Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010, where did you go?

And so ends 2010. It's really rather ridiculous.
I leave tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with the familia back in DC suburbia, and won't be back to good 'ol Star City until 2011. I enjoyed dinner with the refugee family and even baked some Christmas cookies with them, thinking how surreal it is that I won't see them until next year. I even bid adieu to my favorite burrito joint downtown, waving to it on the way home from work. (Shameless plug? Of course. Delicious? YES.) I'm going to miss our little Christmas tree, my old lady chair that's perfect for drinking tea while I knit and listen to my Wait Wait podcasts, my crazy neighborhood that apparently catches on fire. More on that later. I've grown attached to this town, and two or so weeks of working from my parents' home, while exciting because I get to see my family, is also a little sad. I very much have grown accustomed to my lovely routine here.

That being said, I appreciate 2010 and it's allowing me to find this job. I appreciate that 2010 brought me a college degree, a car, a refugee family, an opportunity to help others, my best non-familial rooming situation (Sister, you'll always win that category), and truly great people. 2010, however, has also had many roadblocks for me. Twelve months ago, I did not imagine myself anywhere near Roanoke... ever. It's funny how life works out. I am very ready for 2011, though. May it bring me many grant wins, more creative ways to save money, and generally pleasant surprises.

As I wrapped up my year here, I went to give the annual report at one of our client's board meetings tonight. All went well, but on the drive home, I noticed a surprising amount of fire trucks passing me. The closer I came to the apartment, the more there were. A block away from home, they were everywhere. I very much remember thinking, "That's a TON of fire trucks and cops for a heart attack..." And then I looked up, and saw a TON of smoke.

I parked Mr. Merlot and walked to the back of my building, naturally calling OfficeMate to let him know that our apartment may be on fire, something he should know since he was in it. It wasn't. But we're along an alley, and a garage on the alley was in flames, with cinders falling by my feet. I even enjoyed a slight dusting from the fire extinguisher hose. Honestly, there is never a dull moment here.

We decided to call it an evening with a Christmas movie. It seemed fitting. I can now finally say I've seen Die Hard.

Merry Christmas, intertubes, and a Happy New Year. I'm taking a blog sabbatical until 2011. If you desperately are in need of knowing what I'm up to, imagine me eating with my family. Because that's what we do best.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmastime is here!

Christmas and Visitors
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing two of my closest friends from college who drove many an hour to visit me in Roanoke. Upon their arrival, they expressed their disappointment in the lack of Christmas joy in our apartment. Naturally, an adventure to Lowes was in order. Within an hour, we had our $15 tree shoved expertly into Mr. Merlot, seated four people in him, drove back to the apartment and set it up next to the stockings hung by the radiator with care.
It wasn't as simple as it seemed. For weeks now, I had been bugging OfficeMate about our lack of a Christmas tree. Seeing as I won't be returning home until right before Christmas, I felt I was being denied all those Christmas traditions that college breaks always assured me I'd be a part of. Every time I saw a Christmas tree in someone's window, I'd point it out to OfficeMate. "Hey, hey guess what they have? That's right, a tree. You know what we don't have?" People had suggested trees, others had offered tree stands, but nothing ever seemed to come to fruition and I was becoming progressively more distressed regarding the lack of Christmas tree in our apartment. I was ready to buy the Festivus pole and list my grievances.

So I thank my friends for pushing us to get a tree. It makes me so happy every morning when I wake to the piney fresh scent; it reminds me of all the love that went into its procurement and decoration, and how, without my friends, my life would be much less colorful and festive. Also, my failed scarf that I accidentally knit into a cape has now become our tree skirt, and Britannica was amazing enough to lend us Christmas lights.

It was a solid weekend, all in all. Friday, I was lucky enough to enjoy the adorable Christmas parade, and Saturday and Sunday were full of Christmas time activities with my college friends, along with a trip up to the star. Yes, it was necessary. There was an ice skating adventure that took place in which I wiped out on the ice in the most epic fashion possible, and am still sore two days later as a result.

Winter... and working in an old house.
My office is an old house. Remember? Well, as exciting as it was back in October, it's become a little crazy in this record-setting low temperature winter. There's some solid central heating on the lower level, but it doesn't quite know how to climb the stairs to our second-story office yet. Tragedy strikes in the most frigid of fashions. Our space heater was doing great, but others on the second floor soon also realized it was cold and brought in their own space heaters. It turns out that three space heaters was just a little too much for our old house to handle, and we bust the fuse. Multiple times. We're talking about five times in one day and many runs to the basement to switch the breaker, all while many people yelled, "SAVE YOUR DOCUMENTS! I'M PLUGGING IN MY SPACE HEATER!"

So now I just wear my slipper-sock-boots with two pairs of socks, along with a scarf, heavy winter coat, and on the worst of days, mittens, at my desk. It is getting a little ridiculous and we're working on how to shuffle people around or start working from home on unbearably cold days - like today's 17, which didn't include windchill. I packed heels in my purse for an offsite meeting and realized afterward that they would not have cared had I shown up in my slipper-sock-boots.

Dear Santa,
All I want for Christmas is heat in my office.

....and an immersion blender, but you knew that one already. Safe travels!
Love your favorite AmeriCorps volunteer,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Free Food, Ghetto Windows. Classic AmeriCorps Living.

Free Food
Coming back from work today, OfficeMate and I stopped by one of our clients to return a banner of theirs we had at the office. Upon our arrival, the Director offered us soup. Thinking she meant "let's grab a bowl of soup because it's cold but I honestly don't have time for you" I thanked her and said we had plenty of food. But she persisted.

It turns out that "soup" really means "a freezer full of of frozen Olive Garden food that had been donated, but they were running out of space for it, which included, but was not limited to, soup. Thus, our freezer is now full of Oliver Garden's finest and we also have a bag of Panera's choice pastries. Have I mentioned my roommate apparently has the food hook up? He had spoken to this director the other day and she had mentioned it to him, he just never remembered to tell me.

There is something to be said for great nonprofits, and that they look out for us volunteers. Cheers to you all, those who love on their volunteers!

Apartment Class
Remember when I broke a window? Luckily for you all, our window saga does not end there! These past few days have been becoming increasingly cold and windy. While sitting on the sofa, I couldn't help but notice I felt like I was in a wind tunnel. Our phenomenal AC window unit was in cahoots with the window across the apartment that I broke to form the world's most effective and freezing wind tunnel.

OfficeMate has been attempting to cover the window with a rejected poster of mine from high school that, for some reason, I felt the need to bring with me to Roanoke. However, it kept falling over and making me jump. So I proposed we use the trashbag that had been sitting behind a chair since we moved in.

We have a trashbag, taped over our window. It fills up like a sail whenever there's a gust, and prompts us to break into "Come Sail Away" on, at least, an hourly basis.

But hey.
You get what you pay for. And on this stellar stipend, trashbag sails/windows in my apartment are almost a perk! Almost as much of a perk as weeks worth of free Olive Garden.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow! It's SNOWING! Welcome, December!

Hello December!
I'm not sure when you got here, but it's nice to see you. Your being here means that I have been in Roanoke for three months now. It also means that I only have nine months left as an AmeriCorps VISTA, which, honestly, is surreal.

December, you presence also means that I can now listen to Christmas music without getting angry. In fact, I'll even sing along. I do wish that Roanoke Christmas music would add some variety to their set list, though, because I'm getting awfully tired of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Last night, I went with Britannica, her sister and OfficeMate to the Christmas tree lighting downtown. Let me just say that while it's not quite the National Christmas (Holiday?) Tree in DC, it is still extremely cute. Afterwards in the downtown market, they had people dressed up like they were from A Christmas Carol, some carolers, carriage rides, a living nativity, Santa, and vendors lined up on the street selling things like roasted chestnuts and hot cocoa. It was adorable, to say the least. I also may or may not have sung along with a choir and screamed "SANTA" a few times. Oh Christmas, I'm excited that you're here!
This morning, I woke fully rested and even lay in bed for an hour or so, finishing up a book. It was truly amazing. When I finally got my butt out of bed, I was determined to be productive. I changed my sheets, made some coffee, and decided to finally find this elusive laundry room in our apartment building. I ventured outside in shorts (have I mentioned it's SNOWING today?), boots and a sweatshirt (thus the purpose of laundry) only to walk around in vain, trying to open locked doors with improper keys, and then just kicking them out of frustration.

