Monthly Archives: August 2013

Transitions

 

The genesis of my blog project came from my previous sabbatical when I spent a year at the University of Tennessee.  I had recently learned about the tradition of hikers on the Appalachian Trail assuming nicknames during their journey, and separately I wanted a way to keep in touch with family and friends who I would no longer be seeing regularly.  Inspired by stories from my BFF (Best Friend Forever) who told me of a friend of hers who had spent a year in Spain and sent back stories of “Senor Barcelona,” I believe, I began a series of emails known as The Adventures of the Tennessee Yankee, which described my experiences and told stories of my life in the land of Rocky Top.

For my 2012-2013 sabbatical, I knew that I wanted to do a similar project, and a number of both personal and professional contacts suggested that a blog would be accessible to a larger audience who might be interested in an insider’s perspective on the government.  “Dr. Pence Goes to Washington” was the result.

When I first started blogging in the fall, I wondered how long it would be before I ran out of topics.  That turned out not to be a problem since at times I had half a dozen ideas noodling around in my mind waiting for me to have bandwidth to process them and write.  I set myself a vague goal of averaging two posts per week, and since this is the 116th post, I more than met that benchmark.  At times the blog seemed to hang over my head as I felt self-imposed pressure to post somewhat regularly, and my workouts certainly suffered this year since mornings were my prime writing time, but I have found the process of writing about my lessons, experiences, and adventures to be incredibly rewarding.

I have particularly identified two traits instilled in me at an early age that influenced my writing this year.  The first is that I come from a family of storytellers.  Events and observations from a day, a walk, or a vacation have always become shaped into stories, and I have realized that I tell stories in my teaching as well.  This blog has largely been about telling stories of working in a Senate office, and living and exploring Washington DC.

The second habit was shaped even earlier.  I was about 18 months old when my father was writing his Ph.D. dissertation, and as was much commented-upon by my grandmothers, I didn’t talk until I was about two.  (Apparently I wasn’t going to amount to much.)  This combination, however, made me an excellent walking companion.  When my father hit a block on his writing, he would invite me to go for a walk with him.  As long as I maintained possession of my yellow blanket, I was perfectly happy, and my silence provided an ideal environment for Dad to organize his thoughts and be able to return to his writing.  I attribute that early influence to finding that the shape of many of my stories has emerged while I walked to the Metro and back.

Stephen King in his book, On Writing, talks about having an Ideal Reader, who becomes the audience for whom an author writes.  Stephen King writes for his wife, Tabby.  I found that my Ideal Reader often shifted as I became aware of different people who were reading my stories.  As I lived my life, I would encounter stories that made me laugh, details that intrigued me, and pictures that impressed me, and invariably, I would think of a person or persons who would enjoy the story, detail, or picture.  So my blogs have been written with a great many people in mind.  Thank you all for being my Ideal Readers.

It took a little while to find my voice as I started writing.  I don’t think I was ever going to write the cutting edge issue blog to which everyone would come to read the latest news.  Indeed, it was of primary importance to me that I not cause any embarrassment or difficulty for my Senator’s office, so I avoided controversial topics.  Because I was thus constrained, I likewise constrained two comments that were made on my blog that I did not allow to be posted.  One was effectively an advertisement for a place I had written about, and the other was a snarky comment about the efforts of an entity I had mentioned.  I’m still happy about adhering to a snark-free blog.

I have been highly amused that although I have avoided including names in my posts, there has been a certain cachet associated with getting mentioned in the blog.  For example, my BFF has kept track of my visitors based on who emerged in my stories.  I’ve been pleased that every person who came to see me shared some kind of unique experience or event that did indeed lead to a story to share with the rest of my audience.

What happens to the blog now that I’ve finished my year in Washington?  I’m still not sure, although I’m certainly open to suggestions.  The first priority has been to transition to living in a house rather than an apartment, to speaking my own mind as a professor instead of supporting and speaking the Senator’s perspective, and to dealing with recalcitrant students rather than recalcitrant Members of Congress.  I do hope that a new set of stories will emerge for me to tell as I explore the ongoing influence of my fellowship, and that I will continue to post.  Until then, I thank everyone for reading, for commenting, and for supporting my grand adventure.

