Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Tales from Old Navy: Thank You Edition

Ladies and gentlemen of the interwebs, today will be my last day working as a regular employee at the Old Navy. I'm excited to announce that I've accepted a position at my church as the children's ministry assistant. In order to make sure that position is my priority, I've decided to leave the world of retail.

But I couldn't just leave without a proper send off. And what better way to say good-bye to my time at Old Navy than with a few thank you notes.

Thank you, Old Navy, for completely rearranging your entire product line twice a week, then scheduling me to work only once each week. This turns returning items from the fitting room into a fun game of "Where Did They Hide the Cargo Shorts Tonight?"

Thank you, last minute shoppers, for coming into the store 10 minutes before we close and bringing one of every item to the fitting room. It's great that you can spend half an hour trying all those clothes on, then decide to leave without buying a single thing. Also, it's super helpful that you left everything in a big pile on the floor.

Thanks you, illiterate customers, for walking up to the broken door and attempting to open it despite the brightly colored sign that says "DOOR BROKEN, PLEASE USE THE OTHER DOOR" in giant bold letters. Sure, the sign says it's broken, but it could just be an elaborate prank. Stay skeptical!

Thank you, disinterested parents, for bringing your small children into the store after 9pm and leaving them in the fitting room where we have coloring pages and crayons laid out for them to use. It means a lot that you don't know me or my background but feel comfortable enough using me as a free babysitter while you take your time looking through our clothes.

Finally, and on a more serious note, I want to thank my Old Navy family for two great years in a job that I honestly wasn't sure if I'd enjoy. Sure, folding clothes and returning items to the sales floor can be monotonous and redundant. But I can honestly say I enjoyed coming to work from time to time. And it wasn't just about getting hours for a decent paycheck. I've enjoyed getting to know the people I've worked with and hope that the friendships that have grown will continue past my final shift tonight. It's been great, but it's time to move on.

But this isn't a permanent good-bye. I've let the powers that be know that I'm willing to come back for holidays if needed. And, let's face it, as king of the fitting room, I will be needed. So I guess I'll see you on Black Friday, kids.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Taking a Soak

You know how farms will often have a pond out in the field for the livestock to have easy access to water? I think I've heard people refer to these as cattle tanks. I could be wrong about that. I know very little about raising cattle. I don't know the different classifications. I'm sure there's some way to know the difference between a cow and a heifer, but I don't know it. Please excuse my ignorance when I refer to all of these four-legged critters as cows. The following is simply what happens when I let my mind wander.

Each day as I drive to and from work, I pass by several farms. One of these has a pond pretty close to the road. On occasion, I'll notice that there are several cows standing in the water, just chillin'. I imagine that it's sort of like when humans hang out in a hot tub or something. Except I imagine these cows as gossipy women. And one of them is the leader, doing all the talking, while the others just nod and mutter quiet agreements.

Cow 1: "Did you see the way Gertrude was shamelessly flirting with that bull across the road?"

Cow 2: "Mmmhmm."

Cow 1: "Someone should break it to her that he was castrated last week... shhh... here she comes. Hey, Gertrude! How you doin', girl? Did you cut dandelions out of your diet? It shows! Wanna join us for a soak? No? Okay, we'll see you later!"

Gertrude walks on, then Cow 1 lowers her voice as she turns back to her minions: "Heifer..."

Cow 2: "Mmmhmm."

I have no doubt that this is how it is on most farms. It seems to me, when I drive by these fields, the cattle are divided up into cliques. I know they don't actually talk, but it sure looks like they find a way to have their exclusive clubs.

Farmers, correct me if I'm wrong. Though I don't think I am.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

If I Had $1,000,000

The school year is winding down. Every student from 3rd grade up is suffering through the torture of standardized testing. I feel like I've got a pretty good rant inside of me on the subject of the Standards of Learning, but I'll hold off on that one for now. But trust me, it's there.

But just because things are winding down doesn't mean school is completely over. Sure, a lot of down time is spent watching movies and playing outside or preparing for the annual Faculty/Staff vs. 7th Grade softball game. Despite all that fun, there is still work to be done.

This week, the 5th graders have been experimenting with the real world a bit. It began a couple days ago when they were exposed to an ancient form of entertainment known as The Cosby Show. Do you remember that episode where Theo thought he had it all figured out? He told the Huxtable family that, once he turned 18, he would immediately find work as a model and live it up. He figured he would have it made. So what did Dr. Huxtable do? He gave Theo a taste of the real world. Providing him with $2,000 in (fake) seed money, Theo was tasked with finding a place to live, furnishing that place, finding a job, obtaining references and getting the utilities turned on. All the things that adults are expected to do.