Maybe my laundry's not that dirty yet. Maybe I can hold out until Christmas. Maybe I should wash all my clothes in the bathtub and hang them out to dry. Maybe my landlord should answer the phone on the weekends. Maybe I should just go to a laundromat. But because it's snowing, so that's unlikely.

Cooking Attempts
I have finally brought arepas to Roanoke. Granted, there is no queso caribe to be found in Roanoke (true life: I didn't even bother looking), so they were filled with Kroger's finest mozarella and cheddar because that's what we had in the fridge, and topped with the classiest of ham for a sandwich. Also, yes, I made them for dinner. With a glass of wine. Vegetables, I just cannot be bothered with you these days.

Getting creative with cooking is proving to be quite a task. I try not to repeat meals, but it's been about five or six weeks now, and I've already repeated once. Spaghetti and meatballs, you're just so simple! Also, let's ignore the fact that I eat pb&j almost every single day for lunch, unless I'm resourceful enough to make enough food for dinner to ensure leftovers the next day. When I do that, though, I generally end up eating the same meal for like a week and hate myself for it.

For now, I have every intention of not doing my laundry, making some tea, and starting another book. Because honestly, what else are snowy afternoons in the valley for?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For (in general, and while ill)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I spent the holiday with family in Philly, after many hours of sitting in a car. There was much food, more wine, and overall quality family time. I am so thankful for such a phenomenal family, honestly. Alas, reality does not lie in Philly, and I had to return to Roanoke this morning.

Now, while speaking of things I am thankful for, let me explain that I awoke sick this morning. We're talking worshiping the porcelain god, clammy hands, no appetite sick. (No appetite is the tell-tale sign of my illness.) Ergo, I am thankful for the following:

Mr. Merlot, who returned me to my abode in Roanoke in one piece, to reunite me with my electric tea kettle and my taco-shaped bed.
My Taco-Shaped Bed, who embraces me every night and is ever-so-soft.
My Tea Kettle, who, every night, makes me some chamomile, and every morning heats up some H20 for my french press. He is currently assisting in my tea consuming endeavors.
Garrison Keillor, for knowing that in the last leg of my trip, what I needed to hear more than anything was A Prairie Home Companion. Thank you.
Glasses, for allowing me to see without the hassle of contacts.
My Yoga Pants, for being the best pair of pants a girl could ask for. I apologize for never doing yoga in you anymore, and really only wearing you to eat and sleep.

Hopefully I won't have to use a sick day tomorrow. Although, sleep would probably help this whole illness thing. Come on, body, fight this!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dating in Roanoke

I met a guy tonight. After three months in this town, I met a guy. His name is Nicholas.

Let me backtrack.

I was at dinner with OfficeMate and his mother, enjoying conversation and good food, when I noticed a really cute guy sitting next to me. We locked eyes, he smiled, and I melted. That's pretty much all I can say.

That, and that he's 7 months old. His father let me play with him and he bounced on my lap. He may possibly be the cutest baby ever with the world's CHUBBIEST cheeks.

Yes, I realize the irony of this post after the one about estrogen. Man, if only I had gotten his digits.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


There is so much estrogen in my office. Some days, I don't realize just how many women are there, and other days, days like today, it's painfully obvious. We generally have our estrogen-filled moments, but they're brief. For instance, when we all agree that our accountant is extremely attractive. We take that moment, discuss his attractiveness, and move on. (May our accountant never find this blog)

We were in a staff meeting. OfficeMate had left for a dentist appointment, which, it turns out, was probably a good thing. One moment we're discussing consignment shops to sell crafts for earned income, and the next thing I know we've gone from birthing chairs in thrift stores all the way to personal accounts of labor. I felt like I was in the middle of an Oprah special.

Working with women has its perks. Having worked in male-heavy environments in the past, it is nice to get the female perspective in at every meeting. There are no assumptions that you're incompetent based on your gender and sports talk is replaced by discussions of reality TV and cooking. In the nonprofit world, I've accepted that I will most likely be working among more women than men.

But still, there's something to be said for testosterone. Men are less likely to over analyze situations. To a man, an email is just an email, and whatever is not said is not there because it's not relevant. I'm guilty of over analyzing, of getting caught up in the grapevine, and all those other fun perks that come with being a female. I suppose this just exemplifies the importance of the dichotomy of the sexes.

In other news, I recently have been assigned to another local nonprofit, so I'll be working with more than just the childcare facility. I'm excited - it's an excellent opportunity for growth and experience. We'll see how things go!

Also, thank you to everyone who has given decorating suggestions. Thus far, I have just stolen artwork from my parents' house and hung it up haphazardly around the apartment, with OfficeMate lending his suggestions for what is straight and what is crooked. Next up, who knows?? I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Decorating on a budget

I've found that the ideal way to decorate a living space on a budget is to just not do so at all.

However, blank walls are sad and a pile of books does not a bookshelf make. So I've been looking around, trying to get creative. I invested in a $3 piece of gallery-worthy (or is that galley-worthy) artwork from Goodwill, and bought the finest particle-board covered in a wood-like sticker that you piece together to form a bookshelf that $15 could buy. I keep my eye on Craigslist for whatever jewels may come up, and have considered even getting crafty and trying to create something myself, but my lack of artistic ability always steers me clear. I put off decorating to make food. I make a lot of food. From the portions of food I make, you'd think I was cooking for 12 and not two.

I am open to suggestions on cheap (or FREE) decorating. As much as I enjoy beige walls, they're a little too reminiscent of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with nothing to adorn them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Table Hunting, Old Age, Kitchen Lovin'

Table Hunting
OfficeMate and I have been looking for a table since we moved into our new apartment. As wonderful as eating on the floor has been, and as useful as moving boxes are as tables, the novelty started wearing off earlier this week. We found some interesting tables, a two-seater diner booth ala-Seinfeld (which I wanted SO badly) and a conference table on Craigslist.

I contacted a nice man named Cliff regarding his table, and the next thing I knew I had an appointment to see it yesterday evening. It was dark by the time I left the office, and pitch-highbeams-were-necessary black by the time I reached this man's house. He lives at the end of a dead end, up a massive driveway that led me to a secluded house. I parked, hesitantly, and looked up when I heard barking. There was huge german shepherd tied to a tree, barking at me, not five feet away. I texted OfficeMate and let him know that, if I died, he could have Planty.

Luckily, Cliff was a nice retired man with a nice, affordable table and two chairs that have been expertly packed into my backseat and trunk.

Old Age

I've become 75 in the past few weeks. I have dinner ready by 6:30p or so. I watch the Nightly News, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and knit in my old woman chair. My knitting skills are not what they used to be, as my scarf has slowly been morphing into what OfficeMate has dubbed a cape. Which, sadly, is an accurate statement.

Kitchen Lovin'I love our kitchen. It's small, but it's the one room in our apartment that I'm content with. Why? Because it's pretty well stocked with food and supplies, and it allows me to make tasty food. I have begun cooking up a storm and it's glorious. I've missed cooking.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wrapping up October


I own a geranium. His name is Planty. He is the offspring of my good friend’s geranium, Gerry. Planty, bless his little geranium heart, is like my pet. I am not at a stage in my life where I feel remotely responsible enough for a dog, especially consider my cushy living stipend that I call a salary to make me feel like an adult.

I’ve had Planty for about three years now. He’s a little trooper, my plant. He endured a hurricane and later a snowstorm my senior year of college. Even when I thought he was dead, a little green sprout popped back up, and I knew my geranium was a fighter.

