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.