And so, the kids were given an imaginary million dollars. Because, apparently, inflation. With that, they had to buy a home, furnish their home, get a car... pretty much get all the things that they think they need to get by in the real world. They're finding all these things through newspaper ads and the internet.

I've had a difficult time understanding the choices that some of these kids are making with their money. One girl decided she would buy a home for $500,000. Kid, do you realize that's half your money? That's just too much house for you. Will you be able to appropriately furnish a house of that size with the money you have left? Can you get a car?

These kids are clearly not thinking long term with their million. I'm not saying they need to think about investing the whole thing. Obviously they need to get certain things to survive. But the necessity for cash doesn't go away once you have the necessities.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Seize the Donut

Have you ever been to a Food Truck Rodeo? I didn't even know such a thing existed until recently. I mean, I knew food trucks were a thing in some of the larger metropolitan areas, mostly thanks to the now cancelled Happy Endings where one of the main characters had a food truck called "Steak Me Home Tonight", specializing in steak sandwiches. Sorry about the run-on sentence there.

Today I got to experience my very first Food Truck Rodeo. Sadly, no food trucks rode bulls. Also, no cowboys rode bucking food trucks. Nothing got roped or hog-tied. Apparently, this kind of rodeo is just a gathering of several food trucks and people roam up and down the street sampling each of the vendors. It was kind of amazing.

This is the early view from one end of the road.
There were many options to choose from. And I'll try to remember each of them in order... At the end of the street where I began, there was Carpe Donut. A friend of mine suggested that I try their donuts and critique them right here on Carp Dime. I tried their donuts. But, wait for it...

Next to the donut truck was Homestead Creamery, offering ice cream. Then there was the Noke Truck, Baum's BBQ, Toasted by Casey, and Rock & Roll Diner. I think there was a Benjamin's Franks somewhere in there, too. There were also a couple of breweries set up along with Attimo Winery.

Those were the facts. Here are the opinions...

I met some friends there and we did the initial walk, taking in the different trucks that had set up shop along Main Street. Our first wait in line was for fish tacos from Rock & Roll Diner. Viktor and Jamie split an order of these. I didn't get anything from this truck because, at the time, I wasn't quite hungry yet and I kind of had my heard set on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Jamie and Viktor before digging in.
Lucky for me, Toasted by Casey was right next to Rock & Roll Diner. That was the next line we stood in. And we waited quite a while. I'd say it was a little more than half an hour. And it was definitely worth the wait. A grilled cheese sandwich sounds like such a simple thing, but there are so many little touches you can add to enhance that simple thing. The cheese was warm and gooey. The bacon (that's right... bacon) was crisp. The bread was thick, golden and buttery without being so greasy that my hands felt disgusting as I ate. Pretty dang good.

Totally worth waiting for half an hour...
After this I split a dozen donuts from Carpe Donut with Viktor and Jamie. My critique? They were amazing. The donuts were freshly cooked as they were ordered. And while they were still hot, they were dipped in sugar and cinnamon. Carpe Donut gets the Carp Dime seal of approval. So does Toasted by Casey.

I checked and it's not a copyright infringement. They put an 'e' at the end of their 'Carp'.
And they're organic. So that means they're good for you.
BTW, at the Toasted by Casey truck, I ran into a fellow Bluefield College alum. I'm sorry to say I didn't catch her name. She recognized my patented Bluefield College sunglasses and identified me as a Ram. She apparently graduated recently and is now an admissions counselor at our alma mater. It's nice to make those random connections in the real world every now and then.

After Viktor and Jamie bailed, I stuck around to hang out with Sarah, Alison and Kara as they finished out their wait at Toasted by Casey. Sarah got the Triple Threat (at least I think that's what it was called). It was a grilled cheese with mozzarella sticks between the bread. It looked pretty amazing.

I tried to get a shot where the cheese was still hanging from her mouth, but I wasn't quick enough with my phone.
I followed the ladies over for my second trip to the Carpe Donut truck. Though I refrained from getting more of their deep fried goodness. But I did partake of Homestead Creamery's vanilla ice cream. It reminded me a lot of the ice cream they used to serve us in elementary school. You know, the kind in the little plastic cup that you had to eat with a wooden spatula. Delicious nostalgia...