Planty, obviously, moved with me to Roanoke. He wasn’t the best travel companion – he didn’t speak much in the car. Regardless, by about day two at work, I felt it was time I bring him to the office. At first, Planty wasn’t incredibly receptive to his new environment, and he wasn’t particularly fond of the stinkbug invasion in southern Virginia. Every day before going to eat lunch, like clockwork, I would water Planty. He seemed to be warming up to his new home, looking content, loving the bright sunny days and fresh air on the second-story porch.

One tragic day the other week, I went to water Planty, and he was not there. Like any good mother, I immediately began to imagine the worst-case scenario. I called for OfficeMate, frantic that someone had stolen my plant, not really taking into consideration the ridiculousness of the notion that someone would go out of their way to steal a geranium. That’s about when I saw him. I saw him on the ground, having taken a two-story jump to his little plant death, surrounded by shattered pieces of his pot.

I had driven Planty to suicide.

I immediately ran inside and put him in the Styrofoam ICU (Intensive Cup Unit). A few days later, I went to Walmart and procured him a new fancy blue pot. He’s kept indoors now, on the kitchen window ledge. I worry about him. I never asked him how he felt about moving, about leaving his plant companions in my mother’s backyard, and now he’s acting out. This incident has also made me worry about my potential as a pet owner, and later as a mother.

For now, we’re hanging in there, Planty and I. We appreciate all the kind words on facebook.

Broken Window

After my busy week of a suicidal plant, moving, discovering only half of our stove works, and my first board meeting, it was so wonderful to be able to go out with some friends for my 23rd birthday last night. It was low-key and perfect, complete with great people, tasty food, amusing conversation and questionable wine.

Upon our return home, OfficeMate and I got to chatting. I was struck with the realization that it was rather chilly, due to the fact that I had opened the living room window earlier in the day. As I innocently closed the window, it shattered on me.

This led to me calling my college roommate who is an EMT, an impromptu trip across Roanoke trying to find an open pharmacy for rubbing alcohol and neosporin, settling for a Kroger and buying juice.

My hands are now covered in bandaids, making it look like I spent my birthday not enjoying some pizza, but kicking someone’s ass in a bar brawl. …a brawl that, I’ll note, it looks like I won.

The glass has been picked up. The landlord has been called. Until then, we just get to enjoy a nice late-October-I-hope-it-doesn’t-get-any-colder-or-we’ll-freeze breeze.

New Chair

Yesterday, I also got myself a little birthday gift.

Say hello to my new chair.

This is my first purchase of a legitimate piece of furniture. I feel like such an adult! It was sitting at the thrift store, waiting for me, with its $20 price tag. I shoved it awkwardly in Mr. Merlot’s backseat, and he is now sitting comfortably in the living room. We still have no tables, but that’s irrelevant. Eating on the floor is still working out just fine. $20 for an incredibly cute chair! I love this city.

First Board Meeting

I had my first board meeting yesterday, and I can confidently say I feel like I rocked it. I was prepared with packets for each board member and was able to coherently and confidently answer all their questions. All my hesitations from the past two months dissipated when I realized that I’ve begun to pick things up – I may have only touched the surface of nonprofits, but I’m absorbing it all as I go. Not only does the Board of Directors hopefully respect me now, but I also can respect myself for knowing much more than I realized I did.

Today, I return home. For the first time in about two months, I am going to see my long-lost family, hug the dog, and enjoy public transit. And come Sunday night, I have to return back to Roanoke, as I try to make it home.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Thank You

Today, I stabilize my living situation. Tonight, I sleep in a place I can call my own for the next 12 months. Tomorrow, I won't have to pick my clothes out of a suitcase (let's be honest here, it's a hiking backpack).

However, in all this tumult of the past two months, I have found the best two people in the valley. I found two people who took me in at my time of need, who fed me, and who went above and beyond what I requested of them. They, more than anyone else, made Roanoke feel like home to me. My Refugee Parents have included me in family activities, ask me how my day is (This is asked, without fail, every single day. I'm always fascinated), and supplied me with fantastic company and riveting stories. I am beyond thankful.
I'm excited to be living somewhere stable, but I'm honestly rather bummed that I have to leave my refugee camp - I've grown quite attached.

Here's to phenomenally good-hearted people. Here's to sunny October Sundays for moving. Here's to packing up Mr. Merlot and moving in Roanoke for the third and final time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best....

I went hiking this weekend.
I've been talking about going hiking in this neck of the woods since I applied for this job back in May (June?), and have just gotten around to it.
Britannica invited me for a family/girls-night sort of weekend to be held at Granny's house. Granny is Britannica's 75+ grandmother who cooks obscene amounts of homemade biscuits and really any other kind of food you could possibly imagine, knits house slippers for her guests (mine are blue and yellow!), and keeps a shotgun in her bathroom to shoot the groundhogs in the backyard, of course.

Granny lives in a neighboring valley down some serious back roads, and her front porch wins the prize for best view in the state, looking out onto some seriously majestic parts of the Blue Ridge. She had an uncle who deserted from WWI and lived in the mountains for seven years, with his mother leaving him food every few days (I apologize for my paraphrasing of what is truly an incredible tale. I can't do it justice). Granny is, in short, fantastic.
We, being four of us ladies while Granny stayed home, went for a hike mid-morning up to an area called The Devil's Marbleyard (for more info, check this out). Essentially, one hikes up to a rockface with boulders the size of Mr. Merlot. I initially clambered around the rocks precariously, but soon enough was putting my hamstrings to the test and doing some impressive maneuvering. I'm still not sure how I didn't die. It was great. The following photo is brought to you by my ghetto camera phone, because my real camera had dead batteries. Yes, this was my view from the top.
The Best
Today, I was asked what was the best moment I've had since I moved. My initial response was my hike this weekend because, honestly, did you see that view?? Pair that view with some phenomenal hiking companions and general joviality, and it made for one hell of a day.

However, while Saturday was incredible, it was not the top moment. My top moment has probably been one nondescript afternoon while driving home. That moment where the windows are down, the sun is setting over the mountains, the family-friendly radio station is cranking out some hit from 1955, and I know I'm trying my best at work - that's the moment where I am most contended, knowing I live in the most beautiful place on earth doing the best work I can.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My First Grant

The Grant
This entry title is a slight misnomer... I have yet to actually complete my first grant. However, I have completed versions 1,2,3,4,5 and 6. Unsatisfactory versions in between versions 1-6 were trashed. Tomorrow will inevitably bring more versions, but by Friday at 5pm, those versions will be inconsequential.

Today is important, because I have completed all the aspects required of me on the application, regardless of how terribly written or what glaring grammatical errors may still be left.

This grant and I... I noticed him from across a smoky bar known as the internet and he quickly gave me his digits. As I've gotten to know him, I learned how much money he had, how much I could ask of him. I learned what he expected of me (he wants it all on paper) and I learned he had a deadline. There are others out there vying for his attention (and money), and I had a deadline to impress him by.

Commence freak out. Commence overreaction. Commence stress.

I have never written a grant before. Now, I legitimately enjoy writing. But this wasn't my opinion of Henrik Ibsen* for a professor to glaze over and throw in a pile. This was asking for money so underprivileged children could have access to educational software. If I messed this up, there were larger, more implicit, ramifications than subtle drop in my GPA.

I brought it home this past weekend. Yes, the grant and I were getting serious. Sadly, I left him ignored in a pile on the floor and kicked my shoes over him until Monday night. Monday night I spent a handful of hours organizing my thoughts, kicking my five year-old MacBook for not being more responsive, and trying to plot out the best argument for this nonprofit. By the time I came in to work on Tuesday, I was unsatisfied with my work.

My Supervisor (new Supervisor, not Britannica) was a Godsend today. She is graciously and patiently explaining some of the most basic concepts to me and beating me over the head with the reminder "to not reinvent the wheel." I stayed late at the office today, cranking this grant out. I am determined to give myself at least one full day of edits before submitting it.
Hopefully, I'll win this thing.

