Thursday, April 28, 2011

What I Did Over My Spring Vacation

Yeah, that's right, we're doing this grade-school, journal-entry style.

Day One
Day One was spent traveling around the region in search of antique stores with Brittanica. We ended up at an adorable store in Buchanan, VA where I irresponsibly purchased a ring, scarf and the world's best salt and pepper shaker. Buchanan is also a lovely town. I ended the day grabbing dinner with some fantastic friends.

Day Two
Day Two was rainy. Like, rainy to the point that OfficeMate and I had to have our trashcan ready for Ceiling Leak Part III. It didn't leak, miracle of miracles (did the repairmen fix the roofing issue? MAYBE!), but we were prepared nonetheless. Britannica coaxed me out of the apartment to see Jane Eyre, which was honestly fantastic. For any literature nerds out there, I was supremely impressed with this redentiion. This was also my first soiree with The Grandin Theater, which was just as quaint and fantastic as I had hoped.

By Tuesday night, I was beginning to feel slightly ill. I had initally chalked it up to allergies, but this was worse than allergies. I went to bed, and awoke to ...

Day Three
Sick. So very ill. Sinus headache, runny nose, congested beyond belief... the list of symptons could go on. How I got ill, I'm still not sure. My only adventure yesterday was to CVS to buy some Sudafed and a second box of tissues for the apartment. I played a few rounds of Mario Kart 64 with OfficeMate (who promptly schooled me), napped a lot, and enjoyed watching Barcelona beat Real Madrid 2-0.

Day Four
Better! Only one Sudafed today, and I'm still alive and kicking. I woke up early(ish) and began the dreaded job-hunting process. I have my resume ready to go and cranked out a few cover letters. (Okay, one. But I want to have more done before I go to bed!) OfficeMate and I deep-cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, because it seemed appropriate.
You know how I get antsy sometimes in this town, and turn to cooking? Well, after churning out the cover letters (...singular. Letter.), I high-tailed it to Kroger and got my grocery ON.

You see, a week or so ago, I bought a bunch of fresh basil for a salad I made for an office party. Since I'm not accustomed to fresh basil in my kitchen, I never thought to use it. I realized today that it was beginning to look a little wonky, so, with the assistance of OfficeMate's cashews, I made some mad delicious pesto. Who knew you didn't have to have pine nuts to make pesto? (These ladies. Best new blog find, seriously. I have an unhealthy addiction to food blogs.)

While making pesto, my neighborhood earned some street cred. The Po Po visited my building. Why, I'm still not sure. But here's a picture for proof! It also proves that I'm a creeper and take photos out of my window while trying to be sneaky about moving the curtain aside.
Day Five
We shall see! Tomorrow is supposed to be a glorious 68 degrees and sunny meaning... I want to get my hike on. Hopefully OfficeMate won't be too sick (my bad!) to go.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Exercise, Easter, Books.

Remember when I first moved and said I was going to exercise at least thirty minutes a week? Well, not surprisingly, that never happened. I got in a few runs here and there, but for the most part, I have spent October to late April being a horribly sedentary person. I'd find any reasonable excuse to avoid exercising. "It's raining," or, "I don't want to re-do my hair," (I've used that logic before), or, my personal favorite, "But I should make a big breakfast full of bacon and butter instead."

About a week ago, I went to put on a pair of capris I bought last summer and they were ... snug. This realization made me stop finding excuses to eat instead of exercise. As of since, I have run twice (or was it once?) and done yoga twice! I unrolled my yoga mat for the first time... since I moved here. It's shameful, really. My yoga instructor, Chaz, is available when I am, and doesn't ever say anything when I'm absent for many a month. He also charges $0 per class, unlike the studio down the street. ($12? Please. You have an interesting interpretation of the poverty level.) The point is, together, Chaz and I are going to combat lethargy! (The image to the left bears zero resemblance to me actually doing yoga)

Today is Easter. Which truly just translates to homesickness. I went to Easter mass alone and reminisced about childhoods where hidden chocolate bunnies met untimely demises thanks to Mr. Sun. In an attempt to bring Easter tradition to the apartment, I went out and bought some ham steaks for dinner. They were ... alright. I was slightly disappointed. The jelly beans I bought on sale compensated, though.

