funny. It's been a while since I listened to the Steps, but the voices all sounded familiar as the original cast was still hard at work being very funny!

February 12, 2006

First Week

Blow-by-blow description of the first week.

Sunday, 5 Feb 2006

Flew out late night.

Monday, 6 Feb 2006

Arrived at Dulles airport and took the shuttle to Riverplace. Just as I was pulling up to the entrance to my new home, L was walking out of the building. She looked stunning with her new haircut and dressed nicely. She helped me get my stuff to the door and then kissed me goodbye so that she could run off to the Judiciary committee meeting hearing. I unpacked -- it felt very good to have a place to put things after spending the last several weeks putting things into boxes and the last week living out of a suitcase. I walked to the metro and arrived downtown to visit her. We had lunch at a nice Thai restaurant and then I went home for the afternoon. I met her again downtown in the afternoon where we went to the American Enterprise Institute. We heard a talk on educational statistics.

Tuesday, 7 Feb 2006

My first day of work in Reston. The commute went very smoothly.The best part is that the metro runs every 6 minutes and the bus I transfer to runs every 12. This is a far cry from the Dumbarton Express, which made me wait a full 70 minutes if I missed my scheduled bus. Unfortunately, they are cutting back the bus schedule to once every half hour starting next month, but that should only affect me for two weeks.

My office in Reston is very large (probably about twice the size of a regular office in 3A, but has an unfortunate lack of windows. I have to sign in as a visitor every day and have my stuff x-rayed, which is kind of annoying. Apparently, they have to do a background check on you to give you a badge, and that is too costly to be worthwhile for a visit that is less than six months (so they claim -- I don't think they consider the cost of me standing in line at the visitors entrance for 5 minutes a day, which starts adding up).

After work, I took the Metro to meet L and her friends at a tapas bar. It was a lot of fun meeting them. It was fun because Loraine had told them about me, and it was also neat to meet new people with interesting backgrounds.

Wednesday, 8 Feb 2006Thursday, 9 Feb 2006

Twice today, people mentioned to me that this was, "the calm before the storm." It was starting to get a little cloudy, but I didn't see what was worth being so melodramatic about it. I eventually figured out that the forecast called for snow sometime in the next several days. This, also, did not seem worthy of being melodramatic -- I had been scared into thinking that it was freezing cold and blizzard-like on a regular basis on the East Coast. Apparently, Washington DC is different. It's regularly cold, but only snows a few times each year. And big snows cause big problems. We'll see.

Friday, 10 Feb 2006

Made it successfully through my first week of work without any major incidents..


Lhad been staying up late for the last several days (weeks?), so she just wanted to have a relaxing day on the weekend. So, we sat around and watched TV (a novel treat for me -- our apartment has TWO of them!) I watched outside the window regularly to watch the gentle sprinkles eventually turn into a beautiful falling snow as the afternoon cooled off.

We had purchased tickets to the Alvan Ailey Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center several weeks before I arrived in DC. L took me to the gym in our apartment complex where we did a quick workout together on the fancy machines. Then, we changed into our nicest clothes and hopped on the Metro.

By this time, the blizzard had begun. Snow was flying horizontally and the wind was arctic. We made our way to the Watergate Hotel, located across from the Kennedy Center. We couldn't resist the opportunity to dine at such a historic locale. It was beautiful looking out the window onto the snow coming down across the Potomac. We made our way over to the Kennedy Center for the show. It was absolutely fantastic. So full of energy! The dancers were graceful, the movement flowed so wonderfully and with such perfect timing. Most of all, they made all of it look easy and smoothe, even though you knew that they were working hard and that it took incredible strength. A fantastic evening!

February 6, 2006

Where in the world are we?

We are now in Marin County, California.

Read our itinerary...

L recently started a new Job at the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They are working with the Japanese equivalent of NASA to build a new satellite to observe the sun. They hired L to go to Japan for about one year to help operate the satellite once it gets launched. Basically, it's like a giant camera with a zoom lens. She helps decide what to point the camera at and what sort of shutter settings to use to take each photo.

Not wanting to be left behind, M will go along for the ride. He will work as a "Visiting Professor" at the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute. The title is a bit misleading, as he won't be teaching any classes -- just doing research. There are lots of earthquakes in Japan, so this is THE place to be!

All of our work will be done in English, but we have been taking Japanese classes. We can say a few things so far, but we expect every part of life in Japan to be a true adventure!

We'll return to the US several times throughout the year, but don't know exactly when. Stay tuned!

February 5, 2006

Our Crazy Itinerary

Where in the world are we? Find out here: Want to know where we'll be when? It's a crazy next several years!
Now - March 18: Washington DC. L is working at the National Academy of Sciences, M is working at the USGS headquarters in Reston, VA. Mar 19 - Mar 21: Milan
Mar 22-Apr 5: Solar Physics Conference, Cairo
Apr. 6-9: National Science Teachers Association, Anaheim
Apr 10-21: 1906 Centennial San Francisco Bay Area
May 19: L's Graduation. Berkeley.
May 27: Brad's Wedding. Marin.
Jun 1 - Sep 1: Boston. L will work for the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. M will tele-commute with his current job at the USGS.
Jun 16-18: Family Reunion, Kansas City
Jun 17: Chip's Wedding, St. Louis
Jun 25-30: Solar Physics Conference, New Hampshire
Sep. 3: Judy & Ben's Wedding, Bay Area
Sep 5, 2006 - Sep 2007, Japan. L's job will take her to Japan on and off for one year. She'll be helping operate a satellite called "Solar-B." M will go along for the ride, working as a guest scientist/visiting professor at the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute. There are lots of earthquakes in Japan, so this is THE place to be!
Alternating 3 months in Japan, one month in Boston
If this went as planned, it would be something like this. I do not necessarily expect this to go as planned:
Sep - Nov Japan
Dec Boston
Jan - Mar Japan
Apr Boston
May-Jul Japan
Aug Boston
Sep 2007 - ???, Boston

About the nest

The window above my desk in the cottage we lived in when we first got married had a splendid view of a plant that hummingbirds seemed to love. Actually, it was one hummingbird in particular, Mrs. Hummingbird. She came to visit me at my window several times a day while I worked on my dissertation. When I was finishing things up, I discovered her nest on my way to school. I visited her there daily, watching her sitting on her eggs and eventually caring for her two tiny hatchlings. I watched them grow up and fly away, all in the period of a few weeks! (See photos here). Since then, I've taken frequent walks around the neighborhood watching all the hummingbirds and observing their habits.

We've moved on from that neighborhood, and over the next few years I feel like we'll be flying around as busy as a hummingbird. So, it seems appropriate to name my first blog after Mrs. H.