Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Allergies To What?!

I am allergic to something in my bedroom. For weeks now, I have been unable to sleep without taking an antihistamine, lest I sneeze, snort and cough all night. I cannot figure out what's triggering this!  With the exception of the rug, which was said to have been professionally cleaned right before I bought it, I personally vacuumed and wiped down every surface of every piece of furniture, each lamp, and the Jonas Gerard painting before it was installed herein.  The mattress on my bed is new, my bedclothes recently washed. What on earth is causing this?!  Is some weird fungus growing inside my bed pillows?  They look fine. They smell fine.  Even with the antihistamine, I'm having a wretched time dropping off, still regularly attacking the toilet paper roll beside my bed for nose tissues.  Aargh!

And I wish someone would send me a letter.  I miss getting personal, paper correspondence.  There's something deeply satisfying about slicing open an envelope and unfolding a handwritten sheet of (semi-legible) scrawl.  If I had gotten hired for the middle-school English teaching job, I would have insisted on my students' keeping a handwritten journal--good penmanship is a lost art in the digital age. And having to put down one's thoughts in ink challenges the brain more than typing on a computer--I love using my laptop, but I can erase instantaneously, revise constantly, whereas literally penning a diary or a real letter means once it's written, it isn't so easy to change. Thus, one is forced to be considerably more thoughtful, or be forever limited to bland stock phrases.  I refuse to be so limited, or let my students limit themselves. My hypothetical students.  Maybe, since I'm to be assigned to second shift (5pm-2am) at the plant, I'll be able to work as a part-time substitute teacher, during the day, or maybe as a noontime ESOL instructor--this would definitely bolster my overseas teaching applications....

Excessive Disclosure & NonDiscloure

Amusingly (given that it is in no way associated with the national security field into which my late father hoped I'd go), I cannot say much about my new job, the training for which begins Friday at 6:30 AM, because for the first time in my life I've had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, swearing myself to silence about the procedures, technologies and so forth involved in the manufacturing process, not to mention the products themselves.  But, I can say that I am filled with about equal parts excitement and fear.  I an terrified that I'm going to monkey up the works somehow, that I'll leave off an essential gasket and the newly-assembled machine will start leaking oil as it comes off the line. I am thrilled to get to use pneumatic drills--I know the whIIIzzz-pt-pt-pt sound from car repair places, but I've never actually gotten to trigger one--however, I know my mind tends to go blank at inopportune moments, and I can just hear myself asking a coworkers for "a metal thingummy with a slot in it" instead of a wrench.  My friend Susanna has lent me a pair of metatarsal-protection work boots, so that's one less up-front expense.

I encountered a less than savory individual today (not on the jobsite--I don't go there until before dawn Friday, as aforementioned), a middle-aged sunburned motorcycle-riding (he was discussing it with someone else--apparently had a nasty wreck years ago that put him in the hospital for months) white man who apparently owned his own business for years before the economy soured.  These weren't characteristics to despise. What was was his loud, out-of-left-field comments about Chinese and Koreans!  He mentioned those two nationalities and all of a sudden started doing this awful "ching-chan-bong-chow" noise as a (TOTALLY off--Sheesh, if you are going to be ethnically derisive, at least get your accent right, you idiot!) imitation of the (two very dissimilar) languages in question.  I am pretty sure everyone around him--black and white, but no Asians--was totally floored.  I hope they were. I was boggled. It was like being in a live-action version of a unconsciously but fundamentally racist Hollywood movie of the 1930s or 1940s--the action and dialogue going along normally between Caucasian characters and then, Boom! A non-white character comes onscreen or is evoked, and suddenly hokey speech patterns, wacky ways of walking and acting, idiot grins or evil squinty eyes are the order of the day.  Ой, господи! (Oh, Lord!) as the Russians would say.  I am only just learning what the Koreans themselves would say, but I can think of a few "French" bon mots not suited for a PG blog.