Alone at the Office
Our office is an old house. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love that it has character, I love that when we have lunch we gather around a dining room table, I love that we have a full kitchen and I love that the building itself is adorable. I hate that it's drafty and creaky.

The draftiness has yet to be a real issue thanks to this bipolar weather Roanoke's trying on for size. There was one day the other week that was particularly cold, but I found a spaceheater that Britannica abandoned and was fine. The creakiness has also been a non-issue because the office is generally so full of people, laughter, OfficeMate's singing, Across-the-Hall coworker yelling at OfficeMate to not sing, and our affordable intercom (yelling) that the creakiness goes unnoticed.

Today 5pm rolls around and OfficeMate and Across-the-Hall dip out. It's 5pm, we're the last ones there, it makes sense. I would generally go, too. Except, I have this grant. No big deal. I'm on a mission. I'm committed. I get into my writing mode. Off come the shoes. Forget the sweater. Turn off classic rock, bust out the Juan Luis Guerra. The cursor is blinking and I am feeling the good grant vibes rushing through me. That could just be the sugar rush from the diet coke and half a bag of candy corn, but I told myself they were good grant vibes. And then I heard it.
thunk thunk thunk
I figured it was the door, so I put the shoes and sweater back on, turn down the music, and head downstairs. No one was at either door, so I went back upstairs. Sweater and shoes off, music up.
If there is anything that's an incentive to finish your work early, it's a creaky house. I went back downstairs, again in vain, and accepted the fact that the house was rejecting my being there. It proceeded to continuously proclaim its dislike for the next few hours, but I did not leave until I was satisfied with my writing. Or, semi satisfied. All in a day's work.

*Henrik Ibsen, I'm not a huge fan.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Twang.

For the past three weeks, I've begun spending my Wednesday evenings at one of the food pantries we support at work. Every Wednesday, this organization supplies food and clothing to hundreds of individuals in the valley that would otherwise go hungry. We require they either fall below a certain income bracket or are recipients of medicaid, food stamps, SSI, TANF, or any other government program that assures us they are below the poverty level.

I've been placed in the new registration line. Also, Mother, you would be pleased to know that my Spanish has finally proven itself useful in the valley! I'm the unofficial on-call translator every Wednesday, which honestly does make me feel like I'm somewhat useful.

But, oddly enough, while this is also the one time a week when I can actually use my Spanish, aside from using the odd word here and there with OfficeMate, this is also the one time a week where I become painfully aware of what is happening to me.

I'm developing the southern twang.
I don't know if it's because the people I sign in have such thick southern accents, or what, but this is getting serious. I drop my 'g's and I can hear myself drawing out my vowels. Britannica called me out on it yesterday, which means it's becoming noticeable to other people as well.

I don't say 'y'all." I refuse to pick that one up. But, I am beginning to see why people use it.

The transformation has apparently begun.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rain in the Valley

It's been raining in the mountains.

A hard rain's a gonna fall, as Bob Dylan says.
Last week, I referenced New Friend. New Friend is, in reality, Supervisor. Sadly, she is leaving the office to pursue life goals, for which I wish her only the best. As a result of her departure, she can no longer be referred to as "Supervisor" and shall henceforth be known as "Britannica." She spent a good three days or so brainstorming her new nickname, with the help of some choice coworkers, and that is the best our office could come up with.

Britannica's leaving is tough. I'm certain everyone at work will concur with my saying she has been the glue for the past two years, somehow keeping tabs on the eight thousand aspects that make our mission a reality and not just some pipedream. I honestly do wish her the best in her endeavors and still have every intention of seeing her on a regular basis, but the office just won't be the same without her. She is a phenomenal, inspiring person, and I hope I can make a fraction of the difference she's been able to make here in this valley.

Stepping up to the challenge
With Britannica's leaving, things are getting intense at the office. If there was something I hadn't learned from her yet, I'm learning it now. Activity reports, grant summaries, general verbage, contact lists. I've been hand held long enough, and now is the chance for me to honestly just jump in. It's time to sink or swim, and I'm doing my best at doggy paddle. When I think about all I've learned in the past month, it really becomes overwhelming. It is also promising, in its own twisted way. If I can handle this much, I can only get better at it.

Office Anecdote
Britannica had a serious relationship with her expo board. I'm talking they had been together about two years (from what I can gather), they went home together on a regular basis, and he was practically her entire world. Now that she's leaving the office, she is leaving him as well.

The Expo Board has been left in my care. I have inherited this wonderful piece of white plastic. First thing today, I color-coded my to-do list with places for check marks and my life feels so complete. Being able to SEE my to-do list, and having other people (read as: OfficeMate) see it makes me feel much more accountable for my work. If something is not checked off, others can call me out on it. Hello, superior productivity. Hopefully we'll get along just fine.

Everything else.
My money has yet to be returned. I'm not super worried about it. The whole experience has made me realize how many stupid things happen because of money. I may not be rolling in the big bucks, I may have ripped a belt loop off a pair of jeans this past weekend (damn you, jeans dance!) and Mr. Merlot may not have the fancy Toyota "T" on him anymore, but I'm happy. I am genuinely happy.

I am currently living with wonderful and understanding people (no, honestly, they're like the best people I've ever met). I am lucky enough to have a job where I get to help others, help those who need it the most. I have met some of the most genuinely awesome people in this town. I am inspired on a daily basis by the wonderful people I work with and even more by the strength of the people I serve. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach and gas in my tank. I don't need much more. In the past month, more than ever in my life, I've begun to evaluate what really matters.

This rain in the valley, it's doing nothing more than clearing off the dusty distractions from my life. All these worries in my life; money that will eventually make its way back into my account, friendships that may never materialize.... they're being washed away.

And what's left are people. People have helped me in this past rough month. They've helped house me, they've lent me money, they've listened to me vent, they've sent me support in so many forms (including surprise flowers at work!).

And that's why I want to help people. Because, when there is nothing left, no other outlet when you have no hope, you're just looking for a helping hand or a patient ear. Others have been that for me, and I so desperately want to be that for so many others.

That is why I serve.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'm not in Kansas anymore...

For the past two weeks or so, I've had a serious hankering for some pho. For those of you unfamiliar with pho, it's a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup. Yelp and UrbanSpoon continuously suggest the same place to me, but it's far away and a bowl of pho will run you around $10. This is unacceptable, especially since I still have no access to my stolen money.

The lack of pho in Roanoke is just one of the many things I've come to realize symbolize my complete move away from all things familiar.

I went to a shindig last night and saw a man with a legitimate "I <3 Mom" tattoo. This is something I am not accustomed to. I spent two days driving around looking for plantains last week. I am used to plantains at any local grocery store.

I miss the convenience of hole-in-the-wall food joints that serve cuisines from places I have never been for less than it costs to hit up McDonalds.

Yes, this is an entire post dedicated solely to wanting more food options.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roanoke Hazing

I would like to begin this post by exclaiming my love for Roanoke prices. I dry cleaned five pairs of pants for $20. It's like Disney World for people with too many pairs of business casual pants. ...I'm just saying. Onto more important things...

Tailgating and Football
My family is not athletic. Hopefully Brother & Sister will not take offense to this statement but I think it's safe to say that I was definitely the most athletic of my parent's offspring (which is not saying much). While my siblings gave up on soccer by about 4th grade, I stuck it out until 8th and even tried my hand (legs?) at cross country for a hot season. That didn't work out so well, because I have a bum knee, and my genetics were like, "Psh? Athleticism? You're deranged." Thus, I gave up.

Athletics here are like a way of life. I'm on team for a high school retreat here (religious retreat. I do not mean "team" in any way that could imply sports), and every single high schooler on the team was like "I go to this school and play these three sports." I would have died had I spent my childhood here - they would have eaten my non-athletically-compatible self alive. Even the people who you don't think would play a sport still did. The local news covers high school football. I kid you not. Their slogan is "News 10 - On Your Sidelines." (Correction: OfficeMate has complained about my improper statement here. The News 10 slogan is "On Your Side." But they do use "On Your Sidelines" when covering high school football.)