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I’ve Loved These Days

On the Inauguration platform

On the Inauguration platform

I have tried to reflect upon the significance of my Fellowship, what it meant to me and what it will mean in my future, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be months before I have any notion.

For this past year, I have loved the challenge of the steep learning curve in an environment where everything was new and different.  I loved the availability of voluminous information and the variety of topics I learned about.  My casual interest in water policy turned into a significant part of my issue portfolio, and it was actually that area in which I had the greatest influence in the office.

I loved becoming an adopted daughter of Colorado and learning the locations, the issues, and the people.  I can’t count the number of times that constituents asked if I was from Colorado and I had to remind myself that technically, I had never lived in that state.  Eventually, I felt that I had earned the right to count myself as a Coloradan, and would discuss issues that “we” faced.

Learning how the government does or does not work gave me a greater appreciation for my own rights and responsibilities as a citizen.  I know that I have a right to meeting with the staffs of my Senators and Representative, and that it is my responsibility to let them know how I feel about issues that are important to me.  I also understand some of the work required to create a common goal and to move forward.  Likewise I appreciate that some people are unlikely ever to get on board.

When I started in the Senator’s office, I had a laundry list of experiences I wanted to have.  Some of them happened (going out onto the floor, helping to prepare a briefing, managing a bill), and some of them didn’t (staffing the Senator in a hearing, writing a piece of legislation.)  Some opportunities came and were completely unexpected (working with the regional staff at the Army Corps of Engineers on coordinating several water projects), but I tried to leap at every chance that I had.  In improvisation, the rule is to always say yes.  I said yes as often as possible during my fellowship.

I was determined to get as much mileage out of my Senate staff ID as I could, so although I rarely had business in the Capitol, I enjoyed going for walks to stretch my legs.  Knowing that I wanted to show friends and family around the Capitol when they visited, I studied up on the history and stories of Capitol Hill, which meant that I thought about those stories every time I passed through.  I especially loved knowing how to navigate through the labyrinth of tunnels connecting the buildings, and I wandered through those as often as possible.  Twice I took advantage of my Library of Congress reader’s card and spent several hours working in the Main Reading Room, which was delightful.  I can also take credit for starting the Fellows on a campaign of setting up tours behind the scenes of DC establishments such as the Smithsonians or the Senate Majority Leader’s office.  Our class is convinced that we set a new standard for leveraging unusual events.

Unlike the majority of my fellow Fellows, I knew that I was returning home after a year, which did influence how I spent my time.  I sought out experiences that were different or extraordinary rather than the standard circuit of Smithsonians. I tried to live like a native and attend events such as the Post Hunt or Christmas tea at the Willard Hotel as well as the White House fall and spring garden tours and the White House Christmas tour.  I made sure to go out, to see, to do.  I probably wined and dined less than an average DC native, but I think I had more adventures.  I cherished the opportunity of walking the Mall whenever I wanted and learning that each time I found a different memorial that held special meaning on that day.  I loved the luxury of walking behind the White House whenever I was in the area, simply because I could.  After an entire year, I never lost the joy of my daily walk heading toward the Capitol dome and realizing that I had the privilege of working there.

Some of you have heard me say that in the first several months of my fellowship, I decided that courage was a habit.  I had to learn so much so quickly and I have had to accomplish tasks for which I had little idea of how to begin that doing something new is far less intimidating than it used to be.  I have less need to know everything before I start on a new project, task, outing, or adventure; I’m confident that I’ll figure it out as I go.

I could not have done a year in DC without the unflagging support of my Beloved Husband, who held down the fort at home.  I am so glad that he made an effort to join me for special events such as the Inauguration as well as quite a few opportunities to explore the soft underbelly of the Capitol where even many staffers don’t go.  His favorite memory of this year in DC was the night of Memorial Day concert, which we watched from the balcony of the Capitol.  Just before the end of the concert, my BH wandered off and ended up in the Rotunda entirely alone.  Having navigated through many a crowd of tourists, that solitude in a magnificent space was one of his most marvelous privileges.

I expanded into entirely new areas of science and nature, met wonderful people, reveled in nerdiness, made lifelong friendships, and had amazing adventures.  My fellowship was everything I had hoped for and so much more.  My world has gotten bigger.  I’ve loved these days.

