Wednesday, August 31, 2011

WiP Wednesday: Second Sock

Amidst all the craziness and homework in my life, I've found a little time to knit and have started the companion to my whimsical sock of brightness. I'm almost done with the leg. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: At Home [audio] by Bill Bryson

I've been meaning to post a review of this book for the last, uh, two weeks, because I finished it a while ago. I'd heard excerpts from it on NPR a few times back when it was first released, and decided to check it out of the library so I'd have something to listen to while I was washing walls at Matt's house (this may or may not have something to do with why I took so long to review it). It was fairly long, over sixteen hours, so I wouldn't recommend getting the audiobook unless you spend a lot of time commuting or are one of those people who likes to sit around and listen to audiobooks.

That said, At Home was very enjoyable. Bill Bryson has a very nice reading voice, and the chapters were split up into smaller, more manageable tracks on the CDs. The content, of course, was good, too. After purchasing a former parsonage and doing some cursory research on its original proprietor, Bryson decided to do a historical survey of the evolution of different parts of the house. He not only examined the was in which the names, purposes, and placement of rooms came about, but discussed the important moments in history that led to them. He also goes on at length about interior design and the ongoing evolution of furniture, wallpaper, and paint. None of these are subjects I usually find interesting, but Bryson brings them to life with in an informative and humorous way.

Excellent, and I look forward to reading/listening to more of Bryson's work. 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I'm sorry for the unannounced hiatus. I figured absence would be better than forced whimsy or emosplosions, so I took some time out for starting grad school, continuing my efforts to learn Spanish, getting my stuff unpacked, quitting my job so I could go back to the former one, and, you know, completely undoing the last year and a half of my life. The last two weeks have been really rough, and I appreciate those of you who are out there reading for bearing with me. I really appreciate those of you who fielded all of the breakup and grad school-induced emosplosions. You're the best, and I owe you all some cookies.

Things have mostly settled down, at least for the time being. I've gotten everything unpacked, my schoolwork is organized, and I have less than two weeks left before I [Seriously Mean It This Time] Never Wait Tables Again. If it weren't for the never-ending pile of homework, I'd have oodles of free time!

Alas. I have a lot of homework. It's not that much more than my workload at Vanderbilt, all things considered, but it's still a little overwhelming. The reading is slightly less in quantity (but it makes up for it with serious density), and I have far fewer mini-papers to write. That, unfortunately, is linked to an exponential rise in my stress levels, because that means that more of my grade is riding on fewer assignments, and there is little to no room for error. The expectation that much of my learning (and work...) be self-directed is also a bit daunting given how long I've been out of school. I keep envisioning my brain as this cobwebby, rusted-out jalopy, all, "Didn't I used to be smart?"

Anyway. I'm going to keep updating, but I don't know if I'll be able to go back to daily content for a while (read: until I graduate, and maybe even later than that. Possibly when I retire). It's for the best; my pleasure reading has plummeted since I got my assignments, I don't have much time for knitting, either, and while I might find social work theory interesting, I doubt it's appealing to many of you. So, I guess we'll see. Story of my life, these days.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Whimsical Sock!

Remember when I said I'm trying (and failing) to come up with some nice, whimsical content for this blog? I think this is about as close as I'm going to get for a while:

I've officially hit the halfway mark on my socks!

I'll probably cast on for the second pair tomorrow. I have to work a double today (after going to my nine o'clock Spanish class), and I know I'll be exhausted after that. I can't wait until September, which is when I'll be switching over to only working three days a week.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Orientation, part 2.

I spent today at orientation for my graduate program. It didn't start until ten, but since it was happening in Cullowhee and I live in Asheville, I still had to wake up early. the drive down wasn't terrible, just long and sort of tedious. Luckily, there are several people in my class (we all have to take the same courses the first semester) who also live in Asheville, so we're in the process of arranging a carpool.

Grad school orientation isn't all that different from undergrad. You get your manual, your schedule, and the usual admonishments about checking your campus mail more often. The only difference is that since the program is so small (I think there are twentysomething of us who are full-timers), we did all of the introducing of ourselves, professors included, that day, instead of in class. They also didn't give us a lecture about safe sex and chlamydia not being a kind of flower.