So when OfficeMate invited me to go with him to a Virginia Tech game, I wasn't quite sure what to do. People are serious about their football here, and my family only gets serious about football when we're playing croquet at 3am in the summer with a glass of wine and you're trying to cheat by kicking your ball through the hoops you can't see. (I really hope someone followed that sentence.)

I get football - no really, I do. I understand the concept behind the game and more or less what the various positions do. I can even watch football and enjoy it. It's just not something I do on a regular basis.

I agreed to go, because it's an experience. Having gone to a small liberal arts school, I was seriously jipped when it comes to the legitimate football experience. Tailgating? School spirit? A stadium that seats 60,000+? It's a whole different world at Tech. I even called up my father about an hour before leaving, wandering Kroger, asking what on earth one brings to a tailgate. I also reprimanded him for raising children that can pair wines and cheese but cannot interact with people who tailgate.

Tech tailgating is like nothing I've ever seen (perhaps because I had never tailgated before...). People have flat screen tvs hooked up on their tailgating tents, connected to a dish so they can watch their Pre-Game Sports shows. There are grills of all shapes and sizes, and so. much. orange. Granted, it comes with the territory of Blacksburg. But it was definitely an experience.
The game was phenomenal; Tech ended up doing some serious damage to ECU. I saw cheerleaders actually engage a crowd in cheering and learned a few cheers myself. I also decided that the turkey noise they play at third downs sounds disturbingly similar to a cassette getting stuck in a tape deck. I high-fived a stranger after Tech scored a touchdown. Twice! All in all, a solid experience. Roanoke is getting me out of my comfort zones in more ways than one, and I'm learning a lot from it all.

On Wednesday, I was feeling good. I was getting the hang of this town, making progress on various projects at work and was already signed up to donate blood and later volunteer at a food distribution center in the evening. I was an altruism machine, cranking out happiness and good deeds like a champ, and I was feeling good.

I was late to the blood drive... because I'm hispanic. No big deal, though, because no one seems to be in much of a rush in Roanoke anyways.
Then the woman who stuck me for donating missed my vein like three times. She kept looking around nervously and asking me if I was sure I'd donated before. No, no I must have dreamt those other times. My bad. Now my arm is looking rough - all bruised and what not.
I finished donating, enjoyed a free sandwich and that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you know you've actually been a productive and helpful human being, and left to meet a friend (right!! another friend!) for volunteering.

Let me explain to you, intertubes, how great it felt to be back out volunteering. We'll ignore the fact that this whole year is theoretical volunteer service. While I know my job is necessary and important, there is still something to be said for volunteer work with a quantitative aspect to it. Say, we fed X amount of people today. The people were so grateful to have something to hold them over and I was just thankful for the opportunity to help. The children were thrilled by the idea of a single donut and were always impeccably polite. I was blown away. I intend on returning as often as possible.

So I then went out with New Friend (who's not really new, but that's just too complicated to get into on the blog) for dinner. I enjoyed some good company and some delicious sushi, my first sushi since Lord only knows when. And that's when it happened.

I went to pay my bill. And they told me my card was rejected. Twice.
Now. I don't overdraft. Ever. I knew how much money was in my account. I had enough for dinner and then some.
I went home and called my bank. Somehow, someone had gotten my card information and essentially spent all my money. How considerate. After a long discussion with my friendly neighborhood bank teller first thing this morning, I've filed all the necessary paperwork and had all the expected migraines. I should see my money again in a few weeks. For now, I'm just living even more cheaply than usual. It's not like I had a social life for this to affect anyways.

Rest In Peace, Debit Card. Seeing you get mercilessly cut up this morning was rough. We had a good run. I hope Debit Card heaven is nice and full of fun places to be swiped, like all those places I promised you we'd one day go and never made it to.

For those of you who are unaware, my housing situation is in a state of limbo at the moment.
I have very limited access to what small amount of funds I now have left.
My arm is all bruised and makes me look like a heroine addict (thanks, blood donation)
Two of my three friends in the area are leaving way to soon.

For those of you familiar with the play Avenue Q, I feel like I'm rocking out to the song, "It Sucks To Be Me." Today's been a little pity party, and now that I've moped sufficiently, I have every intention of bucking up tomorrow, realizing that, while things are bad, they could be a lot worse. I have a good support system in this town (thank GOD), and I'll get through it. And you know, I'll be all the better and stronger for it in the long run.

But, for real Roanoke, what is this? Your version of hazing? I'm not down with it.

And here's some silver lining just for fun! Today, I paid for gas with cash. ...for the first time in my life. I felt so legit being like, "Oh, I'll just take $15 on 7." I bet the guy at the register had NO idea I had never done it before. I'm a pro. There. optimism. Suck it, cynicism.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

One Month and Counting.

One month and going strong...
So I've been in Roanoke for about a month now. I've learned a few back roads, I can hear the twang developing in my voice (I'm not proud of this), and I am getting a better feel for the people and the culture of the valley. Sprawling metropolis that Roanoke may be, it still very much has the small town feel. People I vaguely recall meeting once not only remember my name, but somehow seem to know every single personal fact about me, including things that I may not yet know.

"MV, do you remember meeting Mr. X?"
"Of course!" I lie.Mr. X will then proceed to tell me not only how we first met (thanks for the refresher) but also what he has learned about me from our mutual connection since we last saw one another. Now, everyone here only has to remember meeting me. My handicap is having to remember every single one of them. It's a challenge, and I am slacking something fierce. My biggest fear is them learning I don't remember meeting them, but for now I just smile and go with it. Nodding enthusiastically and occasionally going in for a hug helps too - yes, I am promoting the hugging of people who are potential strangers.

Roanoke = ParisMy supervisor loves to compare Roanoke to Paris. Obvious comparisons aside, such as it being a massive city and cultural center of the world, there is some validity to this comparison.
Zip codes are done in snail pattern, much like Paris. So, in that light, I'm just living in the Paris of Virginia. Instead of a big fancy tower, we have a massive lit-up star. And instead of the Seine, we have the Roanoke River. Other than the language, you'd never be able to tell the difference.

The Morbidity of Nonprofits
You'd think that nonprofits would be all about forward-thinking methods and general optimism. And, well, it's not that they're not - it's more that there's a dark side to them as well.

My first week at work, I found myself researching various funeral homes and crematoriums. And pet cemeteries... and so forth. This was when I was initially just trying to figure out who was generous in their donations in the area.

Now, about a month in, I've begun doing intense research in regards to planned giving - or who includes us in their will, estate plans, etc. While calling the necessary contacts, I began to realize that the nonprofit world has its ugly, morbid side. Somehow, this has become my niche for the past two weeks or so. While it sounds awful, it is a very real and necessary part of fundraising. Many nonprofits, especially in the educational realm such as universities, rely heavily on planned giving for a substantial percentage of their income. It is just incredibly essential to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, or you'll become such a Negative Nancy cynic that no one will see the point in giving to you.

The Stipend
You're probably all like, "Alright MV, that's great that you're fundraising and dealing with death and all, but how's your pretension working out for you on your limited budget?"
Let me tell you, friends, amigos, countrymen.
There's been some wine withdrawal, I'm not going to lie. I may have moved with two cases of wine (no, parents, I haven't finished them), but finding people who are like "Hey, let's get together to chill over a glass of wine!" has been rough. I went to the friendly neighborhood Kroger after work yesterday with Supervisor for a free wine tasting, and felt almost like I was at the wine tasting at Whole Foods. The sommelier had brought a zinfandel from home that he let us try - it was fantastic and honestly, I was a little bummed that it wasn't available for sale. Supervisor enjoys wine, though, which is an incredibly exciting find. There is apparently a wine festival up at the lake next weekend, but our sommelier said it was good if you're into an abundance and large variety of mediocre wine.

Going out. I don't do it, really, at all, because it costs money. (and because I'm still learning how to make friends) Or, you offer to DD. Then it's free/cheap. I eat a lot of pb&j at work. Or pb&honey. I also eat a substantial amount of pizza because you can buy a pizza here for $6. Who knew that in a one week I could go from never having had Little Caesars to having it twice?