 

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Fellowship Year Booklist

Many years ago, my father overheard a conversation about how many books it might be possible to read in a single year.  Perhaps 52, one a week?  Intrigued, he began to keep track of the books that he read each year, and the practice spread to the entire family.  I certainly found that by keeping a list, I re-read fewer books, and I actually started reading nonfiction now and then.

My Fellowship year has been strongly influenced by the libraries to which I have had access.  I fell in love with the Senate Library early on, and since their strength is politics in general and the Senate in particular, my reading began to lean in that direction.  Having a minimum of 10 minutes each way on the Metro also encouraged me to read nonfiction, which I find easier to start and stop.  I’ve always been a bit addicted to my fiction, so I learned years ago not to bring those books to work.

I do not necessarily recommend all of these books, and I omitted any re-reads, but for whatever it is worth, below are the 74 books I read during my Fellowship year.  The ones in bold type are nonfiction.  I also keep an annual annotated list, which includes more commentary on recommendations, available on request.

 

Title Author
Ill Wind Rachel Caine
Widow’s Web Jennifer Estep
Heat Stroke Rachel Caine
Equations of Life Simon Morten
Chill Factor Rachel Caine
The Hallowed Hunt Lois McMaster Bujold
Theories of Flight Simon Morten
Straight from the Heart Ann Richards
Winterfair Gifts Lois McMaster Bujold
A Cold Day for Murder Dana Stabenow
Game Change John Heilemann and Mark Halpern
Discount Armageddon Seanan McGuire
The Girl Who Chased the Moon Sarah Addison Allen
Outliers Malcolm Gladwell
A Relentless Hope Gary E. Nelson
The Mysterious Benedict Society Trenton Lee Stewart
The Big Burn Timothy Egan
Home Safe Elizabeth Berg
Side Jobs Jim Butcher
Shadow Magic Patricia Wrede
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar   Children Ransom Riggs
Cool Days Jim Butcher
Water Follies Robert Glennon
The Rook Daniel O’Malley
Joy for Beginners Erica Bauemeister
Red-Headed Stepchild Jaye Wells
Ladies of Liberty Cokie Roberts
A Veiled Deception Annette Blair
Larceny and Lace Annette Blair
Spellman Files Lisa Lutz
The Gathering Kelley Armstrong
The Calling Kelley Armstrong
The Capitol Inside and Out Jim Berard
Magic Burns Ilona Andrews
Magic Strikes Ilona Andrews
Born to Run Christopher McDougall
Magic Bleeds Ilona Andrews
Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
In Fury Born David Weber
The Road to Cardinal Valley Earlene Fowler
Nine and Counting w/Catherine Whitney
The First Love Cookie Book Lori Wilde
Trading in Danger Elizabeth Moon
Beyond the 100th Meridian Wallace Stegner
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot
True Compass Edward Kennedy
Lean In Sheryl Sandberg
The Widow of Larkspur Inn Lawanna Blackwell
First Along the River Benjamin Kline
Miracle Under the Oaks William K. Stevens
Guardians of Stone Anita Clenney
The Last Great Senator David A. Corbin
The Sustainability Revolution Andres R. Edwards
Marque and Reprisal Elizabeth Moon
What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis
Engaging the Enemy Elizabeth Moon
Command Decision Elizabeth Moon
Victory Conditions Elizabeth Moon
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain
Deadly Sting Jennifer Estep
Deadly Descendant Jenna Black
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power Jon Meacham
Cradle to Cradle Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Falling Free Lois McMaster Bujold
Queen of Shadows Dianne Sylvan
Death’s Rival Faith Hunter
Nature/Walking Emerson/Thoreau
Magic Slays Ilona Andrews
Libriomancer Jim. C. Hines
Women in the Club Michelle Swers
Mandela’s Way Richard Stengel
Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader Francis R. Valeo
Best Staged Plans Claire Cook
Second Nature Michael Pollan

 

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Fellow Fellows

My fellow Fellows on the Inauguration Platform in January.

My fellow Fellows on the Inauguration Platform in January.

