Monday, August 29, 2011

Let's have a contest

Speaking of light, I don't have enough of it in this corner of my living room (the corner with the yellow chair in it):

Thing is, I haven't figured out how to solve this problem.  Nothing I think of seems right.  So I've decided to open this up to my readers in the hopes that someone might have a brilliant idea.

Here's how it will work.  If you find a light fixture or lamp that I like, and which can meet the requirements detailed below, then I will buy it, install it, and post a picture with profuse thanks.  I'm open to any suggestions:  It can be from a website, some store, or even the Salvation Army.  If for some reason it's a lamp that exists only in your town, then I will coax you into sending it to me and I will reimburse any expenses.

As for requirements, here's what we're dealing with:
  • Should probably be pendant or wall-mounted -- there's no room for a floor lamp
  • Must be plug-in (no rewiring allowed in this rental)
  • If pendant, can't be too wispy and light, because the air vent blows out right above it and we can't always be doing hurricane in my apartment
  • No IKEA (which is too bad, because they have lots of plug-in pendant lamps)
Other than that, feel free to be creative.  I'm open for suggestions.  I will, however, nip this one in the bud:

No way.  I don't do kittens.

It's not easy being green!

I hate the environment.  I've been living in an apartment fitted out exclusively with super eco-friendly, energy saver CFL light bulbs for barely three months and already I've had enough!  If there were a baby seal here right now, I would hold it hostage and threaten violence until someone brought me a 100 watt light bulb.

My complaint is principally aesthetic.  They're so ugly!  Who in their right mind would ever put something that looks like this into a fixture that showed the bulb?  It's as if they drew their inspiration from the lamest balloon artist ever.
Really?  An egg-beater?
Let's see, ceiling fan? octopus? flower?
Rectangles?  Did you even try?

What's worse, even when their ugly form is mercifully hidden, these bulbs give hideous light.  There's an overbearingly yellow glow that sucks the richness out of any saturated colors (I have a deep red throw blanket that looks gorgeous in any other light, but which looks like dead flesh in the EnergySaver light).  Or there's an evil-looking "cool" shade that could never be appropriate anywhere outside of an insane asylum.  Honestly, there has to be something wrong when there isn't a single setting on my camera that doesn't try to "fix" the light in my apartment.  Canon wouldn't lie.

What's that?  Do I hear objections?  Oh, I see, you're insisting that there are actually nicely shaped eco-friendly bulbs that give off lovely shades of light.  Well, that brings me to my second complaint, which is economic in nature:  If what you're saying is true and there is actually some version of eco-friendly bulb that isn't completely devoid of redeeming aesthetic qualities, then I should be able to find it on the market (egad, capitalism!).  And by "market" I mean my local Home Depot.  But no!  I spent an hour tonight shuttling between the Home Depots in my neighborhood and found only two versions that would fit the sockets in my apartment:  "soft white" (aka, Death Ray 1) or "cool white" (aka, Death Ray 2).  So, for all practical purposes, as far as I'm concerned, there is no acceptable version of eco-friendly light bulb on the market.

The only glimmer of hope that I could find is that one brand of the Death Ray 1 bulbs was moderately brighter than the other brands.  So now my carrion-colored blanket is slightly better illuminated.  Yay.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Aftermath

Irene is gone and the weather is back to normal.  In fact, today was gorgeous, with lots of sun and temperatures in the mid-80s.  With the humidity only around 45%, it was one of the best days that we've had in a long time!

I was about to say that everything else is back to normal, too.  But then I discovered that even here, where the storm was relatively mild (it got worse as you went east), there was some damage that would require cleaning up.  A couple of the trees around my apartment building were down.

I drove around the neighborhood to see what else might have happened.  I didn't see any trees on top of houses or cars, but I did find one road that was closed.

That's all I found.  Maybe more leaves in the gutters than would be normal for this time of year, but nothing bad.  I think the bigger damage is all downtown and further east.

Hurricane Report: 9h00

The bulk of the storm passed me in the night (I'm the pink dot to the lower left).  The eye is now is now sitting on top of New York (the pink dot to the upper right).  Right now in DC we're only getting a light rain.  It feels very calm and ordinary after yesterday's stormy energy.  The forecast calls for clear skies and lower humidity as early as this afternoon.