After the program-specific orientation was over, we headed over to the student center for the main orientation for the whole graduate school. It was fairly informative, and since there were so many people there, I felt that I could knit on my sock without appearing rude. It didn't go for as long as I expected, so I took advantage of the extra time and went to get a student ID made. Once that was over, I decided to head home. The third session was for teaching assistants (I decided to not do that, as I live far away and make more money waiting tables), and the campus tour wouldn't be starting until after that. Since all of my classes are going to be in the same building the program orientation was in, I elected to skip it.

All in all, a productive day. I also finished that sock. One down, one to go!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

this space intentionally left blank.

I tried to formulate a lighthearted, whimsical post about my first day at school today, but apart from my Spanish teacher liking my Hello Kitty notebook, nothing lighthearted or whimsical happened. Traffic on campus was godawful, I had to park forever away from my building, nobody sat next to me, and, oh yeah, I did all of that with frog eyes (the result of spending most of yesterday/last night in tears). What a great first impression: looking like a disheveled basket case. 

I know I have every right to look like a disheveled basket case. I lost my home, my boyfriend, and my pets in one hour-long conversation and then spent the rest of the day hauling all of my stuff back to my dad's house. My inner Type A perfectionist doesn't listen, though, and relentlessly castigated me for not only crying in front of Matt and his friends (repeatedly), but for not having the energy to find my makeup and a cute outfit for the first day of class or to wow the teacher by participating. 

Needless to say, I'm beat. I'd declare it vodka o'clock and retire to my knitting, but grad school orientation is tomorrow and showing up hungover on top of everything else probably isn't a good idea. Back to unpacking, I guess. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Books are heavy.

Just like this entry.

I tend to be a little hesitant about including details about my personal life on here. I tend to be pretty reserved where that subject is concerned on a good day, and talking about my relationships publicly has burned me pretty nicely in the past. This, however, needs to be said:

Matt and I broke up this morning, and I've spent my day thus far hauling all of my things back to my dad's house.

Hence the entry title.

Hence also why you won't be seeing him or the house (which belongs to him) or the cats (ditto) on here anytime in the near future, if ever again.

I'm not planning on going into the how or the why. I don't think that's ever a good idea, and I don't harbor any ill will towards Matt (...that the golf ball his back windshield took less than an hour after the "we're over" talk happened didn't satisfy), so I'll avoid dragging him through the mud on here. If you know me well enough to be my facebook friend or know my cell number, feel free to contact me via those mediums (or my e-mail) if you want to talk about it.

I just wanted you guys to know what's up, and to tell you that I'm doing okay. I have somewhere to live, things are amicable, and I'll be fine. Eventually.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A real day off?! No, not entirely.

Once again, it's Monday and I'm not at work. I still, however, have a bunch of work to do. So far, I've accomplished going to the bank and the library, along with some wall q-tipping and sock photography.

My main goal for today is to 100% finish the wall that will comprise my main workspace in the office. I've cleaned out the grooves, but still need to wash the flat panels and then watco the whole thing. I also need to finish sanding my desk, and then prime and paint it. My Spanish class starts Wednesday, I have grad school orientation on Thursday, and then grad school begins on Monday, so I really need for that room to stop being a giant disaster zone like the rest of the house.

We'll see.

At least I got to have some fun yesterday, though! Amy came up to Asheville and we went to Biltmore and saw the house and did a wine tasting. After that, we went downtown and had dinner at Curate, which was really good (thanks for recommending it, Dad!). The food was excellent, and the tableside-made white sangria bordered on being a religious experience. I fully intend on going again sometime soon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sockity Sock!

So, the Overly Cheerful Socks continue. I have finished the gusset and am on the home stretch: the foot, then the toe. I have pretty little feet, so this part of socks always goes fairly quickly. I'm really liking the way they're coming out, even if they are a little OMGBRIGHT.

I've finally come up with a use for my sock scraps: the beekeper's quilt. It'll be a long time coming since I don't knit super fast (and also don't have a whole lot of free time to devote to knitting), but I think it'll look pretty excellent at the end. I'm planning on using self-striping sock yarn for one, and my semisolids/variegateds for a second.

I have a good source for the self-striping yarns, LittleKnits, a retailer that sells discontinued lines and colors at a steep discount. I may also hit up some Ravelry destashes. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to having a new blanket and expanding my collection of knitted socks. They're wonderful for when it's cold out.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


We are finally moved into the new house. There are still a few things left at the old place (mainly in the kitchen), but all of the furniture is here now. Along with clothes, books, electronics, and everything else.