The Fellows represent an unusual network on Capitol Hill since we are bipartisan, bicameral, and are relatively extensive.  I’ve observed that other staffers will hang out with friends from the same office or sometimes a group of education or energy staffers will have a happy hour, but the AAAS Fellows seemed to hang out together with much more frequency.  There were a half a dozen fellows who went their own way and who I never saw after orientation, but the rest formed a dynamic and flexible network of varying social, topical, and geographic groups.  For example, I was usually part of groups that went to the Kennedy Center, I was always in for going to Smithsonian tours, I interacted with different groups on water, energy, and chemical safety reform, and I hung out frequently with Senate Fellows or with Fellows from the Russell Senate Office Building.

Our conversations and email exchanges are rather idiosyncratic.  For example, we must be the only people who watch hearings on C-Span and focus almost entirely on the people in the second row behind the Senators.  In our early months, we tended to email our friends on the back bench, “Looking good!” or “That was a good question you wrote for the Senator!”  It was even more fun to watch the TV and see the back benchers smirk when they received the email.

One day, I sent an email to a handful of Fellows saying, “I didn’t know that Senator Heinrich was an engineer!  He’s so cool!”  I swiftly received a reply back not only providing statistics of the number of engineers in each chamber (Heinrich is the only one in the Senate, I believe there are three in the House), but also commenting that one of the Fellows looked bored.  I hadn’t provided the context that I was watching a hearing on C-Span, but apparently I didn’t need to either.  There were also emails that flew back and forth a short time later when Senator Franken, obviously feeling neglected compared to the attention received by Senator Heinrich announced, “I understand Delta, even if I’m not an engineer.”

The Fellows developed their own style of conversation that involved extensive internal references that would probably have been undecipherable to anyone not watching C-Span.  One exchange from a few months ago went along these lines:

“I love McCaskill!”

“Did you see Coburn on the Floor?”

“And Landrieu?!”

It was as though we had all been watching a series of sporting events since we shared the understanding of the major actions of the day and could refer to the highlights in shorthand.  (As a key, Sen. McCaskill was splendid during the Committee on Armed Services hearing on sexual assault in the military, Sen. Landrieu was unhappy that her flood insurance amendment on the Farm Bill was not getting a vote, and she was therefore objecting to each and every amendment that Sen. Coburn was trying to call up.)

One Fellow this summer was staffing his Senator for a hearing, so he emailed me and said, “Take pictures!”  I used my iPhone to take pictures of my TV during the opening statements, but my fellow Fellow was only partly in the frame.  How could the cameraperson think that the Senator was more important?  When the first round of questions began and the focus was off his Senator, I emailed him and said he needed to try to slide to the right so I could get a better picture.  He replied, “My right or the TV’s right?”  “Your right,” I clarified, “And slouch a little.”  He managed to shift a little to one side, so I got a slightly better picture when his Senator got a turn to ask questions and he was on camera again.

The Fellows are proud that our extensive interpersonal network is generally referred to as the Fellows’ mafia.  On several occasions, I had information about the movement of a bill or the prospects of an amendment before anyone else in my office.  The Fellows were also very generous in sharing their time, expertise, and knowledge.  When a staff member in another office left suddenly for paternity leave, handling the amendments for the Water Resources Development Act abruptly became the responsibility of the Fellow in that office.  The two of us ended up spending about an hour on the phone walking through a large number of amendments trading what we knew about each and then splitting up the job of tracking down additional information for the ones that were less clear.  It was beneficial for both of us.

My fellow Fellows are fantastically bright, dedicated, and enthusiastic colleagues, and it was a pleasure to be welcomed as part of the group.  As one would expect of scientists, they are both curious and creative, and because each Fellow had a slightly different network and a slightly different set of resources, I learned about opportunities that I would not have been aware of on my own.  My nebulous awareness of some sort of Fellows network prior to my arrival in DC did not even begin to do justice to the friendships, resources, and support provided by my fellow Fellows.  Although I know those friendships will continue, one of the hardest parts of leaving the Hill was knowing that I would not be seeing my fellow Fellows on a daily or weekly basis.  It has been a privilege, an honor, and a pleasure to work with them.

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Best Stories of the Fellowship Year

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There have been a number of stories that didn’t find a home in my various blog posts but that were too good not to share, so I’ve been collecting them.  It’s apparent that I’ve been influenced by a lifetime of reading Reader’s Digest because I do find that this post reads like a collection of those stories.  Enjoy!

