Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dear Adam,

You don't know me. I sat in the back of the room during your teleconference at JMU in awe of your story and your courage to share it. You made me laugh, you made me cry, you made me mad.

Unlike you, I don't have a personal connection to coal or mountaintop removal mining. I just have a connection to the mountains. They're my safe place, my playground, my home. I didn't even know what was happening until I googled "environmental legal problems" for a school assignment last year. From the search, I found the Earthjustice website. Then I found the Mountain Heroes photo petition.

And as I started to explore the Mountain Heroes website, I kept seeing the same man in the same highlighter yellow t-shirt all over the page. Then, in that same highlighter yellow t-shirt, I saw him again on YouTube. The date was September 15, 2012, just a few days after Larry's passing, and his video about his definition of a "hero" made me sob.

After that video, I wanted to see mountaintop removal mining for my self. I wanted to share in Larry's pain, so I booked a tour with Danny Chiotos. On my way to Kayford Mountain, I climbed a train car to see the coal inside. I even drove down a mine driveway before I had to back up real fast and go the other way. A coal truck was coming.

The day was foggy, so I couldn't be witness to what fueled Larry's fire, but that didn't stop me from listening. Listening to stories about Larry being a firecracker. Longing to have had just one moment with this brilliant man. I kind of understood his legacy as I hiked around the Kayford Mountain property, but you embody that legacy. Bull horn in your hand or not, you are heard.

Nothing will stick with me like your powerful narrative told over that spotty Skype connection.

You said, "Take what I said, be mad, fight for justice--social justice, economic justice. Urge senators and congressmen to sign onto legislation that would help Appalachia."

I remember every time I turn on a light, every time I plug in my iPod, or turn on my computer, it comes at a price to someone in your community. In the words of the wisest Kid President I know, it's time to do something. It's time for me to do something that makes Mother Nature want to dance.

So, I'll keep resisting. Even if it's just with words and an internet connection.

Thank you, 

P.S. Elise, you did a great job!!

To my readers, check out Keeper of the Mountains today. Like now. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

To the Dogs

In my Writing for Nonprofits class, I am no longer a student. My longer a teacher. I am a communications consultant for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR), and my professor is my mentor. And he's not only my mentor, but he's a mentor for the other twenty-one students in my class.

And there's your context. We are Sean McCarthy's brilliant experiment in what rhetoric and communications can add to service learning. 

Our first writing assignment in his class was to talk about a deliverable we wanted to produce for HDR in terms of the mnemonic HATCH, a concept proposed in a social media, social change book called The Dragonfly Effect

Anyways, according to this book, when you're focusing on raising awareness for your non-profit, or anything really, you're going to need to hatch goal that will make an impact. 

And to hatch this great idea, you need to understand your audience, you need to use short-term micro-goals to achieve long-term macro goals, and you need to identify metrics that will help evaluate your progress. You also need to create a goal that is clear and meaningful to you and your audience. 

My possible deliverable to create? A Dog Lover's Guide to Downtown. I mean, why not bring your best friend on your Sunday stroll in downtown Harrisonburg? After all, some restaurants even let you dine in with your dog as long as you're sitting outside. Vito's, though not downtown, is one of those restaurants. 

So, for example, thinking about my doggie deliverable, I, the designer, must think about the humanistic, actionable, testable, clarity, and happiness (HATCH) elements of this project. I'm still in the very early planning stages, so I decided for the purpose of this exercise my focus would be on the content of this downtown dog guide. 


Humanistic - My audience, unfortunately, isn't dogs because dogs can't read my guide. My audience then is people that love dogs that can/are willing to bring their four-legged friend downtown.  

Actionable - I can make a list of the content that I want in my guide and break it up using appropriate headings. 

Testable - I can create a short survey about the guide's content that I can administer to the dog lovers of Harrisonburg, VA. Maybe my participants will have ideas that I didn't even think of! Hopefully, that type of thing would come out of the survey. 