Most importantly, we finally have internet.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: Fool by Christopher Moore

Before I headed out to Bristol to visit my little sister on Monday, I stopped at the downtown library to pick out an audiobook for the trip. I figured I may as well get into the swing of listening to books rather than reading them, as I'll be spending quite a bit of time on the road this semester. Western is just over an hour away from where I live, so that's four hours a week right there, not to mention all the time I spend driving to and from work, the gym, and AB Tech. Audiobooks seemed like a good way to pass the time.

As I browsed the books on CD section at the library, I stumbled across several volumes by Christopher Moore. While I'd heard of Moore before (a lot of my friends really like his books), I'd never gotten around to reading any myself. I figured then was as good a time as any, and selected Fool, a take on King Lear written from the perspective of Pocket, Lear's favorite court jester. I tend to be something of a sucker for this sort of thing, and I was very well-rewarded.

There are many reasons to love Fool. First and foremost, it's absolutely hilarious. Since it's told from the perspective of a Fool, bawdy jokes, sarcasm, and black comedy abound; it reads quite a bit like the dirtier stories in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Moore does an excellent job translating medieval humor for modern audiences, and the result is nothing short of hysterical. Beyond that, Fool provides an interesting and insightful take on the morality of both the play and the title character of King Lear, along with a certain amount of social commentary that some modern readers might find a tad disconcerting. For what could be advertised as a lighthearted romp, it's really quite heavy in places. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely.

Also, the voice acting was awesome.

A few caveats, though: this, like much of Moore's work, Fool is not a book for those who are easily offended. If cursing, drinking, sex, violence, and unfavorable comparisons of Christianity to paganism because Christian holidays don't involve orgies would send you into a froth of pear-clutching self-righteousness, you should probably avoid this one. I also wouldn't recommend Fool to anyone who hasn't already read King Lear. While it would probably still be fairly amusing, the plot would likely be a little hard to follow.

All in all, I loved it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

BAND: August Prompt

I'm participating in BAND: Blogger's Alliance of Non-Fiction Devotees, and it's time for the August prompt.

Over at Amy Reads, Amy asks: 

Last month Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness hosted the first discussion, asking What’s your favorite type of nonfiction? I had a lot of fun reading the answers that everyone submitted and they helped lead me to my topic for this month. One of my favorite things about reading is how one book leads to another which leads to another and so on. For a lot of us, nonfiction wasn’t something we always read and it was a specific topic or book that drew us in. And then once we started, we just couldn’t stop.
So this month I’d like to know:
How did you get into reading nonfiction? Do you remember your first nonfiction book or subject? If so, do you still read those subjects?

While I read a fair amount of non-fiction as a kid (probably considerably more than average), I didn't get into non-fiction as a genre until I was in college. When I was in elementary school, I was the kid who liked to read reference books (dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias) for fun. Whenever I ran across a topic I was especially interested in, I'd visit the school or public library and check out books on the subject. My family didn't have a lot of money growing up, so the library was an invaluable resource for me. I didn't read non-fiction for pleasure, though. I only read about subjects I was interested in, and then, it was more for the acquisition of knowledge than anything else.

That changed when I started college and took classes that used shorter works of non-fiction instead of textbooks. The first semester of my freshman year really changed the way I looked at non-fiction, particularly my introduction to writing course. Rather than offering a generic "how to write papers" class, Scripps had several topics within the Writing 100 label to choose from. Since I was among the last to register, I was assigned to the section whose focus was on genocides, to be taught by a professor whose (Jewish) family fled the Nazi regime. Cheerful! I wound up really enjoying the class, despite the incredibly depressing subject matter, because the books we were assigned were so good. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, and A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power are still high on my list of non-fiction works I recommend to others.

I wasn't quite hooked yet, though. That happened after taking a number of women's studies and sociology courses over the ensuing four years. They, too, primarily relied upon shorter works of non-fiction rather than full-length textbooks, and I found myself seeking out additional works by the likes of Susan Faludi, bell hooks, Barbara Ehrenreich, and many, many others. I found myself branching out to related fields by exploring the whole of the 300s section in the library, and using's recommendation algorithm to find new subjects to read about. I felt the same way that many do when they discover fiction: a whole world had opened up for me, only it was the real world instead of the world of make-believe.

These days, despite having majored in literature, I find myself reading more non-fiction than fiction, at about a two to one ratio. I think I may still have fiction fatigue from undergrad!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Which I Go to Community College and Knit a Sock.