 

Introductions.  Two Fellows learned the importance of being well-introduced to a Senator back in October when they started on their assignments.  The Senator, given no clue other than the Fellows names cheerfully welcomed them, “So are you both interns?”  One fellow calmly but assertively set the record straight, holding out her hand and saying, “Hello Senator.  My name is …, I’m one of your new AAAS fellows, and I have a Ph.D. from MIT.”  Have I mentioned that the Fellows are generally not a shy lot?

 

Forest Fires.  My favorite fire story from the Incident Commander’s Blog of the Royal Gorge Fire in July:

Well, the predicted wind blew and the fire held. And as I promised we raised the containment to 50%. Remember this morning I said that Brenda, our Fire Behavior Specialist said, “today will be a good day to be a fire”. At the end of the day Craig Beckner, Operations Section Chief said, “it might have been a good day to be a fire, but we were better.”

 

Too Much Information? Our scheduler was having a conversation with one of the other fellows and apparently questions whether or not Walgreens had a presence in DC.  Three of us immediately responded, “There’s one in Cleveland Park,” “There’s one by my house,” and “There’s one by my metro stop.”  She just looked at us and announced that being in our office was like being in the middle of Google.

 

Terminology.  One morning, the staff in the DC office of one of the Fellows were uncertain if the staff in the state office would be able to call in to the regularly scheduled staff meeting teleconference.  The Chief of Staff explained that there was a protest going on at the state office.  When he asked about the subject of the protest, he was informed the people were pro-immigration.  The saavy DC staffers informed their boss that when you have a pro-issue protest, it’s called a rally.

 

Only in DC.  One of the LA’s in my office reported being in the midst of a crowd recently and from one side, he heard a voice call out, “Marco!”  There was promptly a reply volunteered from the other side of the group, “Rubio!”  When I told this story to my fellow Fellows, they all went for that response as well.

 

Never underestimate a Fellow! One of my fellow Fellows had a run in with a staffer in another Senator’s office, who was rather rude to her.  She mentioned the incident to her supervisor, who then mentioned it to the Senator.  The Senator, who is very close to his staff, felt that this behavior was unacceptable, so he made a point of having a conversation with his Senate colleague when they were on the Floor for a vote and explaining that he felt this behavior was unacceptable.  The offending staffer called the Fellow and said, “My boss and your boss seem to think that I hung up on you.”  The Fellow replied, “That’s because you did!”

 

Elevators, round 1. As an ultra-cool Senate Fellow, I grew accustomed to seeing Senators regularly in the hallway.  I was, however, challenged when I encountered them on elevators.  In the middle of a vote, some of the elevators become Senators-only service, and I was strongly warned about getting on to those elevators during those times.  At one point, I was ready to follow Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas onto an elevator, and at the last moment I realized that it was Senators only service.  I stopped short, and I’m sure that my eyes were like dinner plates as I looked guilty for what I had almost done.  Senator Moran was very kind, smiled, and gestured me to join him on the elevator, and I was most grateful.

 

Elevators, round 2. My complete failure at being an ultra-cool Senate Fellow happened when I was on an elevator, and it stopped to let on Senator McCain.  I have no idea why I got so flustered, but in my effort to try to keep my cool Fellow persona, I got confused, decided this must be my door, and I got off.  Of course, in the absence of Senator McCain, I realized I had gotten off a floor too early.  So I jogged down the steps to the next floor, only to meet Senator McCain getting off the elevator!  Complete fail on coolness for that day!

 

When Worlds Collide.  I will emphasize that the following story came to me at least third-hand, so I vouch only for its entertainment value, not for its veracity.  It seems that Jennifer Lopez (also known as J. Lo) decided that she wanted to talk to Senator Reid about immigration.  She proceeded to keep the Senate Majority Leader waiting for 30 minutes, which is rather beyond the pale in the Senate.  Meanwhile, I’m told that Senator Schumer was very interested in meeting the diva and he lurked in Senator Reid’s outer office until the star showed up.  Unfortunately, it became obvious that Senator Schumer was under the impression that he was meeting Beyonce rather than J. Lo and the error was apparent to the observers.  As the balancing side of “when worlds collide,” Ms. Lopez spied a photograph of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle and asked, “Why do you have a picture of Dick Clark in your office?