Clarity - I can administer the survey to 20 people. That's a clear focus. 

Happiness??? - Dog: Person's best friend. 'Ruff said. ;)

Pretty cool homework assignment, right? I'd have to agree. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rex's Tail

In honor of all of the dog-related posts I've read on Facebook lately, I figured I'd show Rex and his journey a little love today.

Rex a.k.a "The Poops," our boxer mutt, was rescued from a hotel balcony in Charlotte, NC. He was bound to the rails with rope, which someone had tied around his poor little neck, belly, and paws. The weather was cold, and Rex was malnourished and dehydrated. Brad's mom found this then runt and took him into her home.

The little puppy from the balcony has since grown into a beautiful but neurotic dog.

We have put The Poops on Prozac and other drugs. We have taken him to acupressure treatments...desperate efforts to help calm his nerves.

Nerves that have driven him to "hide" under the bed for an hour because the baby gate fell down and made a loud noise.

Nerves that have also driven him to poop in my brand new car on the way to obedience lessons. Don't picture of that.

Some people would find these and Rex's other habits annoying. I mean, there's a 50-50 chance Rex will pee on his paw when he goes outside. And, well, he is destructive too.

He has destroyed bras, overflowing trash bags, figurines, t-shirts, dog beds, and remote controls. But the THINGS Rex has destroyed will never surpass the value of his loyalty and unconditional love.

Many of you know that The Poops came into our lives during a time of great transition. Brad had fallen in love with this crazy dog on his leave, and we decided that once Brad returned home from Afghanistan we would take this four-legged bundle of trouble off of Sande's hands.

WARNING! Moral of the story coming soon...get ready.

On our hike to Mary's Rock last week, Rex got more attention than ever before. Many different hiking parties commented on how pretty our pup was, and four of them made note of his curly tail.

After passing Brad and Rex, a female hiker in her best baby voice said, "Awww look at that tail," and used her fingers to draw an imaginary spiral. She hadn't noticed me at first because I was trailing behind my boys. But then she heard me laughing, and we laughed for a moment together.

Cute tail. Adorable tail. What a tail...we heard it all afternoon, but nothing was cuter than the three year old with the surprisingly deep and monotone voice who said, "What a beautiful dog you have." The boy was right. Rex is beautiful.

And his tail is well, special, like him. When The Poops is scared, the curl disappears in between his legs. When he wags it, it doesn't go back and forth but in a circle.

Rex doesn't realize he's not normal. He just knows that he's loved, and you know what? He's happy. Hussein Nishah, said to be the Fruit Loop in the bowl of Cheerios. Come to think of it, we're a family of Fruit Loops, and life couldn't be better.

Stylish, right?

Now, go rescue a dog. Or hug the one you have. And don't be afraid to be a Fruit Loop.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pizza & Beer

I love food. And I love pairing food with yummy drinks. 
  1. Coffee and a muffin. 
  2. French fries dipped in milkshake. 
  3. Wine and cheese.
  4. Cereal with Silk. 
  5. Pizza and beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In my opinion, those are five of the most epic food/drink pairings in the history of human sustenance. And after meeting a representative from Oskar Blues Brewery at the job fair, I craved option #5: pizza and beer. 

When I got home on Friday, I went on the search for Dale's Pale Ale, Oskar Blues' claim to fame. Thanks to the brilliant people at Oskar Blues, they have a handy dandy beer locator on their website. Check it out here. I stopped at Campus Corner first. They were out. 

I went to Midtowne Market next, and I saw a great omen in the window:

I grabbed a six-pack of Dale's Pale Ale and headed to work. Luckily, I moonlight at an Italian restaurant that makes excellent pizza. Just check out the reviews. So, around 8:30PM, when I finally got off work, I came home to enjoy a medium pepperoni and sausage pizza, and a beer or two. :)  

Most. epic. combination. ever. 