Now, the office is closed for the week for Spring Break, which means I have a week of relaxation ahead. I had intended on attempting various hikes, but the weather does not look as though it will go along with my plans. I'll be thrilled to get in one hike. Thunderstorms are forecast through Thursday.

This means instead I shall be spending this week getting reacquainted with my Old Lady Chair. Since moving to Roanoke, I've been tearing through some literature, and I would like to continue this trend this week. I'm on my third consecutive Garrison Keillor book, and would you believe it took me until book three to get to Lake Wobegon Days?

So there you have it. When given a week off, AmeriCorps volunteers plan on which retiring NPR personality's literature to delve into. They also tell themselves they'll get into shape (I give myself a week of these lies). Easter brings new life, indeed!

(Book suggestions, along with ways to spend time when it's rainy and your ceiling still leaks are always welcome!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The thing about 990s...

I'm a sucker for altruism - it's true. I love the thought that humans are genuinely good and that there are people out there willing to help others for no reason other than they need help. These are your Mother Theresa's of the world, your Ghandi's.

Two or three years ago, I read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. This book blew me away. It tells the story of Mortenson, his failed hiking endeavor, how the people of a rural mountain town in Pakistan nursed him to health, how he vowed to build a school for their children, his struggle for funding and eventually, his amazing success in creating the Central Asia Institute (CAI) which builds schools, mainly for girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was incredibly inspiring to me - that one man with so little could make so much of a difference. All you needed was the motivation and the belief in your cause, and change was possible.

Fit hit the shan on the CAI when 60 minutes aired a substantial segment on Mortenson. You can watch it here. I actually first came across the BBC article this morning, and later the story in the NYTimes. They're accusing Mortenson of spending more money on travel costs associated with promoting his book (and pocketing the payment from speaking engagements) than on funds to go overseas to the schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I didn't want to believe it, until I watched the 60 Minutes segment. They zoomed in on the CAI's 990, and I knew it had to be true.

For those of you who don't know, the I990 is the IRS form you fill out when your organization is tax exempt. All your financial information ought to be transparent, and your budget best be breaking even come the end of your fiscal year.

The thing about 990s is....
All 990s are public. There's a handy little site known as GuideStar where, after making a free account, you can access the 990 of any registered 501(c)3. So, naturally, I went to GuideStar to verify the numbers 60 Minutes threw out there. They all checked out. The CAI is spending more money on domestic costs for promotional materials than they are on building materials, teachers salaries, project manager costs, etc abroad. Now, technically, Mortenson could argue that by promoting his books, he's furthering the mission of the CAI, which is stated as: to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But it's still sketchy. Mortenson had made himself a role model for so many of us in nonprofits. But perhaps people aren't genuinely good. Perhaps too much of a good thing, altruism, deters from the initial purpose.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The times, they are a-changing

You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Things at work have taken an interesting turn. After my training in Charlottesville, I began to think about all the things I had done wrong in regards to my grant proposals. This got me thinking about how we needed to brainstorm programs, which derailed my train of thought towards funding opportunities. For a solid grant proposal, one needs a good program. A good program will have some form of matching funds. For dependable matching funds, we needed to raise the bar on our fundraising.It all happened rather suddenly. The next thing I knew, I was bringing this up to my supervisor and now I'm hoping we've developed a plan that will force us to look at our own fund development program and how we can improve upon it. Proposal writing, while pivotal, is only part of the larger system. It may be a little late, but I'm glad the a-ha moment occurred.

In other good news, the government didn't shut down! AmeriCorps wanted us to come in even if they did shut down, and said they'd back pay us. To me, it sounded a lot like slavery. "Do this work! We'll pay you later.... promise..." -shifty eyes- But, hooray for dependable paychecks. Things would've gotten ugly had that gone down. Both for my bank account and, yknow, the country.