 

Interns.  If you choose to ask your Senator or Member of Congress for a tour of the Capitol instead of going through the Capitol Visitors Center, there are advantages and disadvantages.  On the bright side, you don’t end up on a tour with 74 of your closest friends and all of you wearing headsets so you can hear your guide.  On the other hand, your tour is given by interns from the office, and some are definitely better than others.  Here are a few intern gems from other offices that I’ve heard about:

“The mural around the Rotunda was painted by a guy named Constantidi.”  (The correct answer is Constantino Brumidi.)

“This white marble star set into the floor of the Crypt marks the center of DC and divides the city into quadrants.  I think there are four or five of them.”

How many quadrants?

How many quadrants?

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DC Lingo

Every occupation or field of study has its own terminology or jargon, and the political world of Washington, DC is no exception.  Since many of these terms have entered my regular vocabulary, I thought I’d provide a translation key for everyone who has to deal with me upon my return.  Some of the terms are very helpful even outside of DC.

Reach out to:  Contact, usually via telephone or email.  The first time I heard this one I envisioned extending my arm somehow, but reaching out to someone is rarely done through physical interaction.  I almost never get told to call a person, I’m told to reach out to him or her.

Loop In: To include, or to add someone to a conversation.  “Reach out to this person, and then loop me in when you’ve got a meeting set up.”

Bay Window:  This is a verb in our office, as in, “I’m going to have to bay window this meeting.”  Especially during March Madness, our two conference rooms were booked constantly, and often there simply wasn’t conference room space to take a meeting.  The Russell Senate Office Building is particularly fortunate to have old-style architecture with lots of charming nooks and crannies.  The favored space for taking a meeting if there is no available conference room space is a bay window down the hall that has a lovely view.   There is a second nearby window that also gets used for this purpose.

The Bay Window is a primo spot for meetings

The Bay Window is a primo spot for meetings

I get it:  Used as shorthand for “you are preaching to the choir.”  It’s a combination of I’m on board, I’m on your side, and I understand what you are saying.

Ask (n):  When a constituent or a lobbyist comes in for a meeting, he or she should have a request, which is generally known as the ask.  The ask should be very clear to all parties.  When I was dealing with one of my Darling Daughters at one point this summer and she was rambling on and on, I felt myself wanting to interject, “What’s your ask, kid?”

Bandwidth:  A combination of time and focus as in, “Laura, do you have the bandwidth this afternoon to put together a vote rec?”  It’s possible to have time but be fried or to have focus but not have time, which is why I like the concept of bandwidth.

There there:  The presence of an actionable policy idea, not to be confused with a murmur of comfort.  “Please read this study and tell me if there’s a there there.”  This one always makes me smile.

Heavy Lift:  An action requiring considerable effort.  I think of large bills such as immigration or the Water Resources Development Act as being heavy lifts because they require more energy and bandwidth than a single office or pair of offices can provide.  Often there are extensive negotiations to determine what is acceptable to multiple parties. Multiple staffers and multiple senators must participate to make progress and achieve an acceptable compromise.  A heavy lift can also be a project requiring extensive time and effort or political capital on the part of a single person.  A Ph.D. dissertation is a heavy lift.

In the weeds:  Before coming to DC, I’d heard people talk about giving a “view from 30,000 feet” in terms of giving a broad overview.  In the weeds is the opposite and refers to the nitty gritty details of an issue.  Nerds are notorious for enjoying being in the weeds.  See Deep Dive.

Deep Dive: An intentional discussion or presentation of the fine details of an issue.  Being in the weeds is often accidental.  Deep dives are intentional.

Leg:  If you are not in DC, you read that as a body part.  If you are in DC, you read that as “Ledge,” because it is short for “Legislative.”  So Leg Council is read as “ledge council” short for “legislative council.”

Cloakroom: Originally used as places for the Senators to leave their outerwear, the cloakrooms, one for each party, have become the command centers for managing action on the Senate floor.  As one example, if your Senator is delayed for a vote, it is important to call the cloakroom to let them know that he or she is coming.  Otherwise you’ll get a call from the cloakroom asking where your Senator is.