 Yesterday was a very-eventful-in-a-bad-way day. It all started when I had to get up at 7:30 so that I could go to a two-hour orientation at AB-Tech. I should have known better. No good ever comes of me getting up that early in the morning; I spend the entire day in a state of absent-minded, sleep-deprived discombobulation which can quickly turn ugly when combined with the specialness of others. Yesterday was no exception, even though I brought every bit of it on myself.

My first mistake was taking French instead of Spanish when I was twelve. I decided that French was the way to go because, I kid you not, it was prettier and more romantic than Spanish, and I liked French literature and wanted to read it in the original language. Seriously. "Pretty and romantic" were my criteria for selecting a foreign language to study. I know twelve-year-olds are stupid like that, but yeesh. I still get kind of embarrassed for myself when I think about it, and thank my lucky stars that Twilight wasn't around back then (as it was, I has a similarly embarrassing obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in those days). I like to think of that as the beginning of a series of incredibly poor educational choices that ultimately led to me spending my early to mid twenties waiting tables for a living. Had I devoted the seven years I spent on French to Spanish, yesterday wouldn't have happened.

A little more backstory: when I decided to go into social work, I asked my stepmother (who works for the state) what she thought I should do in addition to the regular coursework in order to ensure that I would find gainful employment upon graduation. She immediately told me that it was very difficult to get a job with any of the providers of social services without having both a master's degree and some degree of fluency in Spanish. People with coursework in medical and professional Spanish were especially desirable. Realizing I'd have to enroll in Spanish classes, I (once again) cursed my twelve-year-old self. I decided to enroll at AB Tech, as driving to Cullowhee from Asheville five days a week (when I only have to be there on Mondays and Tuesdays) was totally unappealing. "It can't be that bad," I told myself, "Matt went there."

Famous last words.

Upon "applying" (which isn't so much asking them to take you as giving them your information so that they can put you in the system), the website informed me that all new students had to attend a two-hour orientation, after which they could pick up their parking passes, obtain a student ID, and, most importantly, register for classes. I, in my infinite wisdom, decided that the 8:30 AM slot was the time for me, so that I could get some housework done afterwards before starting my closing shift at 4:00 PM.

That would be mistake number two.

Dragging myself out of bed that morning was a struggle. Over the last year-ish that I've spent living with Matt, I've become something of a night owl. I have a hard time falling asleep before midnight, and on Monday, I decided that staying up until 2 AM working on a sock was a really good idea. Given that I am one of those people who requires at least eight, but preferably nine, hours of sleep to function, I wasn't in a particularly organized mental state. I managed to throw some clothes on, grab my sock-in-progress, and tumble out the door and arrive (mostly) on time.

I suspected that the orientation would consist of five minutes' worth of useful information and one hour and fifty-five minutes of useless dreck, so I broke out the knitting needles immediately. I wasn't wrong; we spent the vast majority of the session discussing useful things like finding information on the website, why it's important to leave time for sleep, and how to use e-mail. The only thing between me and boredom-induced seppuku via cheap ballpoint pen was my knitting, and I was thankful for it. I finished nearly all of the leg (some fifty rows) while there. I also got a few useful pieces of information: where to go to register for classes, pick up my parking permit, buy my books, and obtain my student ID. As soon as the orientation session ended, I headed over to the student center, hoping to kill all four birds with one stone.

Thinking I could navigate all of the necessary educational bureaucracy in one trip? That would be mistake number three.

I managed to get my book, student ID, and parking permit without incident (though I did have to walk to the parking lot to get my car's license plate number), and was flying high as I set down to wait for an appointment with the registration counselor. My number was called within ten minutes, and I sat down in the cubicle and gave the counselor an abbreviated version of my spiel above: graduate student, want to learn campus, AB Tech is more convenient to my house than Western, etc.

The counselor pulled up my information, and told me that I couldn't register without a "reading credit," and that I needed to have proof that I'd taken some kind of reading or writing class while in college, or else standardized test scores. I pulled up my acceptance letter to Western's graduate school (which you can't get into without having obtained a bachelor's, which you can't earn without being at least kind of literate), but that was no good. I pulled up my scores on the GRE, but those weren't any good, either (despite the fact that the GRE verbal is harder than the SAT's).

Assuming that my bachelor's degree and enrollment in graduate school, along with my perfect/near perfect GRE scores in writing and English, provided evidence that I am, in fact, literate enough to take beginning Spanish was, evidently, mistake number four.