I've been fortunate to escape the power outages.  The Washington Post reports that more than 1 million people in the area are without power, including about 124,000 in my immediate vicinity.

Hurricane Report: 23h55

The storm is still going strong.  As you can see from the map below, we're back in the yellow/orange zone.  Torrential rain and strong wind. 

I'm getting really sleepy, and I need to go to bed.  But how can I go to bed when there's a hurricane?  It's like going to bed in the middle of a party.  I feel like I'm going to miss out.  I went out on my balcony to soak in a bit more of the tempestuous ambiance, and I was tempted to put my raincoat back on and go for a walk.  That's when I realized just how inviting my bed actually sounded...

Good night, hurricane!  See you in the morning.  Say hello to New York for me.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Report: 21h40

What does 12-16 inches of rain look like?  It's been raining hard for the past 10 hours where I live, and according to the weather guys we've only gotten somewhere between 2-4 inches.  So if southern Virginia has gotten 12-16 inches, then I'm impressed and, frankly, have a hard time imagining what that must have looked like as it came down.  Must have been awesome.

Winds are picking up, though.  I'm not that far from downtown and National Airport (see below for  numbers).

From the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang:

9:40 p.m.: Winds really picking up now downtown and in the southern and eastern suburbs. Sustained at 32 mph at National Airport and 36 mph at Andrews Air Force Base. But as you get into the northern and western suburbs Irene has a lot less bite: sustained winds only 18 mph at Dulles, for example, and 23 mph at BWI.

9:10 p.m.: Irene has held its own since making landfall this morning, still holding on as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 80 mph. The radius of tropical-storm force winds has held mostly steady as well, still out to 290 miles from the center - that’s quite large as hurricanes go. National radar shows Irene’s rainfall currently covering a wide swath from northeast North Carolina to southern Maine.

Areas along and east of the Chesapeake Bay have been feeling those winds as well as relentless rain for many hours now, including 4-7” in Southern Maryland and a radar-estimated 6-12” across much of the Eastern Shore. The Bay Bridge has been closed thanks to sustained winds of more than 62 mph with gusts of 72 to 80 mph, while to the east, the Rehoboth Beach area has had multiple tornado warnings today. Further south, a whopping 12-16 inches of rain is reported in southeast Virginia. Incredibly, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell says the storm surge (possibly 5 to 8 feet) in Virginia Beach may be worse than Isabel in 2003 and the damaging 1933 storm. The power is off for more than 800,000 Dominion customers across Virginia, more than the company expected but less than in 2003 when Isabel cut power to approximately 1.8 million.

Hurricane Report: 20h40

I found a way to plot my position in the map.  I'm the pink dot.  It makes me sad to see that all the best stuff is passing by to the east!  Anyone want to go to Baltimore with me? 

Hurricane Report: 17h00

We're in the middle of our hurricane weekend.  Irene has been working her way up the coast all morning.  The rain started here a little before noon; the wind didn't really start until the early afternoon.  When I went running at 1:30pm, it was through a medium downpour with gusting winds. 

Things have gradually gotten worse as the afternoon has gone on.  The rain is hard and driving, and the wind makes umbrella use a bad (and ineffectual) idea.  Fortunately, I've got a good raincoat -- which means that I could make my weatherman debut in full costume:

Of course, the worst is still to come (I can't wait!).  Apparently the main body of the storm is supposed to hit later tonight.  I've bundled my plants to keep them from getting too badly thrashed (I may move them inside later) and tied down my wreath more securely.  I'll probably take another weather break in a while -- meantime, back to work!  Need to get as much done as I can before the power goes out...

Did it just give up?
How am I supposed to tell how hard the wind is blowing?
For some official weather reports, here's the latest from the Capitol Weather Gang: 

And a few earlier reports:

3:55 p.m. update: There’s no mistaking that Irene is getting closer. Winds have increased to about 20-25+ mph sustained across the area with some gusts between 30 and 40 mph. At the same time, heavy rain bands continue to rotate across much of the area. Even more intense activity is located to the southeast (where significant tree damage and power outages are impacting places like Richmond). Things could start getting considerably uglier around here soon. Finalize any outdoor activities and prepare for a long evening. A detailed look at what to expect will follow in a new post shortly.