Dropping a bill:  Introducing a bill.  When you are ready to introduce a bill, you take it to the party cloakroom and give it to the clerks there.  The bill then gets entered into the system and will be assigned to a committee for action.

Red Line:  A red line version of a bill shows the edits.  It’s most conveniently done through the track changes function in Word, but it’s really helpful to see what someone wants to change.  I’m waiting for the first time when I use this term on my students.

One-pager:  This is the standard amount of information to deliver in summarizing an issue.  I’ve used it most often when I’m working on vote recommendations for amendments.  I’ll call the office of the Senator offering the amendment and ask for a one-pager about the issue.  This document is virtually always prepared in advance and is happily shared.

Keep our powder dry:  Remain uncommitted on a topic or action.

Republican TV:  On our individual televisions there are at least three different channels with feeds from the Senate floor.  There’s regular C-Span2, which is a full screen view of the action, Democratic television, which is a little different, and then Republican TV.  My whole office watches Republican TV because there is additional information about vote results, upcoming votes, and the daily schedule.  It’s also important that everyone in the office watches the same channel since otherwise you get odd echoes from the minute differences in transmission time among the broadcasts.

“I’m in!”:  This saying was adopted by the Fellows and indicates an interest in a social or special event.  For example, in response to a question of whether or not people are interested in afternoon frozen yogurt, there may be a flurry of emails saying, “I’m in!”  I love my fellow Fellows’ willingness to try just about anything.

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National Zoo

Everyone should have a zoo in the neighborhood!

Everyone should have a zoo in the neighborhood!

When I was in college in central Pennsylvania, I remember being slightly startled to learn that my friends who lived near Valley Forge National Park viewed that area more as an excellent picnic spot than as an important historic site, which it certainly is as well.  Over the years, I’ve collected these examples of locals having a different relationship than tourists with historic sites.  My Beloved Husband’s English family taught me that the New Forest, (so designated by William the Conqueror in 1079) has numerous excellent picnic spots, and when I visited Versailles with my parents and sister, I observed quite a few games of Frisbee on the grounds.  I had previously thought that playing softball on the Boston Common was the ultimate in cool until I encountered multiple games of kickball on the National Mall.  Yoga at the base of the Washington Monument also looked particularly appealing.  For the past year, the National Zoo has been part of my neighborhood at a mere ten minute walk away, and I’ve noticed that like all of these other examples, living in close proximity to this resource has given me a very different perspective on the facility.

I have visited the National Zoo a number of times over the years, most often with the Darling Daughters since the animals were always a surefire hit.  Those experiences as a visitor taught me two very important lessons.  The first is that the Zoo is built on a rather steep hill, and somehow uphill is always the desirable direction.  That first condition leads in part to the second lesson; by 3:00 in the afternoon at the Zoo, most children are hot and tired and tend to have fits of uncontrolled crying.  When my friend brought her own five-year-old daughter to visit me, as a veteran mother, she was frankly skeptical of my ability to time meltdowns.  The three of us set off for an afternoon at the Zoo, and when I heard the first child crying, I looked at my watch, looked at my friend and said, “3:10.”  Moments later, a second child joined in, and I said, “3:12.”  My friend accepted that she was beat, or perhaps she just accepted that she was visiting with a scientist who was planning to collect data to match her theory.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings in the summer, the mix of pedestrians at my Metro stop strongly favors families on their way to the Zoo.  I always figure that the families who come to my stop at Cleveland Park are the smart families.  The next Metro stop down is officially named “Woodley Park-Zoo” but if you come all the way out to Cleveland Park, then the walk to the Zoo is downhill, and it’s still about the same distance.

During my early time in Cleveland Park, my favorite time to go to the Zoo was about 5:00 in the afternoon.  That time was carefully chosen because meltdowns had thinned the crowds substantially, and with the buildings about to close, there were few people remaining.  I simply like to walk in the Zoo, to stroll the paths, and to fill my soul with trees and quiet.  On lucky days I would catch site of a few animals, especially one tiger who posed for my camera obligingly.

