Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy 125th birthday, News Sentinel!

An open letter to the News Sentinel:

Dearest Knoxville News Sentinel,
Happy 125th birthday! I'm so glad to have been a part of you.
It thrills me that you still survive despite setbacks and uncertainties in the newspaper industry.
I have you to thank for my love of East Tennessee, you know. After all, you gave a New York City girl reason to come South.

I wasn't planning to stay in East Tennessee any longer than three years but somehow, you sucked me in with decent pay, wonderful friends and a fantastic newspaper career. Nine years later, I'm still here and it's looking like I'll be sticking around these parts for a while longer.

I pray that you would thrive and continue to be a blessing to others as you have been to me.

Sincerely and with gratitude,
Lola Alapo
(News Sentinel employee from January 2003-July 2011.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Celebrating Sara

A hat tip to my friend Sara for trying something new today -- she ice skated for the first time.
What a way to kick off another year of life! YAY for new experiences :)

Sara had a birthday this week and I wanted to celebrate with her. I asked what she wanted to do in addition to eating a meal together. I also threw out a few suggestions, ice skating being one of them. Her eyes lit up and she told me it was something she had never done but it was on her list.

Well, my own eyes lit up because it's one of my favorite things and I would get to experience it with her.
I knew just the place, too. Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year, Knoxville's Holidays on Ice comes to Market Square downtown. A covered ice skating rink decked in Christmas lights is set up right in the middle of the square.

I was so proud of Sara. She was determined and she did a great job of maintaining her balance. She did not fall once.

She enjoyed herself ... or at least that's what she told me. She could have just been saying that to make me feel better about making her do this ;)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unicorn meat, anyone?

My thanks to the University of Tennessee for providing the fodder for tonight's blog post. I saw many things on campus this week that made me laugh.


The unicorn meat (excellent source of sparkles!) was one of the Dirty Santa gifts exchanged during my office's holiday party. Opening the can revealed this:


During the same party, another colleague unwrapped this bacon tuxedo puzzle. Everyone definitely needs one of these :)


The best thing, however, was this sign I saw at the College of Architecture.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Surprise at my door

I came home from Taekwondo last night and found this on my doorstep.

I confess that I was suspicious and my guard was up when I saw it as I pulled into the driveway.
I couldn't quite tell what it was. The reporter in me was imagining all sorts of craziness. (Bomb?)
But as I approached it, I quickly relaxed and a grin replaced the frown on my face.

My friend Julia had driven way across town to give me this. It was such a kiss from God and an invitation into more of Him.

The surprise left me quite speechless (a rarity, I assure you). For a good five minutes, all I could say was "wow." And then I would laugh and try to formulate words and all that came out was "wow."

What's inside, you ask? Something for me ;)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Officially a voter. Woo hoo!

My voter registration card arrived in the mail today. Woo hoo! Finally!
Yet another bonus of my U.S. citizenship.

I registered to vote at the drivers license place the day after my October naturalization ceremony. The clerk told me the card would arrive within three weeks. I waited and waited ... and waited.
I had hoped it would come in time for the Nov. 8 elections that swept Madeline Rogero into the history books as Knoxville's first woman mayor.

December came and I got impatient. So I called the Knox County Election Commission to inquire about my card. In doing so, I learned something new. Tennessee law mandates that all election commissions in the state must stop processing voter registrations about a month before an election. This gives them time to  get ready for early voting and election day. Who knew!

Well, no worries. There's next year and the presidential elections.
Come on, November 2012!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Together again!

I got a sweet treat tonight.

I had the wonderful pleasure of hanging out with Caroline and Rachel, the girls in my small group.
We three haven't met as a group since early November when Caroline was hospitalized due to preeclampsia. Andy, her little one, was delivered Nov. 11 at roughly 26 weeks. He just celebrated his one month birthday
(Oh, Caroline is one sandwiched between Rachel and me.)

What an honor it's been to walk this crazy journey with Caroline and her husband Lawrence.