What else can I say about this Food Truck Rodeo? It's a brilliant idea. I'd love it if Christiansburg would hold this thing more often. I don't mind telling you, I ate a little more than I probably should have. But I still didn't get a chance to try it all. That's why I need this to happen more often. You guys work on that problem. I'm gonna go eat another donut.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Troy and Abed Are In Mourning

Okay, so the title of this post will only make sense if you have been familiar with the funniest show on TV. If you don't know what show I'm talking about, you clearly didn't watch it... or are dead inside. I'm talking, of course, about Community. Last week, news broke that NBC has cancelled the show that we all hoped would make it through six seasons and a movie. Unfortunately, the study group at Greendale only got through five.

What can I say about Community? It's a show I didn't give a chance in the beginning. Like a fool, I allowed the entire first season to pass me by before jumping on board. But, thanks to the recommendation of the Charlatan and the magic of Hulu, I got caught up. And I was so glad that I did.

I don't think any other network sitcom has written episodes as outside the box as this one did. Community was streets ahead of all other TV shows. For Christmas one year, we got a stop-motion animated special. Just this season, we got a fully animated homage to classic G.I. Joe, complete with commercials for action figures featuring the people of Greendale. In an episode guest starring Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito, the study group was transported into a video game where they became 8-bit versions of themselves. And those paintball wars? Well, they'll go down in history as some of history's finest half-hours of television in history.

Also, because I can't seem to get into Mad Men, Community introduced me to Alison Brie, who plays uptight Annie Edison. And for that, I am forever grateful.

There's a slight (albeit unlikely) chance that the show could get picked up by another network or some other outlet for a sixth season. In the meantime, if you have a subscription to Hulu Plus, do yourself a favor and binge watch all five seasons. Because they're all available. Below is a list of my top 10 episodes.

10. Contemporary American Poultry - This episode from late in season 1 is a beautiful homage to mafia movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas. And there's also a throwback to Sixteen Candles near the end. It's awesome.

9. Regional Holiday Music - This is season 3's Christmas episode. And it's a musical. Of course a musical episode made my list. Each member of the study group is coerced one by one to join Greendale's glee club. It's a little more sinister than your typical musical episode.

8. Digital Estate Planning - Also a season 3 gem, this is the 8-bit video game episode I mentioned above. Chevy Chase's Pierce is forced to compete with his study group and his unknown half-brother for an inheritance left by his deceased father. The competition takes place in the digital world of an old school video game.

7. Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking - After Pierce suffers from an overdose of pain pills and makes the group believe that he's dying. One of his dying wishes is to have Abed create a documentary that revolves around Pierce supposedly bequeathing his belongings to everyone in the study group.

6. Paradigms of Human Memory - Who doesn't love a flashback episode. It's not something that you see very often in sitcoms these days, but back in the 80s and 90s, it was a staple. It's an easy episode to come up with if your budget is running low or your writers are on strike. But Community did it differently. All their flashback scenes were original. They were scenes from episodes that would have taken place between episodes throughout season 2. Brilliant.

5. Cooperative Calligraphy - Another television staple is the "bottle episode." It's an episode that takes place entirely on one or two sets throughout the show and focuses on only the key players without wasting time and money on guest stars. Again, this is the kind of thing that showrunners do when they're low on cash or saving their budget for a bigger episode down the line. Community was self aware, acknowledging that they were doing a bottle episode, confined completely to the study room.

4. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons - The study group pretty much just plays Dungeons and Dragons. Not that complicated. But it's done really well. They kind of set the stakes for the game really high within the confines of the episode. It was awesome. And I'm not even a fan of Dungeons and Dragons.

3. Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas - The season 2 Christmas special. The entire thing was done with stop-motion animation, just like all those old classic Christmas specials. It's got a touch of the musical to it too. Just do yourself a favor and watch it.

2. Remedial Chaos Theory - The gang gets together at Troy and Abed's apartment for a housewarming. When the pizza arrives, no one wants to go get the pizza, so Jeff rolls a die, assigning a number to each member of the study group (except himself). Abed tries to stop him, believing that by rolling the die, he's splitting reality into six possible timelines. The viewer gets to see how each roll of the die plays out by experiencing events with one character missing.

1. Modern Warfare - This is the paintball episode from the first season. There were other paintball episodes and while they went bigger, they weren't better. The original couldn't be touched. The students are given paintball guns with a fabulous prize going to the last man standing. Everyone goes a little crazy. Then they go a lot crazy. This is the episode that will make you want to watch the entire series.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Man of Steel Magnolias

I am a grown man and I like the movie Steel Magnolias. I'm not afraid to admit it. I have liked this movie for years. Sure, it's dated, but it's still incredibly quotable. Back in my bank tellering days, a coworker and myself would randomly spout off lines from the film when we would get bored.