By that point, it was a little after noon. I decided to run to the new house, dig through my boxes of old school crap, and find a copy of my final transcript from Vanderbilt. It was a pain in the ass, no doubt, but there was no way in hell I was going to waste at least two hours of my life taking a placement test to demonstrate that I can read when I have a bachelor's degree in English. While I was there, I would throw my work uniform, filthy after a grueling weekend of non-stop double shifts, into the washer. I was halfway through loading up the washer when I realized that the laundry detergent was nowhere to be seen.

It was there that I encountered my fifth mistake: believing that it's common sense to bring the laundry detergent with you when you move the washer and dryer from one house to another. According to Matt and his entourage, the very idea was just silly.

Off I went to a nearby grocery store to purchase a fresh box of detergent. I added it to the washer, and then I threw my giant pile of dirty stuff back in. I then found my old transcript, put it in my bag, and headed back out to AB Tech.

This time, unfortunately, I found myself waiting in the lobby for over an hour. I finished the leg on my sock and pretty much all of the heel flap while I was waiting. Finally, my number came up again and I found myself in the office of a different counselor. I explained my (apparently unique) situation and produced my transcript. The counselor scanned it briefly, then said, "I don't see any introduction to writing classes."

Mistake number six: hoping that a BA in English from one of the best universities in the country would constitute sufficient proof of literacy to bureaucrats at the local community college.

"I tested out of it. You can see where I took advanced writing, though," I responded.

"Well, I guess that'll do. I'll go make a copy," she said, and headed out the door. Once she got back, she signed me up for the class I needed, and I went back home... discover mistake number seven of the day: I'd accidentally thrown the white towels I'd used to clean the walls of my office in with my black work uniform. End result? Said uniform was coated in a thick layer of white fuzz. I'd have to wash it again, which meant being late to work-- and despite that second washing, I still had to borrow the lint roller.

The only upside to that day was that I got quite a bit of sock done. It's a basic sock pattern using self-striping yarn. I've never used Trekking XXL (color 801) before, but I quite like it. I can tell by the way that it's knitting up that the socks will wear like iron and the colors won't fade. They're pretty damn bright, though, what many of my knitting friends would refer to as "clown barf." I like 'em, though. They're cheerful.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke

I stumbled across Dream of Ding Village in the new fiction section in the library a few weeks ago. I'm not very familiar with Asian literature, mostly because I don't speak any Asian languages and I prefer to avoid reading books in translation. The premise was so interesting, though, that I checked it out anyway. I'm very glad I did. Not only was Dream of Ding Village beautifully written, it was an eye-opening look into the casualties of runaway development in modern China.

Ding Village, a small town in Henan, China (Lianke's home), becomes a bloodselling boomtown in the 1990's only to be decimated by AIDS some ten years later. Narrated by the murdered son of the town's leading bloodhead (or blood collector), Ding Hui, Dream of Ding Village tells the heartbreaking story of the town and its occupants, detailing a multitude of abuses perpetrated upon the citizens by their fellow villagers and the Chinese government and how they coped with the outbreak. Bloodheads, including (especially?) Ding Hui, were known for reusing supplies and needles, filling up the bags to the bursting point and undercompensating the peasants, and tricking people into donating more blood more frequently than they should have, not to mention lying about the true risks of blood-selling and the spread of AIDS, which is known to the villagers as "the fever." People were told that it was their civic duty to sell their blood; not only were they helping people who needed it, they were enriching their families, village, and province.

Henan was and remains one of the poorest parts of China, so the people there were especially vulnerable to heavy-handed tactics and misinformation campaigns about AIDS and how it is spread. For years, the party line of the Chinese government was that HIV/AIDS were diseases of decadent, Western society and limited to "perverts." They denied the presence of HIV in the Chinese population for years, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, which resulted in the disease spreading like wildfire through rural populations, who were unaware that needle sharing and heterosexual sex could spread the disease. Beyond that, medications available in the developed world that can slow (if not stop) the transition from HIV to AIDS simply weren't available to impoverished Chinese villagers, so when they got infected, they were left to sicken and die. In droves.