Dale's Pale Ale is a bold beer with a beautiful hoppy finish that goes down nice and sweet. It complimented the slightly spicy toppings on my ooey gooey cheese pizza perfectly. Needless to say, I know what's for dinner next Friday, and the Friday after that, and the Friday after that. And...the Friday after that. And maybe a Saturday and Wednesday here or there, too.

P.S. Most awesome thing about a great canned beer? It's easy to transport in a backpack. Needless to say, I know what I'll be drinking with my Ramen noodles during Brad and I's next backpacking trip. 

Go out buy some Oskar Blues! I already know some who have, and they've been very HOPPY with their purchase. ;)


When I arrived at Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe I checked my large backpack at the counter like the sign on the door told me to do.

The bookseller gave me a laminated picture of Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline and American Gods, and attached another copy of the same picture to my backpack.

The last time I had checked my backpack was at the Art Institute of Chicago. The simple act of surrendering my backpack to a stranger brought back so many memories.

I walked around the store sans backpack, wanting to buy everything in it. I had recently downloaded The Book Thief for my Nook, so I wasn't in the market for a new book per say. But, I mean, I buy books like some people buy shoes. Anymore, though, I just buy the books I can download. I'm probably a failure in Malaprop's eyes because I love my Nook...a lot. And Barnes and Nobles is the Fox Books to Malaprop's Shop Around the Corner. If you don't get that reference, go rent You've Got Mail immediately.

Malaprop's had a local charm, and I can see my future Asheville-resident self browsing its shelves later this year. I loved the section titles: They had the typical fiction and non-fiction sections, but they also had regional fiction and regional non-fiction sections. They had a banned books section, and a self-sufficiency farming section. Even an Appalachian cooking section.

What I loved most, though, was the shelves dedicated to Malaprop's staff favorites. A person's personality really shines through the books he or she enjoys! My favorites are: To Kill a Mockingbird, Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop Cafe, The Help, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Into the Wild. For a moment, just think about your favorite books, and what they may say about you.

I could have spent hours in Malaprop's, but I was hungry. It was 4:30PM, and I hadn't eaten a thing all day.

I couldn't leave without buying something, though, it just didn't feel right, so I settled on knickknacks: a photo of the outside of Malaprop's, which I put in my postcard basket as soon as I got home; an "Asheville Freak" sticker, which is now proudly displayed on my computer; and a Malaprop's coffee cup.

I didn't mean to go to Malaprop's. I stumbled upon it when I was walking around downtown. I remember reading about the store when Googling fun stuff about Asheville, but I never wrote down the address. I found it because I wandered without being lost. And on a coffee cup in that store I found a version of myself.

A girl with a braid in her hair reading a book slumped down in a chair, which she had resting on the two back legs. The girl had one foot dangling, another kicked up, and a piping cup of hot coffee on the ground next to her. It's the Malaprop's logo, and I took it as yet another sign that Asheville is it. The front of the cup said, "Peace. Love. Books." How Aim, right?

I saved the free cup of coffee coupon that I got for purchasing the cup for the next time I'm in Asheville. I hate wasting free things, so it's my excuse to go back soon. Maybe I should have checked for an expiration date, though?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Recipe for a Great Job Fair Experience

I'm hungry, so I'm writing this as a recipe. Yes, I realize that's really corny.

Ingredients...with notes
  • Clean copies of your PROOFREAD resume printed on resume paper. 
On one website that I went to, the blogger said that passing out a resume with a typo on it is like walking around with poop on your forehead. I mean, I thought it was funny, and his point was clear.
  • Well-designed "business" card. 
I guess it's more of a calling card, but that sounds weird. My *insert descriptive word here* card has a QR code that, when scanned, links to my online portfolio. Create a QR code using a website like this. Side note: QR code seemed to impress people.
  • Online portfolio, if it's relevant for your field. 
It is for Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication. Maybe not so much for IT? I don't know. 
  • Print portfolio, if it's relevant for your field. 
Again, it's relevant for WRTC, so I incorporated one into my portfolio binder. 
  • Portfolio binder to keep you organized. 
Please take note. No one is going to take you seriously if you're fiddling around to find your stuff in an oversized purse or Thomas the Tank Engine Backpack. I (err...Brad) paid 20 bucks for my portfolio. It was well worth the money.
  • Paper and pen.
  • Professional outfit (e.g. pantsuit, knee-length skirt and blouse, suit for guys, etc.)
  • Cover letter (optional).
  • Charm to taste. 