Also, enjoy a handful of the few photos I've been able to upload! Woo.

Coming soon to the blog: my first real college football experience (and having no idea what to bring to a tailgate), being useless at work because I know no one, and my ongoing adventure to de-ghettofy Mr. Merlot.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reality Bites.

Roanoke Pastimes
I knew I had to stop moping around on Friday nights. This was just becoming ridiculous and accomplishing absolutely nothing. So after a wonderful dinner that consisted solely of a gargantuan amount of homemade tabbouleh and a glass of wine, I began to peruse the newspaper for weekend activities. "No Shame Theater" was $5 downtown and I figured I'd give it a shot. OfficeMate and I got there about fifteen minutes early, I was informed they had no change for my $20, and was sent on a goose-chase for change. What change did I manage to get? Twenty dollars in singles. Awesome. Now I get to pay for things in one dollar bills, like the classy girl I am.

No Shame Roanoke was painful. Painful doesn't even begin to describe it. I feel absolutely awful for even suggesting it to OfficeMate. If anything, though, we got a good laugh out of it. Just... not because of the skits. There was one guy who I'm pretty sure just banged on his keyboard arbitrarily and then read it aloud as a poem. There was one failed attempt at mocking the guy in Florida who wanted to burn the Koran. There was one person who squeaked a rubber chicken, then made the squeaking noise himself, and every now and then blurted out a random word. ...and to top this all off, there was a guy two rows ahead of us who kept standing up to let people by whose pants were WAY to low and gave us a serious view of the crack.
A Friday night downtown in Roanoke is seemingly quiet. While we just went for No Shame (which was so shameful), the streets weren't particularly packed. Parking was not an issue. There was one place that might be considered a "club," and I only gathered that based on the guy that slightly resembled a bouncer outside. All in all, it was fairly quiet. We're not talking Clarendon here - or even Ballston. I couldn't help thinking, "It's FRIDAY. This is downtown. What is this, people??"

OfficeMate and I may or may not have (read as: ...have) signed up for Club Penguin accounts last week. He made an excellent observation. "Did you know that Club Penguin has a nightclub? How is it that Club Penguin is more happening and has a better nightlife than Roanoke??" It's sad, because it's true.

So I figured I'd hit up the somewhat-renowned Saturday market downtown. I was pleasantly surprised to find more people there on a Saturday morning (...afternoon. Let's be honest here, I slept in) than on a Friday night. Again, it all boils down to demographics. There are more families than young-ins, so there are more people out and about at a market than attempting to break it down in a "club." However, walking around downtown Saturday morning, there was nothing else downtown. Not even people. Roanoke has a large amount of unoccupied storefronts and an incredible amount of vacant apartments. I suppose I had some vague idea of this moving here, but it is only just beginning to fully sink in. The concept of Roanoke I had initially was this cute town with a plethora of local activities and gatherings, and I was going to acquaint myself with small-town(ish) America.

Reality bites.

But I will not be brought down. The mall has a pet store. While I hate all things associated with pet stores (puppy mills, paying obscene amounts of money for a dog when the ones in the pound need homes, etc etc), seeing a store full of cute little puppies helped set off my incoming disappointment. I'm here for the long-haul, so I need to come to terms with this. I need to find ways to amuse myself and learn to become less dependent on others. Right now, that includes reading through the classics at the library. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is making me feel all warm and fuzzy for Spain. Hemingway writing in Spanglish is comforting, and his comments on Spaniards are something I can relate to - much more than life in Roanoke.

In that vein, I would like to make a shameless plug for my US Open pick. Come on, Nadal! Spain showed the world in soccer, now they've got 'em in tennis!

Church Shopping
I'm still looking for my church here in Roanoke. The past two weeks of churches have been good, but not quite the ambiance I'm searching for. In a few hours, I'm hitting up the Spanish mass. Bring it, latinos! I heard two of you at the market yesterday, so I know you're hiding somewhere in this town!

And for a random observation brought to you by research at work:
Poorly Researched Company Names
While doing research of corporations in the area that may be willing to donate, I came across one that apparently has the same name as a porn studio in Vegas (Yes, I'm talking about YOU Atomic Television). Thanks Google. I really wanted to see that first thing on my Friday morning. This is definitely a scenario where you don't want to hit the "I'm Feeling Lucky!" button on Google. People, before you choose a name for your company, research it. This is like naming your child. Just, make sure you've covered all possible scenarios before going with that name. This is coming from a girl who, when you google her name, first you get her linked in profile, then some stuff about Dean's List and conferences.... and then some porn star information comes up. For the record, they are not one in the same.

I'm just saying... research your name choices thoroughly. For anything.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making Friends, Impostor Lakes and Other Anecdotes

Making Friends here is tough. I've found that I dread each weekend, because I really don't know anyone here to do anything with. I lack the drive to go out to some place by myself to meet people, so I generally spend Fridays moping. It's not a good pattern I've gotten myself into and I am looking to get out of it. Labor Day weekend, I spent Saturday at the lake with OfficeMate and some of his friends and had a grand old time. It's amazing how social interaction can instantly make you more optimistic.

A friend of mine at UVA sent me an article about how difficult it is for 20 and 30 somethings to make friends here. A lot of people who move here in my age demographic are actually quite likely to move away due to the lack of friends. You can read the article here. Roanoke is a town of families, not so much for the youngin's like myself. I tried to befriend the girl at the library who hooked me up with my library card, and I think I frightened her. Perhaps I was to forward? I feel like I'm living the movie, "I Love You, Man." Making friends sucks, officially. But, I will not be brought down. Si se puede. I can make friends. One day at a time.

Until then, I intend on making long drives to visit old friends from college. I am now two for two on my weekends.

The Lake
Okay, so the lake here is fascinating to me. Smith Mountain Lake is, first off, huge. It's 32 square miles with 500 miles of shoreline. It's average depth is 55 ft. (Thanks for the stats, Wikipedia!) This thing is enormous. What gets me, though, aside from it's size, is that it's man-made. Around the 1920s, people were like, "Hey, we should have a lake here!" and by the 1960's, an entire valley had been flooded to create this lake. So, underneath the lake are trees, houses (probably some dead bodies, who knows?) and things of that nature.
The whole thing is so bizarre to me. Out of this lake, random mountain tops just appear. It gets super deep impressively fast, and I couldn't help worrying about kicking a tree the whole time I was swimming in there. Impostor lake.

But it is beautiful.

I took many photos, and went to upload them (along with various other photos I've taken since I've been here) only to discover the I left my cable at my parents' house. Sorry internet. I'll post photos as soon as I can. Until then, make do with whatever Google Images gives me.

Work, the whole reason I theoretically have this blog..., is scary. We sit down at staff meeting and I hear about my coworkers raising thousands of dollars with a few phone calls, progress being made from every angle by everyone, and I just feel like I'm falling behind. I haven't raised thousands of dollars. I found out my enormous two-weeks-of-work spreadsheet has been rendered obsolete, and I'm just generally disillusioned. I know I'll have good days and bad days, but today was rough.

However, and I hate to be vague on this, but vague I must be, after work some very exciting events went down, and I am crossing my fingers for some non-work-related activity to go my way.

The Penguin Club. While creating a list of local civic organizations, I came across the Penguin Club. Not knowing what this was, I googled it, much like I did with the Order of the Moose. A Google search will take you to Club Penguin - some Disney channel creation where, I think, you make a penguin avatar and make friends. I think the internet is trying to tell me I need friends. I still don't know what the Penguin Club is...

Sorry about the general pessimism, amigos. It's rough coming back after a three-day weekend.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I'm legit!

I know I just posted yesterday, but today was a small personal victory for me.

I made my first phonecalls to potential donors! Granted, almost all were machines. One was a wrong number that kept calling me back demanding to know who I was and why I was calling. One old man told me, "I don't use technology" when I requested his email address.