Oh, speaking of both Russia and the Far East, I learned this morning from a former employee that the company for which I'll be working recently had visitors from both places!  So, if I refresh my Russian repertoire, expand my Korean capabilities, and prove myself ob the production side, there's an actual chance that my liberal arts education may be useful even at the factory!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Das Hot Auto

I hope it's just a dead battery.  It's one of the hottest days of the year, and my car is in full sun in the Hobby Lobby parking lot, refusing to crank. The lights on the dash come on, but the engine refuses to turn over.  I have called AAA and repaired to a nearby Starbucks for iced tea.  I am sitting outside, under a luxuriantly green crepe myrtle, staring across the asphalt at my car bumper.

The auto guy just called me to say he was en route.  He didn't identify himself at first, and addressed me by my given name.  I know my last name is a challenge, and 99 out of 100 don't pronounce it correctly on the first attempt, but I like people to try.  I realize the US is an informal society, but this guy was a total stranger, calling from an unfamiliar number, and to have him launch into familiarity without preamble was somewhat jarring.  At my age, I should at least get the courtesy of a polite "miss" "miz" or "ma'am".

Sweat drops are running down my tea glass and others down the small of my back.  I am SO grateful I am wearing exercise clothes instead of something more formal.  And that there is a nice steady breeze.

UPDATE: Bad starter. Thank God, my mechanic is located just around the corner. Hope it won't be a pricey fix!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

KYP The Riveter

I may have found a job at last.  From next week, wearing a new pair of heavy steel-toed construction boots, I'm theoretically supposed to join an assembly line making tractors. The new placement agency I contacted yesterday said I did well on the tools and warehouse-safety assessment tests (yes, I do know what a router and a lock nut look like, though I confused sheet metal and wood screws), and I go in for training sometime next week.  It's a worthwhile job, though it doesn't pay that much--a bit more if your team makes its weekly quota.  And I can wear jeans on the job.

After the interview with the placement people this afternoon and the mandatory drug test (hair follicle--though contrary to my expectation they didn't grab a handful and yank it out by the roots, just snipped an unobtrusive bit from underneath), I drove out to Thomson, GA, to the county detention center to get my fingerprints done. Not a requirement for working at the factory, but instead an essential primary step in finding an English teaching job overseas. I have to mail the prints to the FBI for a national background check (according to their website they are running more than a month in-house processing these), and then when I get those back I must mail them to the US Secretary of State to be apostilled (certified as genuine).  It's a byzantine process that cannot be circumvented electronically, and of course each step requires payment. Thank God, I didn't have to pay for the fingerprinting because I went to the office of the sheriff of the county where I reside.

I posted my resume on an international TESOL jobs board yesterday and have thus far been contacted by about eight schools asking me to apply with them. All but one are in China (PRC).  But of course, all want the background check completed, and many are looking to hire, last minute, for the 2014 fall term.  Unless a miracle happens, I don't see how I'd get the check done and certified in time, much less manage a visa and a plane ticket.  Maybe I can substitute teach this fall while working second shift at the tractor factory and be ready to go abroad to China or South Korea come January?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"The Sensible Girl"

Advice for becoming a happy, independent woman from 125 years ago:

“The sensible young woman is self-reliant. She is not merely a doll to be petted, or a bird to be supported; but though she may be blessed with a father able and willing to care for her every want, she cultivates her capabilities, she seeks to prepare herself for possibilities, and, though she may not need to, she qualifies herself to feed and clothe herself, so that if left alone she can stand upon her own feet dependent upon no human being. The sensible young woman is brave. Heroism is not most seen upon great occasions, but in little things. The strength of life is in the power of each little common act. Bravery is best exhibited, not in enduring things we cannot help, but in the small matters one might help. 