According to a few interviews of Lianke I've read online, Dream of Ding Village is a sanitized version of what actually happened; Lianke had self-censored a great deal in order to prevent it from being banned by the Chinese government (it didn't work). He had apparently left out some of the worst abuses he had come across in his research (a fact that I find frankly horrifying) and limited discussions of the Chinese government's involvement, portraying the tragedy as the work of unscrupulous local government operatives and private bloodheads. The international angle wasn't discussed, either. There's been talk of Lianke and the anthropologist he conducted his research with publishing a non-fiction work or a documentary. I hope that happens; the victims of the Chinese blood merchants deserve to have their stories told.

Overall, an excellent read. 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Fun-ish Monday!

Today, I drove up to Bristol to get some stuff out of my storage unit and visit my little sister. She wanted to show off her new classroom, which she'd spent the past few weeks decorating. I was pleased to see one of my old bookshelves, which she'd repainted into a much nicer color (it was pink and white, now it's teal and white) and a couple of dolls that our great-grandmother brought us from Mexico years and years ago that I thought had been lost. After she showed me around and introduced me to some of her coworkers ("You two look just alike!" ...sigh), we had lunch at the pizza place downtown and caught up. I had a really great time seeing her.

After that came the less fun part: hauling my crap out of my storage unit. The goal was to remove enough stuff to where I could get the rest of it in one trip in somebody's truck (I have a few options on that point, one of the upsides of living in the South). It was pretty painful. Not only was it as hot as eight freaking hells outside, I hadn't been to the unit in well over a year, so everything was covered in spiderwebs and dirt. Yuck. I also hadn't done a very efficient job packing when I left Nashville, so everything was pretty disorganized. It took me over an hour to get everything sorted, including removing some stuff from boxes and throwing a bunch of stuff into a nearby dumpster.

All said and done, I managed to cram a box of kitchen stuff (dishes and the like), a few trashbags of bathroom/shower stuff, some clothes, a nightstand, four chairs, and a microwave into my car. I never fail to be amazed at how much stuff can fit into such a tiny space. I had to leave my bed, mattress, box springs, table, and both dressers behind, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to get it all in a second trip (if not, I'll leave the mattresses, which need to be replaced anyway). I'll try to do that by the end of the month, as my free time will be dramatically curtailed thanks to the start of school.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Joys of Audiobooks

I am currently listening to:

  • At Home with Bill Bryson (an appropriate selection for the never-ending scrubbing of walls) at the house.
  • Fool by Christopher Moore (hilarious, but you'll need to have read King Lear at some point to get it) in the car.
  • The Cardturner by Louis Sachar (checked it out on a whim; I read a lot of his books when I was a kid) for when I finish Fool

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review: Working in the Shadows by Gabriel Thompson

I guess it's worth mentioning from the front end of this review that I don't have a lot of patience for people who kvetch about those who immigrate illegally to the United States. There are a number of reasons for this, but they mostly boil down to my practiced disdain for hypocritical racists (lest we all forget that white colonists and, later, the US government, stole the land from people who are pretty ethnically close, if not identical, to those trying to move here now) and my experiences working and interacting with many undocumented workers.

I've worked in restaurants off and on since I was sixteen years old, and many of those years were spent in places whose kitchen staff was either largely or entirely composed of people from Central and South America of questionable immigration status. My experience with these people flies in the face of the conventionally held notion that all undocumented immigrants are lazy, inveterate criminals who want to milk the American government for all the services they possibly can, preferably while having eight children apiece, selling drugs, stealing jobs from hard-working American citizens, and, of course, forcing us all to suffer the indignities of a bilingual culture by expecting us to learn Spanish. I spent three summers working in such a restaurant in Knoxville, and then another four years working in similar places in Nashville, and I have yet to encounter an individual as described above.

The vast majority of immigrants I encountered, legal and otherwise, were simply hard workers from impoverished backgrounds who were desperately trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. They were some of the most dedicated people I've ever met, and their work ethics put mine (and just about every other white person I know's) to shame. Most of them worked two full-time jobs. Some added a third part-time job, if they could squeeze it into their overloaded schedule. None of them, that I was aware of, were involved in illegal activities. If anything, they were scrupulously law-abiding because they knew that any run-ins with the law could lead to deportation at best, lengthy and expensive criminal trials at the worst. That same paranoid fear also kept them from seeking public services; they were often afraid they'd get turned into the INS if they tried to use them. Beyond that, they were pretty keen to learn English, and would often talk to the waitstaff as practice, asking questions about words and what they meant.