  1. First, set the oven to 300 degrees. A little recipe humor...
  2. Before the job fair, research the employers that will be there and potential jobs that might be available. I found that there were more jobs than the ones listed online, so don't get discouraged from talking to an employer based on openings. Also, don't be discouraged if the first employer you talk to patronizes your "entry-levelness." YOUR FIRST JOB FAIR ABOVE ALL ELSE IS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE.
  3. When you arrive at the job fair, get a map of the booths. Go through and mark which employers you want to speak with.
  4. Introduce yourself to the employer. Firm handshake, good eye contact. If you did your homework thoroughly, you'll talk to employers that have openings that you're interested in. But don't be afraid to ask if they have any positions available that weren't listed on their website.
  5. Be yourself. I know it's cliche advice, but employers will figure out who you are eventually. Be polite and professional, but don't be afraid to incorporate a bit of humor into your conversation.  It may make you stand out. 
  6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as often as you want. I went to 5 of the 85 booths. Baby steps?
A confession...I can't believe I'm admitting to this on the internet, but I got a little teary eyed when I finally processed where I was and what I was doing. Yes, I've had plenty of jobs. Those of you know me, know I work three, but this career thing is a big deal in the book of life. I'm about to start a new chapter, one where the setting for the first time in nineteen years isn't school, and that's a bit scary. But good row boating with alligators, driving a car at 108 mph, or exploring a strange city...solo.

The Tupelo Honey Cafe Experience

Based on a recommendation from the bookseller at Malaprop’s, I’m sitting in a restaurant-sized café in Asheville—Tupelo Honey Café. I just ordered a Porch Swing (adult iced tea), and my waiter is bringing me a homemade biscuit with blueberry jam and honey. He said it’ll go great with the tea I ordered. I’ve already decided I’m going to leave him a really nice tip, and I haven’t even gotten my drink yet.

I don’t know if it’s possible to fall in love with a place. Let me rephrase that. I know it’s possible to fall in love with a place, but I didn’t know it was possible to feel at home in a strange city until today. Asheville is my home even if Brad and I never make the move.

I walked into Mast General Store and nearly bought a shirt that said, “Hippies Use the Side Door.” I left without the shirt, but with a bright attitude and brighter smile. There was a person in a full-body checkered suit playing the harp on the corner, and across the street another man was playing trumpet. I saw the most stunning graffiti on my journey: a memorial for a mother’s battle with breast cancer, abstract designs, old slavery scenes.

Wandering downtown, I looked for nothing but an experience and randomly ended up outside of Malaprop’s: a world famous bookstore. And because of Malaprop’s I wound up here at this café.

…a place where my waiter told me to “Be on the vibe.” Where he said, “Be open to the path and something will work out for you.” He’s wise. He’s fun. And he hand-delivered a meal that warmed my belly and my heart.

A homemade biscuit topped with blueberry jam and homemade honey, shrimp and grits, and pecan pie. I’m in the south, and I’m in love. It’s 4:45PM, and this is the first thing I’ve eaten all day. I was too nervous to eat before the job fair and too excited to eat after it. This meal may very well be the only thing I eat all day. But it doesn’t matter because I’m on the vibe.