The sensible young woman makes the best of everything. A sensible young woman treats herself as she does her plants. She gives them all the sunshine there is. If there is but one little window in her room, she gives them the benefit of that; and if the sun comes round to them but once a day, she gives them the benefit of that. So the sensible young woman lets all the light there is come into her heart, pushes back her tears, and throws out her smiles, and thus her life grows in contentment and gladness.”

From the 1890 Worthington’s Annual (copyright 1889), p. 204.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The parochial school ended up hiring a person with 21 years' teaching experience for the Middle School English position. I certainly cannot fault them for this decision!

I had asked God that even if I weren't selected, I would at least learn something through the application process. That prayer was answered. There were several questions on the application which made me think seriously not only about what teaching goals were important to me, but also how I would answer a student who was curious about the Christian faith. I remember listening to my middle-school classmates (at another private parochial school) argue over the "once saved, always saved" idea (our class was evangelical-heavy), and now reflected how useless that sort of viewpoint is--the theological equivalent of discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Deciding to become a Christian is like deciding to get married--it's a life-long commitment, and who, upon walking down the aisle in happy radiance with their beloved, would not have anything ever to do with that person again?  It's a relationship, deepened by communication and contact, not a dry contract or a one-shot business deal.

I also have realized in the last week that in many ways, my jewelry-selling at the Arlington Market prepared me for this prolonged period of unemployed job-hunting. For years, I faithfully created beautiful pieces and showed up regularly to unload the tent, the tables, the cloths, the displays, and the items themselves.  And so many Saturdays I sat there, idle, as people glanced cursorily at my wares and passed on, not purchasing. I would be complimented, but have no sales.  So, once again,  I see that God has given me a stepping-stone to my subsequent experience.  I did talk to my pastor after church this morning--the sermon, appropriately, was on the last few chapters in Habakkuk (even if there are no material resources, yet I am secure in God's love)--and he said he would be praying for me.

My blog stats continue to show regular visits from Ukrainian readers, but where they are in the country I can't say. One wonders what drunken separatists would find interesting here, but also I am curious as to what Poroshenko's people would be drawn!

Thursday, July 17, 2014


...Or so I understand it is termed in the vernacular.  My day was spent scrubbing my late step-grandmother's house, which is, shall we say, in a less than perfect state of repair.  My mission was to get it clean, so that when the real estate agent puts the sign in the yard advertising it for sale on Monday, at least the dirt level will not count against it.  The dirt level was high.  Shutter-style tilted-slat closet doors are the devil's own invention, I have concluded.  I spent an hour on two closets, and didn't get all the accumulated grime off those damned doors, several types of cleaning chemicals, heavy-duty rags and a nylon-bristle scrub brush notwithstanding.

I just about hacked up a lung when I first started, and my mother soon divined the reason why--one or more of the home health people who had been sitting with the elderly woman had "changed" the HVAC filters by turning them around.  That's right, all the filtered crap which had greyed one side of the disposable filter was then allowed to pollute the ventilation system from which it had originally been screened!  Good grief.  It's a wonder everyone hadn't contracted nasty respiratory infections from the dust belching from the struggling air conditioning.

We worked for about seven hours just on closets, doors and the front and side windows. Tomorrow we tackle the back windows and the floors.  It will not be surgery-ready when we finish, but it will be much fresher, and hopefully will incline buyers to think favorably about the building's "fixer upper" prospects (needs new kitchen, new bathroom cabinets, new carpet, new lighting...).