3:10 p.m. update: More than 260,000 homes and businesses are already without power across Maryland and Virginia, most in southeast Virginia and near Richmond. Wind gusts as high as 50-70 mph have been reported around Richmond and toward the shore. Some of that heavier wind maximum will head toward the area over the next several hours.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I love you, Irene!

I love, love, love the natural disasters we get in Washington, DC.  They don't wreak anywhere near the havoc and devastation that their more ferocious cousins do in places like Haiti and Japan -- but they provide endless entertainment for me, and they get me out of stuff I don't want to do. 

For example:
  1. A couple of years ago we had "Snowmageddon" that dropped several feet of snow on DC.  Our office closed and I didn't have to go in to work for several days.  (I worked from home, but the schedule was much lighter, and I got to take snowman breaks.)
  2. Three days ago, we had an "Earthquake" that caused basically zero damage (unless you live in an 18th century house with a chimney or the Washington Monument), but which resulted in full office shut-down and a fun adventure on the way home.

She made landfall over North Carolina a couple of hours ago and will likely hit DC tomorrow and Sunday.  The weather is currently calm but cloudy and getting more humid by the minute.  My apartment building has warned me that my plants and wreath will become flying "projectiles" of death if I don't lash them down or bring them inside (neither of which I'm planning to do). 

And here's what I love (aside from the inherent adventure of getting hit by a hurricane):  Half the stuff I was dreading this weekend just got canceled! 

Over the past few days, my brief moment of balance and calm has gradually deteriorated, and it was on course to come crashing to pieces this weekend.  Tomorrow I was supposed to spend approximately 5 hours in choir rehearsals for two different choirs, and then attend the evening session of Stake Conference.  On Sunday I was supposed to attend the regular session of Stake Conference, plus sing in the choir (which meant getting there an hour and a half early and staying through the end), and then turn around and prepare and host a dinner party at my apartment for several families in the ward -- which meant that I would need to spend my free time on Saturday (between choir practice and Stake Conference) getting groceries and preparing the dinner and cleaning my apartment.  A busy enough weekend in its own right, but then add to that work demands that will require me to spend between 15 and 20 hours this weekend working in order to meet Monday deadlines. 

It was shaping up to be a real hurricane of a weekend (on so many levels), and I was trying to decide which night I would have to pull the inevitable all-nighter.  But then I discovered this email from the bishopric in my email inbox:

In light of Hurricane Irene that is expected to pass through our area on Saturday evening and Sunday evening, we have been advised by the Area Church Authorities that we should prepare our members and take every precaution possible to ensure the safety and well-being of the members.  In consultation with the Area and General Authorities over the Northeast Region, we have decided to reschedule the Stake Conference originally scheduled for this weekend and move it to September 10 and 11.  Our primary concern is around the safety of our members and the likelihood of power outages throughout the Stake.  Accordingly we will also cancel all Church services for this weekend.

Not only did they cancel Stake Conference, but also all the choir rehearsals and the small group dinner!  Yay!  I don't have to pull an all-nighter after all!

Fingers crossed that my other choir will cancel rehearsal, too.  Now, if only my clients would do the same and let me push back those Monday deadlines...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today I moved into a new office at the law firm -- from a tenth floor office on the atrium to a sixth floor office with a window overlooking 12th Street.  As I was settling into my new digs, I heard some creaking noises.  Then I felt a bump.  That's strange, I thought, another office move upstairs must not be going so smoothly.  But then there was another bump, followed by the entire building's shaking dramatically for several seconds.  I don't care how much furniture they drop, there's no way clumsy movers can make a building shake like that. 

I wondered if it was an earthquake but was reluctant to believe it because, well, this is DC, not San Francisco.  So I looked out my window (yay for having a window after three years!) and saw people streaming out of all the buildings I could see.  Then the fire alarm went off.  So I put a quick post into Facebook (to show that I'm up on current events), grabbed my briefcase and laptop, and headed outside.