After spending last weekend at my alma mater, I am now done traveling for the month. With gas going up the way it is, I can't afford to see anyone anymore. That being said, I do welcome visitors! I know Roanoke may just be too intimidatingly happening for some of you - it's not for the faint of heart.

As my time here is drawing to a close, I need to start thinking about how I'm going to pass on all I've done to the VISTA that takes over my position. It's time to start thinking about finishing up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A City of Habit

Every morning, I get up and heat up water for my french press. Eventually, OfficeMate and I will get into his car or my car after one of us throws out the trash and one of us (me) takes Planty outside (presuming it's a nice day) for some sunshine whilst I am at work.

As we drive through downtown's attempt at traffic, we'll pass the tricycle car giving out parking tickets. Every. Day.

After crossing the tracks, there's an old man with a newsboy cap who shuffles towards downtown with a reusable bag. He's adorable, and if it's particularly cold out, he switches things up and opts for a fluffy black hat with ear flaps. Every. Day

If we're early enough, there's a man who walks his golden retriever behind the office. He is always prepared with a friendly wave. Most Days.

We pass the house with too many lawn animals, and I wonder who put the rabbit facing the sheep's butt. Every. Day.

If a soda run is made to Exxon, the cashier knows us. "$2.03. Anything else for y'all today?" he'll ask. "No, that'll be it. Thanks. Take care." Every. Time.

If I go to the store, I fill up my Kroger gift card so that the proceeds can go to our office (Kroger Cares). Every. Time.

At night before cuddling up with a book or inadvertently falling asleep on the sofa, I make myself some tea and nibble on crystallized ginger from the Co-Op. Every. Day.

I've been here eight months. And through the simplistic monotony of it, I'm still learning.

Every. Day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Travels, Nonprofit Rambles, and ... I miss my kitchen.

Charleston was lovely and sunny and the perfect place for me to go. Driving back, I encountered a fair amount of traffic, allowing my weekend total of hours with Mr. Merlot to hover around the 16 range. I know I say I love my car, but goodness. Enough is enough. Wait Wait Don't Tell Me podcasts and gorgeous sunsets as I approached the mountains made up for it, though. Enjoy this photo of radiant South Carolina.... or, the French place Brother and I got brunch at before my departure on Sunday. Don't mind Brother's awkward stance.

Upon my return to the office Monday morning, I learned that our client with whom I had dedicated much time to would not be renewing their contract with us for another year. There are an array of reasons why this makes perfect sense for both us and them, but I couldn't help feeling slightly glum. Their Executive Director is a phenomenal woman with nothing but dedication to her job, and I'll miss working with such a great person. It feels oddly like a break up, though. Coworkers have approached me asking to return things to this client, others come up and ask, "Is it true??" Let's just make it facebook official already.

I now, though, have more time to focus on raising funds for our office, something that is definitely needed. One of the caveats of being a 501(c)3 which offers fundraising services to other nonprofits is that it gets awfully complicated to factor in time and resources to raise your own funds. I've gotten incredibly used to writing grant proposals for underprivileged children with an educational focus, and now I have to shift that focus completely. This is good, though. I've already begun a draft for a contract with a new client, and the change in material is so very welcome.

I've already learned so much at this job, and while I know I have so much more to absorb regarding the nonprofit world and development in general, these are all things that I never could have learned in the classroom. Years of analytical papers regarding the Helsinki Accords and international theorists was all for naught. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for higher education, but it's amazing how many things you can't learn from a textbook or a scantron.

That was very work-related. I could also write about the delicious duck confit corn hash I had this weekend, or my mussels, or the foie gras ... but that would just prove that I had a fat French kid's weekend with Brother. Although, good Lord, I missed fat kid French food something fierce. It's good to have it back in my arteries. Sometimes I wish I could've done AmeriCorps in France. (Yes, I know that wouldn't work for so many reasons...)

I haven't legitimately cooked in a while. Sure, some quiches here, some generic chicken dish there, but once I'm done with these ridiculous travels, I'm getting myself back to trying more exciting things. I have a ton of pork chops in my freezer, and suggestions are welcome!