The cool thing was, although we three didn't meet, we were constantly praying for one another and still doing life together. (YAY for the technology that is email and text. By the way, there was a day I was missing Caroline so much that I snuck over to her house for a hug.)
Rachel and I got together a handful of times without Caroline. Each time, we were hopeful that Caroline would be able to join us. Tonight, she did.

I'm thankful for community.
I'm thankful for the back booth at Panera.
And I'm thankful for fuzzy iPhone pictures that capture the moment's joy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bacon art

This definitely take the prize for the most impressive thing I've seen today.

I stared at this for a few minutes when Facebook friend Christie posted the first pic. I finally figured out what it was.

Then, I smiled and I smiled and I smiled.

Vincent Van Gogh would be proud that his masterpiece "Starry Night" has inspired such creativity.

Drooling yet?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day and a birthday

My friend Josephine is 95 years old today.

She was celebrating her 25th birthday when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on this day, 70 years ago. It signaled America's entrance into World War II.

I was curious about Josephine's experience and what she was feeling on what should have been a day of joy. So, I interviewed her.

Josephine was a housewife and mother of three in Berkeley, Calif., on Dec. 7, 1941. She was in shock as she heard the news of the attack on the radio.
"It was incredible that this would happen," she said. "It was such an impractical thing...and it seemed like such a foolish thing for the Japanese to do. They were taking on something that they couldn't finish."

She added: "None of us doubted what the outcome would be: a very disastrous encounter."

I'm thrilled that Josephine lived through World War II and subsequent conflicts. How neat that we were able to become friends decades later.

To celebrate her birthday, Josephine and I went on a date to Panera on Sunday afternoon.

I love people like Josephine because I can touch history through them. She reminds me of my grandmother. I want to record their stories.

After our chat, Josephine thanked me for interviewing her.
She said with a chuckle: "I can see that your newspaper days are still with you."

Ve vant your blood. Muahaha.

Last month, I wrote about Andrew, the precious babe of my dear friends, Lawrence and Caroline.
The little guy is now 3 weeks old. He's had his ups and downs but he's still fighting the good fight in the University of Tennessee Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

A blood drive is being organized Saturday, Dec. 17, at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, 9132 Kingston Pike, to help defray the cost of the blood Andrew is receiving.

My precious friends in East Tennessee, won't you participate in giving this gift to my little buddy this Christmas?

The event will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. You may sign up for a time slot here. If you're having problems logging in or signing up online, please contact Katie Smith at katiesmith@cspc.net.

If you can't come on Dec. 17, you may go to the Medic Downtown or the Medic in Farragut. You may also check for a different blood drive at the Medic website. Please be sure to give in Andrew Chermely's name.

Medic Downtown, 1601 Ailor Ave.; 865-524-3074
Medic Farragut, 11000 Kingston Pike., 865-671-0836

Thank you for being a part of this dear family's journey!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Black ninja ... santa

Yep. You read and saw that correctly.

I've been eyeing these Christmas ornaments for some years now. I liked them immediately when I saw them in the display case at my Taekwondo school.
I decided to make them my Christmas gift to myself this year.

You're shaking your head, aren't you? You never know what you'll find on this blog ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Visit to an old love

My trips to New York City are never complete without a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge, my favorite landmark. It's hard to resist its allure.

I've walked this bridge countless times - always starting on the Brooklyn side and crossing into Manhattan and back - and it's a new experience every time.

(Trivia: did you know the bridge was completely built by hand?)

I found myself on the bridge Saturday afternoon with a throng of people. The crowd was a bit annoying and I should have known better than to go on a weekend day but nonetheless, I enjoyed the 2.26-mile round trip.

The Brooklyn Bridge is undergoing a face lift so some of its magnificent views were blocked. Here's to hoping the rehabilitation doesn't take too long.

This trip to New York City was yet one more reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving. It was so fun to spend the holiday with my family in Brooklyn. I got to hang out with my parents and siblings and squeeze my nephews and niece. I also got some driving experience in the city. (Puts hair on your chest.)

In the almost nine years I've lived in Knoxville, I've only come home for Thanksgiving maybe two or three times. I typically worked the holiday while I was at the Knoxville News Sentinel and saved the day so I could have a longer vacation over Christmas. But thanks to the new gig at the University of Tennessee, I have more vacation time that I could ever want.
YAY for small blessings!