In a more larger case of putting the best spin on disaster, I noticed that Mr. Putin pretty much admitted ("this wouldn't have happened without conflict in the area") this afternoon that the Malaysian Airlines plane shot down over Ukraine (gosh, MA is having a rotten year!) was done in by separatist forces, for which his government is supplying materiel.  I still can't see Mr. Obama or any of his European counterparts actually offering any concrete aid to the Ukrainians, even with this latest debacle.  Malaysia may storm, beg and plead, but will get less sympathy for all that, since there's no "mystery" here, but very real and recognizable forces that are to blame for the incident. But will the progressive world actually confront destructive people on behalf of an already-established fledgling democracy fighting for its life?!  Oh, no.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I have been working on a creative project involving depictions of various local landmarks, which yesterday gave me the opportunity to haul out my camera and trek around the Augusta Canal and the downtown area.  What I found was (with the exception of the Columbia County-run canal headgates) distressing.  Ten years ago, Augusta seemed headed for revitalization, with long-abandoned stretches of Broad Street being refurbished and occupied by new businesses.  The Riverwalk was expanding, and old mills along the water which had long ceased to operate were being converted into posh apartments.

It's a bit like Pripyat now--as if everything suddenly ground to a halt, and the people fled with what they could carry not long after I moved to DC.  There are weeds growing in the parking lots and from between the bricks of the sidewalks.  Most of downtown Broad Street is shuttered again.  Even the legendary Snake Lady Lounge (where, rumor had it, a woman performed wearing nothing but a small g-string and a large boa constrictor) is gone (either the snake ate the lady or the lady the snake, I presume).  The Riverwalk looks unkempt, and the National Science Museum (which promised to bring families with children to the area) has pulled up stakes.  The buildings which were fixed up at great cost of time and money are falling to pieces again, chunks of masonry and wood missing from beside their windows.  It's just horrible.

The old Richmond Academy Building, which for years housed the Augusta Museum of History (which had in its collection a fascinating series of jars holding formaldehyde-preserved fetuses-- showing the stages of development from conception to birth--these are no longer on display in the new facility).  The whole facade is crumbling.

This picture flatters the old Union Baptist Church, whose details were rotting.  It has some lovely stained-glass windows, though--I'd like to get inside on a sunny day!

This textile mill on the site of the old Confederate Powder Works closed down six years ago, after more than 100 years of continuous operation.  I wonder how long it will remain ruined?

Cool, but rusted Victorian details.

Now, most of this sign is normal for the US as a whole, but the way the hours are listed, I think, is peculiar to the South.

Even in the midst of poverty and decay, beauty! A field near the Augusta Water Works was purple with these lovely weeds.  I took photos with my zoom lens (you know how I've been lamenting over not having one?  I should have looked in my camera bag--I had one, but my mother had apparently never used it, as it was still in a plastic sleeve.  Now, all I need is a wide-angle lens...).

Monday, July 07, 2014

Packrat Payoff

For decades, I have been fighting my packrat tendencies, trying to cut down on retaining unnecessary paper in particular.  The advent of regular recycling has been a blessing in this effort, because the print material is not going into a landfill, but will be reused for newsprint, corrugated boxes, or other needed things, and so it's easier psychologically to toss the glossy magazines and other bits of pulp-based flotsam into the bin, rather than keeping them around indefinitely.

One area, though, in which I have continued to accumulate is academic papers.  Since high school (almost a quarter century ago!) I have resolutely (and neatly) retained folders and large manila envelopes of notes, handouts and essays for all the liberal arts classes I have taken (I did recycle all my Chemistry and math notes). I was convinced that I would eventually end up teaching one or more of these subjects, and I wanted to have a sense of the pacing, content and assignments from my own experience to guide me.

And this weekend, the retention of this information paid off.  On July 2, one of the local parochial schools posted an opening for a middle school language arts instructor, and among the application requirements was the procurement of three letters of recommendation.  As expected, trying to contact people on a holiday weekend was challenging.  The position really called for an English major, but although I had come close, I did not actually achieve that, because I left college a year early.  So, I felt that a letter from the former English department head from whom I took four undergraduate classes (lo these many years ago) would stand me in good stead.

Turns out, he and his wife had just arrived in Oxford, UK, for a visit of six months, and though he'd brought student records of the last decade with him, he didn't have those of the previous ten years.  I was substantially impressed that he would have so many with him, and responded that it would be ridiculous to haul more overseas.  He emailed me back that if I had copies of any of the work I'd done for him, he would be able to compose a recommendation based on that.  Of course, I did!  The man is a saint.  He was one of the best teachers I've had in any subject, and his willingness to go the extra miles on behalf of a former student is awesome.