A couple years ago, the movie was remade for Lifetime. The remake starred Queen Latifah and Alfre Woodard in the roles made famous by Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine, respectively. This version recently became available on the Netflix, so I decided to give it a look. In some ways, it wasn't as good as the late 80s version. In other ways, it was better.

But something got me thinking as I watched the familiar story. It's actually something I've thought about before. Let me set it up a bit. If you're unaware, Steel Magnolias follows the lives of six women and mostly takes place within the walls of a salon, the business owned by Truvy.

Back in the day, Dolly Parton played the role of Truvy. I remember her letting Annelle (her new employee) know that she ran the most successful beauty parlor in town. But I really have to question the validity of that statement. Throughout the movie, which takes place over the course of three years, we only see four customers coming to Truvy's. I know that repeat customers are common and very important to running a business, but are these occasional mani/pedis enough to keep the bills paid?

Also, Truvy has only one employee. Even a less than successful beauty shop will have a handful of licensed cosmetologists working several shifts throughout a business day. Need I point out she's running this place out of her enclosed carport? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it doesn't speak volumes about the financial windfall that is Truvy's.

I know, we only get brief glimpses of these ladies' lives. But I find it to be an odd coincidence that each time we step into Truvy's, these are the only customers.

I don't want to be a jerk about the movie, so I'll end with some favorite quotes...

"If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me."

"I'm not crazy, M'Lynn, I've just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!"

"Ouiser, you sound almost chipper. What happened, you run over a small child or something?"

"I'm not as sweet as I used to be."

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Kind of Day I'm Having

Starting out today, I had kind of a rough morning. I'd vent, but really, what good would that do? On the way to school, however, I sort of prayed that the day would get easier. I prayed that I could get to school and experience the same kind of easy going day that I had yesterday. Bear in mind, these prayers were voiced in frustration between bouts of screaming at the slow moving logging truck in front of me. Oh, I said I wasn't going to vent... my bad.

Anyway, I got to school and discovered that two of my three clients would be in SOL testing for the first half of the day. The other one was absent and not expected to be at school today at all. Suddenly my morning was free of any kind of responsibility whatsoever. Answered prayer, right? And so, as I've done frequently in the past, I put the call out for your questions. This time, I did so via the Facebook. Here's what I've got so far.

If you could only see hues/shades of one color for the rest of your life, what color would you choose? - Vanessa

If money's no object and credentials don't matter - describe your dream job. - Bethany
This one requires a little more thought. I love my current job, I really do. In fact, I'm currently doing this job for what can be considered the third time in my life. But it's not what I want to do. If I could choose to do anything, I would write. It would be a perfect world where I didn't have to worry about paying the bills and I could just sit and think and take the time to string together words into thoughts and phrases and stories. I miss doing that on a semi-regular basis. And, honestly, I'm not sure what's gotten in the way of that, other than life. I just don't do it like I used to. I think most of the problem is just me. I convince myself that I'm not good enough at this writing thing, so I quit before I even get started. So I guess along with that money being no object and credentials not mattering, I'd need a booster shot of self-confidence to go along with it.

What is your favorite place to visit and why? - Jessica
Your mom's house. Boom. Just kidding. This one's actually a difficult question to answer. I can think of lots of places I like to visit and they all have their reasons. But really, I haven't been to too many places in my life. And I haven't often been a repeat visitor to these places. Or maybe my real answer is that I just don't have a favorite. Anyone who knows me probably knows I'm not one to grow attached to people or places or things too often. In my experience, attachment leads to heartache. I know, "That's horrible, Aaron. You really need to open your heart..." It's on my list of things to do. Beyond my desire to not become attached to people, I still become attached to people, against my better judgment. So any of these places that I like to visit are places that are important only because of the people that are there. Nashville, Richmond, Raleigh, Roanoke... these are all places that I can go and I can almost guarantee I'll have a good time with the people that surround me. We can do anything or we can do nothing and it's still time well spent. And anywhere else in the world that I want to go, as long as I'm there with people I care about, I know it will be awesome.