I keep getting looks. I’m the girl on her Mac in the café. People may be wondering why I’m here alone..maybe not. I don’t feel alone, though, I feel like I’m finally home.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

13 Things to Do in 2013

2013 is going to be a big year! Here are 13 things I want to do by 2014.
  1. Graduate with my Master's.
  2. Relocate with my boys. 
  3. Be able to cook 30 different semi-scratch meals. 
  4. Run 3 miles without stopping.
  5. Start a career.
  6. Cross off 3 items from the Official Bucket List.
  7. Visit one new state.
  8. Teach Rex the following tricks: "Speak," "Hide Your Eyes!" and "Say, No."
  9. Watch every episode of Big Bang Theory to date.
  10. Save 3,000 dollars.
  11. Complete the Rosetta Stone Spanish CD set.
  12. Finally do a sunrise hike. 
  13. Finish every paper at least a day in advance.
And one for good luck:

14. Get at least 6 hours of sleep a night. 

Twenty-four: A "Little" Birthday

On December 30th, I turned 24. By definition, it's not a "big" birthday. I can drive, I can vote, I can drink. Legally. The "big" birthdays are over for a while. Now it's just a matter of reaching milestones:  the big 3-0, the big 4-0, the big 5-0, etc. big deal, right? I have to disagree.

Many people might label my 24th birthday as boring, but not me. I didn't have a party. That's okay. I didn't do anything crazy. It was just me and the boys hanging out for the day, as usual. However, I did have a host of long-distance well wishes via Facebook, text message, and phone calls, which was very much appreciated.

To celebrate the 24th anniversary of my birth, I embraced every little moment of my day.

While I waited for Brad to get out of the shower (around 1:00AM), I had a mini concert in bed. I listened to Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, the Black Keys, and various other bands on my iPhone. After Brad got into bed, we had an impromptu dance party to Gangnam Style.

Brad fell asleep around 2:00AM, but I wasn't tired. I stayed up to finish reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Pausch, after finding out he had terminal cancer, began documenting life lessons for his children since he wouldn't be able to deliver them in person. He made videos for them, wrote down notes, delivered a lecture at Carnegie-Mellon University and then adapted the lecture into a very inspiring book.

In honor of Pausch, I cherished every moment of my "little" birthday:

  • I had two (yes, two) packets of Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast. 
  • Brad gave me a beautiful watch and the most creative card. Check out the dog, and Ziggy's new hair. 

  • The watch was a touch too big. Off to the mall we went to get a link taken out. Kay's didn't open until 12:30, so Brad and I took a short, but delicious, snack pit stop at Auntie Anne's. 

  • After the mall, Brad and I went on an unexpectedly long journey for a pant suit. I needed one for the job fair I'm attending tomorrow. I looked all over, and my non-husband took it in stride. The pillar of, seriously, he was.

  • We ended up at Staples to pick up my new business cards..also for the job fair.

  •  And I finally found a pant suit at Ross, which I was able to get approval of from my two favorite fashionistas (Megan and Elizabeth) via pix message conference!

  • After Ross, Brad requested to go to Home Depot. He needed some paint for his truck. We got the paint and then walked to the other side of the store, so he could smell the lumber. It's one of his favorite smells and always brings back memories from when he was a kid. 

  • We left Home Depot to go grocery shopping together. After we put away the groceries, we treated ourselves to some quality time watching our new favorite show: The Big Bang Theory.

  • Then, we went to dinner at my favorite restaurant, El Charro, where Ricardo took excellent care of us. 

  • After 23 ounces of tequila-laced deliciousness, we went to the bookstore. I kept glancing at my watch. Not because I wanted to leave, but because I couldn't get over how beautiful it was. Still can't.

  •  That night, once we got home, I blew out one lavender vanilla candle before eating a Strawberry Cheesequake blizzard. 
  • We watched The Watch, a stupid-funny alien invader comedy with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and others.
I finished the day as it started...with my crazy boys.

Laura Ingalls Wilder said, "I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet simple things of life, which are the real ones after all." I get teary-eyed as I reminisce my "boring" day. There is just something so damn special about the look in Rex's eye when he puts his head on my lap or the way Brad smirks when I go into a social butterfly mode with a complete stranger.

I don't need an extravagant party or a big cake on my birthday because I have plenty of what matters most: unconditional love. The sweet simple things aren't little in my book and nor will they ever be.