There I milled around with hundreds of other evacuees from nearby buildings.  The atmosphere was a three parts cocktail party (I worked my way around the plaza mingling with colleagues and friends that I hadn't seen for many months) and one part apocalypse (a woman walked terror-stricken through the crowd spreading rumors that a building had just collapsed on Pennsylvania Avenue; a rickshaw driver rode through the streets prophesying the end of days).  The weather was perfect.

Most wireless services were down, so I wasn't able to get information quickly.  The Washington Post's website never loaded, but eventually I got CNN to load.  I learned that there had been a 5.8 earthquake near Richmond.

Despite the odd circumstances and the masses of people who were out in the streets, things were really very calm and orderly.  It was clear, though, that the people in charge had no idea how to handle the situation.  At first they wouldn't let us back into the building because they were worried about structural safety.  Then they let us back in long enough to get our things and get out -- but they kept the elevators running, which would have been a terrible idea if there were actually structural problems! 

The office was closed for the rest of the day.  That would have been fine if (a) I hadn't had a series of important conference calls scheduled all afternoon, and (b) I had a way of getting home (I commute via subway, which wasn't running).  Fortunately, both problems were solved at once:  Catherine, the partner that I was supposed to join for the first call offered to give me a ride home (she also lives in Arlington), with the idea that we would dial into the call from her car.  That sounded like a better option than cramming into the crowded subway or walking the five miles back to my apartment, so I accepted and spent the next two and a half hours negotiating a nationwide manufacturing and distribution agreement for a major pharmaceutical company while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

By the time we got to Arlington things were much calmer.  It's less densely populated out here, and I suspect that the shaking hadn't been quite as bad.  In any case, my building was still standing and my apartment didn't show any signs of the earthquake.  Catherine's neighbor, however, wasn't so lucky.  She sent an email with a picture of the earthquake devastation:

P.S. : I've since seen this picture floating around in various forwarded emails, so Catherine's neighbor is either very well-connected or wasn't quite telling the truth about the origins of said photo...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Appalachian Trail - Bluff Trail

A good friend of mine from law school, Amy, moved to DC after finishing a clerkship in Iowa, and we've been making a concerted effort to get out of the city more to explore the various hiking trails in the region.  We've both spent considerable time in the Rockies, and we both readily admit to a certain amount of Western snobbery with respect to the softly rolling hills that pass for "mountains" out here.  Even so, there's plenty of beautiful country and lots of lovely woods, and it's been fun to get out and see it.

Most of our hikes have been relatively short excursions through parks near to DC.  They've been enjoyable enough, but both of us wanted to do at least one "real" hike before the summer was out.  After some scheduling difficulties, we decided that today would have to be the day.  So this morning we headed out, bright and early, for a day of hiking in the Shenandoah National Park.

We planned to hike an approximately 14 mile circuit -- half of it going south, along the famous Appalachian Trail, and the other half going north, along the Bluff Trail, which doubled back on the other side of the ridge we'd come down on.  Having misunderstood our initial directions, we ended up taking an early detour that pulled us about a mile out of our way, so by the time we finished we'd done about 15.5 miles.

Along the way, we saw lots of trees.  To be honest, we saw too many trees.  The bulk of the trail ran along the tops of ridges and over the peak of a little mountain, but you'd never have known it, because the entire time we were enveloped in a lush forest that effectively blocked out any views we might have had.  Every once in a while, things would open up and we'd catch a hazy glimpse of the valleys below, but most of the time it was just tunnels of green.  As much fun as it would be, in concept, to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail, I think this lack of views would be a mighty monotonous hike.  Monotonous, though, is not the same as ugly.  Much of the forest we saw was very lovely, with light filtering through the lacy leaves and onto the carpet of ferns below.

Without sweeping vistas to distract us, we were able to notice the smaller-scale beauty that surrounded us.  We discovered some startlingly orange fungus.  Also some butterflies eating dung.  And those invisible spider-webs that are so unpleasant to walk through?  Well, they look pretty cool when the sun catches them just right.