What is your biggest challenge or difficulty in sharing the gospel with non-believers? Conversely, in what area does your greatest strength lie in sharing the gospel with others? - Vanessa
The biggest challenge here is the same challenge I face with just about every conversation I have with anyone. What to say along with when and how to say it. I do better holding up my end of a conversation than I give myself credit for. I think. Maybe I don't. Along with that, I do a lot of second guessing. And third guessing. "What if they don't like what I have to say? What if they're offended by what I believe?" But then I'm like, "Why should I care if they're offended by what I believe? It's what I believe... I believe it to be truth and I want them to know it too." Then again... "But shouldn't I be trying to show them Jesus? Should that be offensive?" And then... "But Jesus didn't mind offending people, right? He still delivered His message in love. He couldn't control how others took that message." And suddenly I'm diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. It's better if I just don't think about it. The best way for these things to happen is for conversations to just grow and evolve. I'm not a great speaker who can stand in front of people and preach chapter and verse. But I can talk and share my experiences and tell someone what God has done in my life. I can share with someone why I believe what I believe and that it's not always easy, but it's not always hard either.

What does the great commission mean to you? How do you see your role in it? Are you fulfilling that role? If so, how? If not, what are your plans to start? - Kelvin
I don't like this question. Actually, it's not the question. It's my answer to this question that I don't like. Let me answer the first part first, before I get to the part that I don't like. To me, the Great Commission is about as straightforward as it comes. For those of you who don't know, this refers to the last two verses in the book of Matthew (28:19-20) where Jesus says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Like I said, straightforward. Jesus tells his followers exactly what He expects of them. As for my role, I think it shouldn't be any different than the role of the apostles in the first century. Sure, that role may look a little different 2000 years later, but that doesn't change the core of what Jesus asks His followers to do. And now for the hard part. Am I fulfilling that role? In some ways, I'm confident I can say yes. But in so many more ways, I have to say no. I'm one of those people that believes that there is always more I could be doing for the cause of Christ. So why am I not doing those "more" things? Just like with my (much less spiritual) response involving why I'm not writing, life gets in the way. Jobs, friends, family... these things just happen. Are they bad things? No. God places these people and things into our lives in order to bless us. But, all too often, we take these good things that God has blessed us with and make them our focus, rather than Him. Do I believe that Jesus' commission means that everyone needs to drop everything and become a preacher? No. But it does mean to share or show Christ where you are. Where I am. 

Those are the only questions I've got so far. If I get more I'll come back in and edit this post so I can add the new answers in.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Acquiring a Taste

Why can't I just like coffee? This is a question I ask myself frequently, but especially on days like today.

Some local folks provided the school with some pretty fancy coffee as a thank you for serving the community. It looked like a Starbucks in the teachers' lounge. So I decided to give this coffee thing a shot.

It's not the first time I've gotten it into my head to try coffee. Mom attempted to train me up as a coffee drinker when I was a kid. It didn't take. I always assumed I would learn to like coffee as a part of my college education. That didn't happen either.

Around the time I turned 30, I decided it was time to give coffee another chance. My thinking was that I was really an adult at that point. Time to drink a grown up beverage. I went so far as to buy my own coffee pot. I had it in my kitchen up until the time I moved back to Virginia. I never once turned it on.

That brings us back to this morning. I couldn't say no to the set up that lay before me. So I grabbed a cup and filled it with the coffee that I was told was not as strong as the others available. Knowing I couldn't possibly drink it black, I mixed in sugar, cream, and vanilla flavoring. All those extras just didn't help. It still tasted, as one friend put it, like dirt water.

But how could I pass all that up?
Does this mean I'm doomed to wander the earth for the rest of my days, avoiding espressos and cappuccinos? Maybe. Or maybe I'll keep taking baby steps toward acquiring a taste for the bitter beverage.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Whatifs

There are only about three and a half weeks left in the school year. So it's a little strange that I'm nervous about tomorrow as if it's the first day of school.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that a change was coming in my career. Basically, I'll be doing the same job for a different company. Bonus, I'll be working in a familiar school, where I've been based for the majority of the last two years. Why should I be nervous?

Honestly, I have no idea. The truth of the matter is, I have no logical reason to feel nervous. I know the teachers, the administration, and the students. Granted, I don't know the kids I'll be working with that well, having never worked directly with them in the past. That part will come with time. My experience in this position should make the transition fairly simple. But that hasn't stopped the "whatifs" from creeping into my skull.

"What if I'm not good enough? What if the kids don't like me? What if I do the wrong thing?" So many ridiculous questions just floating around in my brain.

Shel Silverstein says it better than I ever could.
I know that tomorrow will be all right. I don't imagine that everything will be spectacular. I think it will be just another work day. And I'm confident that I won't be facing any worst case scenarios when Monday comes.

So here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna go to sleep tonight. I'm gonna hope I don't lose sleep over the whatifs. I'm gonna wake up in the morning and do this job to the best of my ability, just like I have for the last 2.5 years. Should be fun.