A tiger mugging for my camera

A tiger mugging for my camera

I had been vaguely aware of the reproductive issues with giant pandas for some time.  Female pandas only ovulate once per year and therefore are fertile for just a matter of days.  According to the Zoo’s website, because cubs stay with their mothers for up to three years, at best a female might produce offspring every other year.  (I couldn’t help wondering if this was a question of “not in front of the children?”)  Thus it was to great fanfare that the Zoo’s female panda, Mei Xiang, had a baby last fall.  About the size of a stick of butter, the infant seemed to be doing OK until suddenly it stopped moving and responding and died.  The zookeeper who had been checking in on the webcam of mother and baby seemed as traumatized as Mei Xiang, although my recollection is that the autopsy revealed that the death was from natural causes.

I hadn’t given much thought to zoo babies beyond the giant pandas, but living in the immediate vicinity of the Zoo for a year has also made me more aware of news stories in connection to the facility.  Like all the other Smithsonian institutions, there is a vast amount of activity that occurs behind the exhibits, thus the National Zoo is about far more than just displaying exotic animals.  In conjunction with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, the Zoo has a strong focus on trying to preserve species that have been identified as critically endangered, endangered, or threatened.  In addition to carrying out research on animal care, conservation ecology, and genetics, the Zoo has an extremely active breeding program for most of its animals.  I’ve been living next to a maternity ward!

The first young I heard about were in April and were two maned wolf cubs, who at their first check-up were doing quite well.  They have been named “Bold” and “Shy” for their contrasting personalities.  According to the press release, they represent 40 percent of the maned wolf cubs born in the US this year.  I can do the math.  That means they are only two of five cubs, which makes their birth and survival all the more impressive.

More recently, two Sumatran Tiger cubs were born at the zoo, which was a major endangered species triumph.  Thus far the keepers haven’t gotten a close look at the cubs since they first work very slowly to get the protective mother comfortable with having someone else around, but there are webcams in her den so they can keep an eye on the family.  From the webcam pictures, the babies look adorable.

Mother and babies are doing fine

Mother and babies are doing fine

Even back in giant panda world, Mei Xiang has been showing signs of pregnancy, although there is always an uncertainty whether it is a true pregnancy or just a pseudo pregnancy.  I have no doubt that the panda keepers go through this annual round of hope and possibilities, and they’ll just have to see whether this is the year of a baby who survives.  For the moment, the Panda House is closed to visitors, although the inhabitants can be viewed through a webcam on the Zoo’s website.

Rusty, a.k.a. Houdini

Rusty, a.k.a. Houdini

Aside from all the babies this summer, there was some additional excitement when a young red panda (no relation to the giant pandas) named Rusty disappeared from his enclosure at the end of June.  Rusty obviously decided that since he had moved to DC, he needed to see the sights. He was eventually spotted by a family in an adjacent neighborhood who quickly realized that this was not a fox, so the teen-aged daughter snapped a picture, sent it to the zoo, and the keepers arrived to collect their truant.  The keepers finally figured out that there had been a considerable amount of rain the night of the escape, which bent the tree limbs of the enclosure thus creating a temporary bridge between the trees and the bamboo for a clever young panda to go on walkabout.  Rusty was kept in the animal hospital for a week or so, given a tetanus shot, and returned to his enclosure after the trees were given a significant haircut.

Outside the Elephant Community Center

Outside the Elephant Community Center

In a nostalgic mood recently, I took a last stroll through the zoo as a resident neighbor.  I made a point of stopping in the renovated Elephant House, which is now known as the Elephant Community Center.  In addition to offering the elephants much more space to move about, the new facility is heated and cooled using geothermal energy as part of the Zoo’s sustainability plan.  I also snapped a few photos of the zebras.  I’m not quite sure why, but zebras in person strike me as one of the strangest animals ever.  I have no problem with striped tigers or spotted leopards, but striped zebras always look vaguely unnatural to me, if extremely chic in their black and white.

Chic but odd

Chic but odd

I have thoroughly enjoyed living near the Zoo this year, and learning so many of the stories about the animals has given me a much better appreciation for the Zoo’s role in trying to preserve endangered species through breeding.  I also have my fingers crossed for good news about Mei Xiang, but even if this isn’t the year for a new baby giant panda, I know that by next summer, there will be another pack, herd, or flock of baby animals to celebrate.

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