About halfway through the hike we came upon a hut meant for the long-term trekkers who spend the night on the trail -- and timing couldn't have been better.  The instant we got under the roof, the heavens opened with a classic summer cloudburst.  We ate our lunches while the rain poured down.  It lasted about 20 minutes and then blew over, leaving a dripping, steamy forest gleaming in the sun.

Lunch in the hut

Post rainstorm

We ultimately did find some viewpoints.  Our favorite was one that had one of those interpretive signs to help you understand what you were looking at.  The sign purported to tell us about a certain mountain.  The gist of the message was the following:  (1) The mountain has a strange name and we don't really know what it means, and (2) something historical may or may not have happened there (we don't really know that, either), but (3) we had the budget for a sign, so here you go.

The alleged mountain
Stuff the park rangers made up to fill the sign

It was a great hike, and by the time we were done we were ready to be done.  It took us longer than we'd expected, though.  Based on past experiences, we had learned that when guide books call a hike "strenuous" and estimate that it should take "8 hours" to finish, it's usually code for "you'll walk easily across flat ground, and it will take you 3.5 hours."  So we planned accordingly.  Alas, although this hike was not "strenuous" and did not require "8 hours", it wasn't quite as quickly finished as we'd assumed, either.  Due to our early detour, and our halt during the rainstorm, we ended up finishing the hike in a little over 6 hours.  Which would normally have been fine, but today meant that Amy and I both missed our post-hike plans (I didn't make it to church, but I did manage to catch the end of stake choir practice, which should count for something!)

I wore my Garmin watch on the hike. Here's a screen shot of the resulting data.

Oh, and we had to stop at Wal-Mart.  We don't have any Wal-Marts in DC, so it felt like we'd really traveled to the American heartland.  Nothing like being in a store that's almost as big as the great outdoors to help you appreciate being outside it.

I took this shot from the middle of the store,
so there was this much again behind me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Not so loud!

Normally in you'd think that hearing the words, "You've lost weight again" would be a good thing.  Not when they're delivered by your long-suffering trainer in a voice full of disappointment and disapproval.  Most definitely not when that voice is loud enough to make all the people in the gym who just wish someone would say that to them turn around and look.  Honestly, I'm going to have to speak to him about blurting these things out in public. 

His next question, of course, was the dreaded "Are you eating?"  Oh boy.  Here we go again. 

It really is a struggle.  I've been working out with a trainer for more than a year now, with the express goal of gaining weight, and all I've succeeded in doing is losing a few pounds.  According to the scale in the locker room, I weigh the same as I did in high school.  Sure, I'm stronger than I was -- which I'm sure I will be grateful for next time I have to fell a tree or wrestle an alligator -- but I had rather hoped for some aesthetic results, too.  Is it too much to ask?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is this what "balance" feels like?

I spent the last nine months splitting my time between the general counsel's office of a Washington newspaper and my regular law firm.  Each week I'd spend three days working at the newspaper and the other four days working at the firm.  There was a lot that was great about this arrangement:  I got a glimpse of life as an in-house lawyer (while keeping my law firm salary).  I got to work with a group of fantastic people at the newspaper, all of whom were excellent lawyers and the sort of people I would like to have as friends.  I gained insight into the newspaper business during an important transition time for the industry.  I was given a level of independence and responsibility that I never would have had at my (low) level of seniority at the law firm.  And, in addition to all of that, I was able to keep working on other interesting and challenging projects with partners I liked at the firm. 

The downside, of course, was that neither job really fit into the every-other-day model.  My work at the newspaper was capped at about 100 hours per month, which meant that there was an upper limit on what I could do there.  But the quantity of work to be done during those 100 hours was enormous, so that it often felt like the workplace equivalent of drinking out of a fire hydrant.  As for the law firm work, the firm clearly thought it had first dibs on all hours not spent at the newspaper (and, frankly, it wanted as many of those as it could get, too).  So essentially I was juggling two full-time jobs and doing everything I could to succeed at both while keeping the juggling act as invisible to my various bosses as possible.

All of that changed last week, however, when the secondment ended and I returned to the law firm full time.  I continue to work on projects for the newspaper, but I do that from my desk at the firm, and I have the flexibility to slot them into a work list of my other matters.  At first it felt strange going to the same office day after day, and I missed my friends at the newspaper.  But gradually life at the firm started to feel more normal, and I got back into the rhythm of a new routine.