But I made the calls, after much deliberation and procrastination.

So this is me, tooting my own horn. I'm a fundraiser!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trying. Trying to exercise, learn the area, make friends, plot poo

I went running the other day.
Prior to leaving Roanoke, I made a list of goals I would like to accomplish while here. Some are of a more personal nature, some are plain dull, but if you know me at all, this next one is rather laughable.

I vowed to exercise at least thirty minutes a week.

Yes, the number is low. But I don't like exercising. I figure if I aim my sights low, I'll actually be able to achieve it and feel somewhat proud of myself. This brings us back to the fact that I went running the other day. I figured I'd be fine with Señor Ipod and Mr. Cell Phone, and headed out the door. I was speeding (read as: huffing) along, feeling unfathomably accomplished, when Señor Ipod failed me. Buena Vista Social Club was no longer blaring out of my headphones and I was forced to stop (read as: was grateful for the excuse to stop). I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea where I was. There were some houses here and there, but the main thing I could see were mountains.... everywhere.
My train of thought at this moment:
I'M LOST! Wow, how did I run up this far? Good job, self! You ran up hills! It's gorgeous up here! Maybe I'll walk down this street. Oh, it's a dead end. Here's a trail! That's a creek - I don't want a creek. Where the hell am I? Damnit, I have to finish my run. I don't know how to get back. Ughh I am far too lazy to run back. I'll call someone.

My lovely friend from college came to my rescue, and Google-mapped me out of my disaster.

Lesson learned: perhaps I should keep my 30 minutes of exercise to places I know. A coworker wants to play tennis together soon, so assuming she doesn't want to keep score or thinks I have any ounce of skill in my body, we should be golden.

I also decided I should explore the area. Now, as my father’s daughter, I did this the proper way - the scenic way. I knew there was one massively long and winding road that went up the mountains, and I was determined to find it. So after church on Sunday, still in a dress and Cole Hahn sandals, I went off on my escapade. I drove up this mountain, windows down, and an old mix cd from high school playing. At one point, the road stopped going up, and I began to drive down a mountain. This is not what I had expected. I wanted to only go up , not down.

So I did what any, logical, GPS-less Banks would do. I pulled over to the side of a mountain, teetering on the edge, and unfolded my massive map. My massive map, however, was of no use. Why, you ask? Because I was on a long, winding road with a speed limit of 15, with no intersections. I had no idea where I was ON the road. I turned around, with impressive skill, and about sixteen-points.

On the drive down Mr. Massive Mountain, I pulled over again to take some photos. Photos turned into an impromptu hike, until I saw a car coming up the road and remembered that my windows were down, the car was unlocked, and just having my flashers on doesn’t legitimize a car being inconveniently located on a winding road. As I was walking back, some nice old couple asked me if I needed help with my car. “No, I’m just going for a walk, but thanks!” was my actual response.

I brought a friend home with me. A giant spider. Sadly, his unexpected presence on my foot while I was driving brought our friendship to an untimely end. RIP, buddy. Sorry about that.

Office Updates!
A few things have been going on at work. For one, I am realizing how much I need to learn before I can be legitimately useful. It’s a slow process because there’s so much to take in, but every day something clicks, and by the end of this, I am determined to have fundraising DOWN.

An exciting accomplishment at work is that my snack drawer is good to go! Loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, pretzels, hummus and veggies in the fridge. I'm set for the next few weeks, and can also feed my entire office in the incident of a massive lock down in this town of 8,000.

I’ve been compiling a list of businesses in the area which is currently over 600 entries long, and about fifteen times a day I find myself asking OfficeMate, “Do you know where ___ is?” Generally, he doesn’t, because they’re small towns, and I end up googling them. Well, I’ve begun to write down the best ones. This includes winners such as Rustburg, VA and Pittsville, VA. Low Moor, VA has something like 350 people.

Naturally, these places sound so off the beaten path that, again as my father’s daughter, I want to see them. I’m mentally preparing a road trip to do something dull in every single one of these locations. (Tie my shoe in Rustburg. Cough in Pittsville. You get the idea.) My travel companion will, most likely, be Planty, my beloved geranium. Why my plant? Because I have no friends here. And I probably never will, because I bring plants on road trips.

At our staff meeting this week, we discussed creative fundraising ideas. Someone mentioned “Cow-Plop Bingo.” This is, and I kid you not, when one plots out some land such as a football field into 100 squares or so. You charge people a chunk of change per square, and then you let a cow saunter around aforementioned field that has been plotted out. Then you wait for the cow to take a dump. Yes. You bet on where a cow poos. Whoever owns the square the cow has pooped on gets some percentage of the total, and the rest are your earnings.

Welcome to the South, self.

Office Sing-Alongs are now a regular occurrence. After a week of flamenco music, OfficeMate and I now rock out to Classic Rock on a regular basis. Thanks, Zepplin, Rolling Stones and an unhealthy amount of CCR for common musical ground! We have the cool office.

Such is life in the ‘Noke. Everyday, I drive through mountains listening to NPR tell legitimate news stories with a slight pull at my heartstrings (“They didn’t honor the Vietname vet until he had Alzheimer's?! FOR SHAME!”), I sit at a desk with the opportunity to learn so many great new things every day, I work with exceptional people, and then drive home through the same fantastic mountains blasting salsa music with the windows down, and I am convinced that no one has a better life than me. It’s a simple one, it still has various kinks to work out, but I am happy every. single. day. I have never regretted the decision to move out here, not even for a moment.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week One: Rainbows or Reality?

So I'm in Roanoke, and have officially begun my term as a VISTA. An unexpected turn of events has occurred, but I am trying to learn from the situation. I'll leave that at that.

I am exhausted. It has been one hell of a week, and there's still one more day left. I'm not even sure where to begin.

Poverty in this region is very real, and incredibly prevalent. I've been asking around (both to humans, such as my lovely office-cohabitator, and to nonhumans, such as Google) trying to determine what the major industries are here. From what I can gather, and please correct me if I'm wrong on any account, Roanoke was started here because there was coal. Following the discovery of coal in the valley, the railroad appeared to transport aforementioned coal from these good 'ol mountains to the lovely land of Norfolk. (The massive mountains of coal in Norfolk are definitely a sight to behold; one I saw many a time when I lived in that neck of the woods.) As of since, other things have popped up in this area, such as a sizable medical industry and a handful of banking. Also, one of the main areas of employment here is in, yes, nonprofits.

Nonprofits. We work with 'em, we are one, they're ubiquitous. At least, that's how it can feel. With so much poverty in the area, it's actually refreshing to consider there are so many people that want to counter it. My second day at work was spent, mostly, visiting the nonprofits that we support. I was absolutely blown away by the wonderful things these selfless people do on a daily basis. Every day I'm here, the more I realize I can help people. And I am well aware of the fact that sounds so cliche and ridiculous, but I am hoping that within this next year, I will have done something that somehow helps at least one person better their situation; I hope that I can help at least one person see the importance of sustainable programming.

Now, optimism aside, let's let my good friend, Northern Virginia Cynicism, have a say. I've been doing a fairly good job of telling him to shut up this week. He's annoying, he generally makes me a grumpy person, and he's honestly just detrimental to productivity.

But he can make a damn good argument some days.

Not all of the nonprofits are butterflies and sunshine and children frolicking with puppies and swinging on trees they planted on Arbor Day, much to my chagrin. But I need to suck it up, and realize that those are the organizations I am here to work with. The ones that run smoothly, that come with extra rainbows and puppies, those aren't the ones that need the sustainable programming. They've got that down. It's the nonprofits that struggle, the ones suffering because of power plays or disillusionment, that need the most assistance.

My coworkers are amazing people. Everyone who is there wants to fight poverty, and realizes that every task, regardless of how small, is just one small small battle in the war. My supervisor, I'm convinced, is the nicest person alive. And my office-cohabitant seems to be dealing with my antics fairly well. These include, but are not limited to, flamenco music, pop culture references that no one seems to get ("Hey, did you see that episode of The Office?" "MV, I don't watch The Office."), my newfound obsession with sitting at my desk barefoot, and constant fidgeting to get comfortable. Oh, yelling at my computer. But he yells at his, too, so it's more like a group effort to let technology know how much we hate it.