My experiences, of course, are limited. Undocumented workers do all kinds of unpleasant work, and restaurant jobs are, sadly, the cushiest ones available to them (if you've ever worked in food service, you know how truly crappy that is). I've never been in a position to interact with those who have had to work harder jobs in manufacturing, food processing, agriculture, or construction. As a result, I was pretty intrigued when I saw Working in the Shadows on the shelf at the library. Finally, an account of what happens to undocumented immigrants who wind up working the really awful jobs.

Thompson takes on a series of jobs over the course of two years. He picks lettuce in Arizona, works a chicken factory in Alabama, and heads home to New York City to test the waters in the underground economy. All along the way, he interviews his coworkers about their lives and experiences in their lines of work, and their responses are both predictable and somewhat surprising. Thompson does an excellent job portraying the realities of the immigrant experience as well as contextualizing in the broader landscape of American employment (he has a great deal to say about white workers in low-income work, too). All in all, Working in the Shadows is very well-written, exhaustively researched, and highly informative. I definitely recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hey, look! Organization!

Since it's looking like the bulk of the blogging about fixing up the new house duties are going to fall to me, I've created a page (Home Improvement) where I'll be indexing my entries about it in a semi-organized, categorized manner. Speaking of new entries, I should have several up next week. I've been working hard and taking tons of pictures, as have Matt and his friends. For now, I'll tide you over with a picture of my finished bookcase:

I have cleaned both the walls and the shelves thoroughly, first with Murphy's Wood Oil Soap, then with some WATCO rejuvenating oil. I used almost an entire 750 count box of generic q-tips from Target to get the insides of the grooves clean.

The good news is that it's really quite clean, and knowing that it's no longer completely grimy is very satisfying. The bad news, unfortunately, is that the WATCO didn't do much, if anything, to even out all the sun fading and nothing to remove the Mystery Stains (more on those later, once I get the pictures off my digital camera).

If I want the walls to look even, I'm going to have to sand them down and refinish them entirely. I'd kind of wanted to do that anyway, since I'd like them to be a lighter color. They're beautiful during the day thanks to the gigantic picture window on the outside-facing wall, but it's very dark and cave-like in there at night. I'd also like to offset the dark bricks in the fireplace.  That's a project for next summer, though. I don't have time to finish it before school starts, and I don't want that room to be a construction zone when I'll need to be working.

All together, I'm currently about 20% finished with the walls in that room. They're taking way longer than I thought they would. I originally thought they'd only take an hour or two, and that has morphed into eight discs from Bill Bryson's At Home and counting. I am very thankful that the Asheville library system has a good number of books on tape-- looks like I'll be needing them for sure.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I miss knitting. :(

I guess the title says it all, huh? I haven't knit more than two dozen stitches in the last week and a half, simply because every moment of what little free time I have at this point has been devoured by the new house. I think things will settle down once the following have happened:

  1. We actually move into said new house (no, that still hasn't happened yet).
  2. The new house has internet (no, that still hasn't happened yet, either), so I can have netflix again.
  3. I finish my office (desk, walls, desk chair, and unpack) and get my shiny new computer.
  4. I finish the guest bedroom.
  5. I paint the hallway.
  6. School starts back and I will be able to justify not devoting my free time to fixing up the new house.
In the meanwhile...I miss knitting. :(

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I wasn't a huge fan of If I Stay (you can read my review here), but I guess I cared enough about the characters to see how their story ended. I had to wait a few weeks since there were a few people ahead of me in the library's holds queue, but it wound up being worth the wait. Most of the things I complained about with If I Stay weren't present in Where She Went. I think that's mostly because Where She Went is 1) told from Adam's perspective (so the Mia whininess is kept to a minimum) 2) three years after the accident (so they're not teenagers anymore, so there's that, too). Meanwhile, the things that made If I Stay great continued to shine, namely, Forman's ability to balance past and present narratives in a cohesive manner and her delicate crafting of characters and their relationships.

The ending was still sort of cheesy, but you can't win 'em all. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It mostly went okay.

Yesterday, that is. I managed to accomplish everything except acquiring wood restorer (Home Depot didn't have it, so I'll be picking it up at Lowe's today) and using it along with fixing up the new desk. Matt's Everything With This House is Harder Than It Needs to Be curse has struck me, too, it seems. I got up extra super-duper early in the morning to get everything done, only to be foiled by the following:

  • the aforementioned lack of wood restorer at Home Depot
  • a brownout that struck my area right as I was getting the sander ready to plug in that didn't end until less than an hour before I was scheduled to have dinner with my dad and stepmother
  • Horrendously filthy...well, everything, but especially the walls in the room that will become my office.
That office. Oh god, you guys, it's so bad. Matt, my dad, and my stepmother overruled me on the painting the walls white front, so I've decided to clean and restore them. I thought that I'd only need an hour or two and half a bottle of Murphy's to get them nice and shiny, but I was so very, very wrong. They're pretty horrifying. You can't tell from looking at it, but the upper third of the room is coated in a very thick, very tenacious layer of yellow-tinged black grime (that slowly goes away as you work your way down the wall). 