My other recommendation-writers include my friend Ira (that we've worked together creating beautiful English from beautiful Russian for many years I thought would make her perspective valuable), another two former professors (these from Georgetown), and an emeritus pastor from my church in DC.  I didn't know who all would be able and willing to compose such endorsements--that some could comment on my Christian faith in the context of English language appreciation while others could only assess my demonstrated work ethic made the choice about whom to approach a challenge.  Plus, the job itself begins August 1, so I know the school's turn-around time for hiring is minimal--and I needed a critical mass of positive outside commentary to support my somewhat shaky application (given my lack of a teaching certificate or of an actual English major).

We'll see.  I told them in the cover letter that if hired, I would immediately enroll in an Education MA program, seeking a specialization in English.  Frankly, I would like to have done this already, but the money simply isn't there.  Ah, well.  Now, off to apply for part-time secretarial work!  I wonder if a "real job" wouldn't be more relaxing than the job of finding one!

Friday, July 04, 2014

Fruited Plains

Grandmommy and I are just retiring to bed while unlicensed explosions rip the air outside.  I hope none of these bottle rocket-happy Independence Day revelers sets himself or a house on fire! Grandmommy has no interest in fireworks (I love them), but we are both too exhausted to even look out the windows to spot any glittering sparklers.

We picked three gallons of blueberries yesterday afternoon...

... and then drove out to a local farm to gather a bushel of pink-eye peas.  The lady at the farm told us to pack our half-bushel buckets as full as we could get them, and we actually ended up with 27 lbs of peas, two more than the standard bushel.  Then we brought them home to dump on a clean sheet in the den and started shelling.

I shelled 18 lbs of peas in about four hours, then helped Grandmommy find the few wormy ones before she blanched them and packed them in stuffed pint bags for freezing.  She froze most of the blueberries, too.

This is the second time in a week I've been down at Grandmommy's--my sister and her family visited last weekend, and so Mums and I drove down Saturday to see them and spend one night.  My nephew and niece were enthralled by the blueberry bushes in the backyard, and the three of us--Brad, Rita and me--passed hours picking fruit, eating berries straight off the bushes while filling our baskets.

The two young fry made up stories while they darted around in the thicket, pretending they were "woodland sprites" who would magically fill pickers' baskets with ripe blueberries if treated well, but unripe pink ones if scorned.  Grandmommy came down for a while to admire the children's superior skills in selecting good berries: 

The ham, hamming it up.

A full half-gallon each.

.When we finally came inside, Rita immediately occupied herself with her great-grandmother's typewriter .... 

... painstakingly composing a story (I don't know if it was a blueberry or Harry Potter-inspired fantasy, as she finished reading a well-thumbed copy of The Order of the Phoenix in Saturday and was well launched into The Half-Blood Prince on Sunday).

While Brad played with interlocking blocks on the floor.

I had a bad Skype interview for a teaching job in Russia on Wednesday, and returned to Dublin by myself Thursday, with the purpose of housecleaning.  Grandmommy is doing well, but her vision isn't as sharp as it was, so her bathroom and other bits of the house needed additional scrubbing.  The cleaning, the blueberry and pea-picking, and the pea-shelling was cumulatively a real workout.  Today I haven't done much besides eat enormous quantities of delicious food and lose two games of Scrabble.  It's no wonder my jeans are getting harder to zip, despite all the exercise I get.  Soon, all I will be able to wear is a Spandex muumuu.

Two silly children with their increasingly round aunt.

Georgia Tropics

As evidence that Georgia is downright tropical these days, I offer the following:

Tiny bananas growing on the tree in my stepdad's backyard.  If they mature, I will be eating them with peanut butter...