And boy, the rhythm of this past week was great!  With the lessening of the newspaper load, and a surprise lull in other firm projects, the past week went something like this:  During the week I worked a roughly 40-hour work week, coming home from work early enough to get some dinner, go running, and then watch some TV before bed.  On Saturday I got up early and helped some friends move into a new apartment, got a haircut, went to choir rehearsal (Rossini's Stabat Mater, for choir 1), practiced music on my own (Forestier's Missa l'homme arme, for choir 2), organized photos, took a nap, went running, and went to a party with a bunch of friends.  Today I did all my hometeaching for the month, got groceries, attended church, took another nap, and went to stake choir practice (a bunch of Mack Wilberg stuff, for choir 3). 

It's no surprise that I feel happier and more grounded at the end of this week than I have felt in a very long time:  I haven't had a week that was this well-balanced between the professional, physical, social, musical, spiritual and personal elements of my life since, well, since I can't remember when.  Last night as I was driving home from the party (at 2am...), I was trying to figure out why I felt so good, and I realized that it was because, for a few days, I'd managed to live a balanced and well-rounded life.  It's like I was a whole different person.

The moral of this story is that I need to strike this sort of balance more often.  I probably won't -- at least, not consistently or for prolonged periods of time.  I do still work at the law firm.  Plus, as you no doubt noticed by the number of choirs I'm currently singing in, I have a knack for over-programming any free time that the firm doesn't get to first.  But this was a refreshing interlude and a good reminder that balance is good and should be a higher priority than I usually make it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Davis Siblings

I sure do love these people!

Ashley, moi, Heather, Mark

This is us last Monday at Heather's house in Boise, right before I flew back to DC.  (It's actually Heather's photo, but when she posted it to Facebook I thought it deserved a home here, too.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wall Colors (can you tell we're related?)

I live in Washington, DC. My twin sister, Heather, lives in Boise, Idaho. Totally independently, and without any input from the other, we each painted accent walls in our homes. I brought some giant paint chips with me when I visited Heather last weekend to give her a sense of what I'd done. Strangely enough, it was kind of old news...
Heather: Brown; Me: Woodpecker

Heather: Blue; Me: Carbon Dust
(I guess it's not totally surprising:  I did pick out curtains for Heather's living room last Christmas, having seen her color scheme only once, more than a year earlier -- and they were pretty spot on, if I do say so myself.)

Nouveau chez moi

As you know, I moved into a new apartment back in June.  Since moving day, I have enjoyed a six-week visit from Amanda, an Aretha Franklin concert, a two-week trip to Peru, a weekend at the beach, a weekend in Charlottesville, a bout of illness, and a long weekend with my family in Idaho.  Oh, and I worked a lot, too.

Needless to say, there was precious little time for moving in, let alone decorating.  I managed to tame the chaos left by the movers in time for Amanda's arrival -- enough that she had clear access to the couch and a shelf in the closet.  And Amanda was an enormous help (and good company) in running errands, rearranging furniture (sometimes more than once), unpacking my kitchen, and painting the walls.



Even so, after we got the apartment to a certain basic level of inhabitability, it didn't really make sense to push further until after Amanda left and I was done traveling.  Once that happened, my first priority was to get plants on the balcony before it got any later in the season.  Finally, today, I was able to finish up the last of the moving in and decorating.  There may be some additional tweaks as I go along (for example, I need another lamp in the living room, and certain cupboards in the kitchen continue to give me heart palpitations), but overall I think the apartment is presentable.  (The layout is similar to my previous apartment, so you're bound to notice some similarities...)

Living Room

IMG_0597 Empty Living Room








IMG_0601 Empty Kitchen




Newest addition:  Dublin!  (thanks Annie)

IMG_0598 Empty Bedroom



Amazingly, I got every nail right the first time


IMG_0600 Empty Bathroom



Buddha from Thailand


Shower Curtain

Notes on accent wall color:
Living room: C2 LoVo "Carbon Dust" at 75%
Bedroom: C2 LoVo "Woodpecker" at 100%