I would also like to let it be known to all that my spreadsheeting skills are fantastic, and I can make some seriously beautiful spreadsheets. If Jackson Pollock can be considered legitimate art (don't even get me started on that one... why is it only art if HE drunkenly splatters paint around and drops a cigarette butt in it?), then my spreadsheets must be at like Michelangelo level. Glorious, I tell you.

And so tomorrow ends my first full, legitimate week as an Americorps VISTA. I'm taking it one gorgeous, mountain-filled day at a time, and I'm loving it thus far.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

There are no words for PSO, and yet I bring you many...

Some Clarification
I am an Americorps VISTA. VISTA = Volunteers in Service to America. They're a branch of Americorps that focuses on capacity building and sustainability. We do not do direct service - we create and implement programs. I am attempting to be the "teaching" of the old adage "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime." (Quote cred goes to my Campus Minister repeating that nonstop for four years in college...)

Onto PSO! Brace yourself, it's lengthy
I fell asleep on the plane down. Not one of those dozing off in a plane sessions, I SLEPT. I had an entire row to myself, something I have not yet experienced in the many planes I have been on this year. A row to yourself on a flight, to me, is when karma works in your favor. It's like Unexpected Christmas. So, in celebration of Unexpected Christmas, I napped. And it was a fabulous thing.

I arrived in Atlanta quite apprehensive. I couldn't find the charter van people, I was worried I'd get stuck with some bitchy girl in my room, I didn't have the energy to meet this many new people, and was wondering what I had gotten myself into. The charter van people and I finally made contact and about nine of us made our way to aforementioned van that would take us to the hotel. One girl talked awkwardly, until she realized that no one was responding. So we then all proceeded to sit in silence. I figured this could not bode well for my week. Or year. Are these the people I'm working with? Oi. (Sidenote: Atlanta has a lovely skyline. I always enjoy a good skyline drive.)

When I checked into the hotel, I was elated to discover that my PSO roommate was quite possibly the cutest, sweetest girl alive. Excitement ensued, and I begin to reconsider my previous assumptions regarding VISTAs.

PSO Roomie came with me as I went to sign in. They gave us a super sexy blue plastic-y messenger bag and I got a t-shirt about three sizes to big. Well, one size to big, but I swim in it. Story of my life, and free tshirts. Along with these wonderful new additions to my wardrobe, I was given the most intimidating binder of my life. It was packed full of all the information we'd be learning in the next three days, and I was immediately overwhelmed. Somewhere in Brazil, a chunk of rainforest is missing because it is in my PSO binder.

After dinner, we had "Large group" orientation. They put all 200+ of us in a big 'ol ballroom, welcomed us, and showed us a video. What happens to these videos after they're used? Do people have libraries of training videos? And what about YouTube? Why not just use that? Irrelevant, I realize, but it still bugs me.

PSO Roomie and I sat with a large group of people I perceived to be awkward. Again, no one spoke, and I was beginning to wonder if maybe the S in VISTA stood for "silent" and not "service." These "awkward" people later became good pals, people I would chat with until late hours of the night. Assuming. Don't do it.

After our initial welcoming, PSO Roomie and I went to the hotel bar for a drink. We chatted with some other VISTAs until we were kicked out when they closed. A low-profile first night, but excellent for meeting new people.

Break Out Rooms
In the mornings they shipped us to our "Break Out Rooms." Let's discuss the poor name choice here. Are they going to put us in super humid rooms in chairs made of Crisco? I like to theorize that all the AmeriCorps people went to a happy hour one night, and some drunk employee thought that this name would be hilarious. One can dream.

Break Out Rooms were done by location - one was placed in a group with others from your state, and you proceeded to stay in that group for the next two days. The Virginia volunteers are such inspiring people. It was in the Break Out Rooms that we were given mind-blowing statistics and humbling realities. Also, we were given playdough.

Break Out Rooms were also where we discussed culture. The United States has such an incredibly homogeneous culture, and when relocating for a VISTA position, it's likely that you'll encounter some semblance of culture shock. As someone who is still weary about her knowledge of the culture where she is moving, I truly appreciated this. They gave us pointers, statistics, etc, and I fully intend to use them all if I can.

The VAD was covered here as well. Many jokes were made about what a VAD could possibly be. This included, but was not limited to, "I had to get a V-A-D at the doctor's. The results were bad. I have VAD." VAD is your VISTA Assignment Description. It's your job description, essentially. I was lucky enough to have a straight-forward one but others were not as fortunate. We spent a fair amount of time clarifying what we're supposed to do, what we're not allowed to do, and so forth.

Eating in large group, cafeteria-style, settings is something I haven't done since my sophomore year in college, and once or twice in Spain when I was feeling cheap and my friend shared her dinner with me. "Half a tortilla and six pounds of rice? Yes PLEASE!" I always forget that it is unlike any other way of eating I know. Something fantastic about them, though, are dessert tables. How I've missed them. What a great concept. Also, the potatoes one night would later appear a few nights later in a chicken pot pie.

And while we're at it, Cream of Carrot Soup. What ARE you? Last night's steamed carrots with some cream, thrown in a blender? You're better with salt. Better, not great. However, you are better than your bastard cousin, Cream of Mushroom. He's just rejected gravy, though, let's be honest.

PSO mornings are painful. Early seems to come earlier than it does elsewhere.
One morning, I had red eyes. Like, RED eyes. I looked like I had been up all night doing some intense drugs in a room full of eight cats with dandruff and colonies of dust bunnies who poked my eyes with ragweed while I was asleep. Unpleasant. Thank goodness for my ghetto glasses.

The creamer leaves what looks like an oil spill on top of your coffee, and you never get to breakfast early enough to get the good fruit and are left to sneer at some honeydew. But you drink the coffee and it's fine. And you learn where the yogurt cups are, and essentially make do.

The People
New people. That was a rule of mine; I had to force myself to meet new people. At lunch, I had to sit with people I didn't know and made myself to talk to them instead of clinging to the six or so people I had met the first day. This worked out better some days than others, but I learned many things about myself, others, and various regions of this country. Actually, that could be said about the entire experience, and hopefully I have just skimmed the surface of it.

Social Activities! I love being around people, but I can get so lazy when it comes to actually going somewhere and doing something. So I was thrilled when PSO Roomie and I ended up actually going to a baseball game. Braves vs. Nationals. We got there the 3rd inning, Nationals had scored two runs in the second inning, Braves scored twice in the 3rd, then nothing until bottom of the 9th and Braves won by one. Disappointment as a Nationals fan. My apologies if you hate sports (brother, that's you). Good times, though, thanks to the good company!

There later was an impromptu gathering in our room... I learned about bears. Forging for mushrooms. Fishing. The use of the word "y'all." Fascinating discussion. Late night. Very little sleep.

Getting to know so many people who have similar mindsets and goals really was such an incredible opportunity. How often will I be with over 200 people who are willing to volunteer a year of their lives to help eradicate poverty in the backyard of the United States? At some point, I realized that even the most cocky Americorps volunteer still has a similar goal for the next year as I do, and can't be that bad of a person.

Swearing in. I used the same oath that the president uses before he takes office! This is only exciting for me, and potentially other political science folks. I keep using words like "exciting" and "amazing" and they fall flat to what I'm tying to describe. This, for me, was a moment I will cherish more than my graduation day. Instead of marking an end, it marks the beginning of my attempt to bring some sort of change to the state of poverty in the Roanoke valley.

To those of you from PSO who have creeped facebook enough to find my blog, thank you for being such good listeners, so supportive and honestly, thank you for your inspiration. You are all truly beautiful people.

(And as a Lessons Learned from PSO, conditioner is not lotion and should not be used as such. And in that vein, hotels should not put them in the same shaped bottles.)