That can only mean one thing: cigarettes (and, given the quantity of ick I'm pulling out of the walls, a lot of them) were smoked in that room. It must have been a smoking lounge at some point in the past. I know the immediately previous occupants hadn't smoked in the house recently, as I am insane allergic to smoke and wouldn't be able to be in there and still breathe properly. So, consider this my version of an anti-smoking PSA: if cigarette smoke and the chemicals it contains can cling to walls for decades, meditate upon the damage you're doing to yourself and the people/things around you by lighting up. 

Needless to say, it's probably good that I won't be painting those walls. I intend on washing them until the rag runs clean, as it were (e.g., until I can run a soapy rag over them without some hideous grime coming up), before I use the restorer, but that doesn't mean I'll have gotten all the nicotine out. It's very clingy, and damn near impossible to 100% get rid of. Luckily for my sanity, that wood has a slightly yellowish cast to it, even at the bottom, which is relatively unaffected (smoke rises, so the worst staining is within eighteen inches of the ceiling), so it's undetectable. Painting those walls a light color is officially off the table, though: nicotine bleeds through even the highest quality primers and paints. It's miserable to deal with-- ask anyone who's bought or rented a place that was previously occupied by a smoker. 

So, I have another to-do list for the day:

1. Sand, prime, and paint the new desk.
2. Take last night's laundry to new place and unpack it.
3. Come home and do more laundry, and take it over later today or tomorrow.
4. Go to Target. Acquire econo-size package of q-tips (sticking my fingers in the grooves of those walls when I was cleaning them yesterday was a BAD idea. It hurts to type, and my arms/shoulders are still kind of aching) and a big pack of Magic Clean Erasers (walls in the bedrooms are seriously scuffed). 
5. Go to Lowe's. Buy wood restorer.
6. Go to unfinished wood stores, acquire chair for desk. Then prime and paint it.
7. Finish washing the walls in front bedroom.
8. Finish washing the walls in my office (this round, anyway). 

I sort of doubt I'll be able to get everything done, but I'm working towards completing some immediate goals for the house:

1. Get my office in a usable condition before school starts on the twenty-second.
2. Get the front bedroom set up-- I'm hauling my bedroom set in from Bristol, so all I need to do is go to ikea to pick up the duvet set I want for it and then buy paint for the walls and some curtains (which my stepmother has very graciously volunteered to help me with). One good floor-scrubbing later, and that room will be 100% good to go. 
3. Paint the hallway. The previous owners had started working on it, but didn't finish. At my request, they left the paint they hadn't used and didn't take down the painter's tape on the doorways. I'm not really wild about the colors, but since I have no idea whatsoever as to what I'm going to to with that space, I may as well have  it look decent in the meanwhile. 

Monday, August 1, 2011


Once again, it's my day off, which means I have about fifty thousand things that need doing:

  1. THE ACQUISITION OF SHINY NEW SHOES THAT WILL NOT KILL MY FEET! (Can you tell I'm excited? After a closing shift on Thursday and doubles Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, my feet are threatening to file for divorce.)
  2. Going to the bank to deposit all of my tips from the weekend.
  3. Heading to the post office to mail a box of yarn to a friend.
  4. Returning a few books to the library (if I can find them. Matt and/or one of his friends moved them to the new house, and I haven't the foggiest as to where they put them).
  5. Stopping by Home Depot to pick up the following: wood soap, wood restorer, sandpaper, primer, and white paint.
  6. Ending up at the new house, where I need to: finish unpacking my stuff in the bedroom, wash the walls in my office, possibly put the wood restorer on said walls, sand the new desk to remove the current paint, and then prime it and hopefully re-paint it a nice, brighter white. 
  7. Once I get home to the old house, I'll need to do a giant pile of laundry and pack up the rest of my stuff that's still in the bedroom/bathroom here. Apparently, we're finally actually moving tomorrow! Yay!