I had a chance to reconnect with old friends and the children I babysat while in college. (The oldest boy will be 16 in March. He's already thinking of college choices!!)

A special treat this holiday was meeting up with my friend Laura from Wisconsin. It was fortuitous. When we made our individual plans, neither of us knew the other would be in New York City for Thanksgiving. I happened to read one of her blog posts earlier this month where she mentioned her impending trip. I fired off an email to her and the rest is history.

We went to see the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, walked around the city a bit, grabbed lunch and then went to service at my former church, Times Square Church.

What a blessing that I can call New York City my other home.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A tribute to my Jedi Master.

My Taekwondo master instructor James Rich was featured in the November issue of Taekwondo America Connection, our organization's magazine.

I am so proud of him! You know, it's kind of like that excitement you feel when you see someone you know on television.

I began my Taekwondo journey with Mr. Rich in April 2009 and under his tutelage, I've learned and performed martial arts skills I never dreamed I could.

Starting next year, I'll be joining his storm troopers, er, team and begin training as an instructor. Stoked!!

I want to be like him when I grow up -- the deadly ninja part, not the white man part :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gooey on the inside.

I've been chewing on this all day and it makes me all gooey on the inside:

"You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you ... Fear not, for I am with you," says the Lord. -Isaiah 43:4,5

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grateful for hope.


This is Andrew.
Because of this courageous little guy, I'm learning to pray like I never have before. I'm also learning through Andrew that God is still good and can still be trusted even when life is hard and doesn't make sense.

Andrew (which means "courageous" and "enduring") was born on 11-11-11 to my dear friends Lawrence and Caroline. He was delivered at 26 and a half weeks and weighed 1 lb, 3 oz.

It's been a rough road for my friends. Caroline was hospitalized Nov. 3 because of preeclampsia. I don't know enough to explain exactly what it is but I know it's a condition that was potentially fatal to Caroline and Andrew. The main cure would be to deliver the baby -- a major issue since Andrew was not yet full term.

So, friends and family began praying every day for Andrew to remain inside Caroline for just ONE MORE DAY of growth. Every extra day in the womb was gold for Andrew. God gave eight extra days.

It's made me cry every time Andrew and Caroline have passed a milestone. It's deepened my faith because it's a constant reminder that God sees and God hears.

It's also been so neat to see how community have surrounded my friends and their family and are caring for them -- whether it's doing yard work, bringing them meals, or showing up at the University of Tennessee Medical Center on random evenings to pray in the lobby of the delivery wing.

Above all, we hope with them. As Andrew goes through ups and downs in the UT Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we hope with them. As Caroline and Lawrence face a future of uncertainty, we hope with them. We hope because our confidence is in God who delights in his children and delights to show himself faithful over and over again.

"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." - Romans 5:3-5

Read more about Caroline, Lawrence and Andrew here: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carolinechermely.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Taekwondo winter camp.

I'm sore all over. And I love it.
I'm also exhausted, which means I'll keep this post short :)

I and about 220 people from a dozen Taekwondo America schools in the Southeast spent this weekend sharpening our martial arts skills in the hills of North Carolina.

The Regional Taekwondo Winter Camp took place in King, N.C. Sessions included free sparring strategies, board breaking, target pad training, perfecting our forms/patterns and self defense (Twelve o'clock roll, anyone?)
Two full days of workouts.

The big lesson for me this weekend: it's not just memorizing or performing moves. It's also making them sharp and hitting accurate targets. This is especially important as I move up through the ranks. Although I'm a probationary black belt and I'm learning advanced skills, I'm realizing that I can't slack off on the basic skills, which are the building blocks. Otherwise, everything will look sloppy.

I want to be a good technician.

I also came away this weekend with a deeper love of Taekwondo. I see myself becoming a lifelong practitioner of the Korean martial art.

                My schoolmate Sarah and I right before sparring on Friday

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can I redeem this today?

I wonder if the boss will let me use this today.
After all, it did come in the birthday card she and my co-workers gave me this week. Since it's birthday celebration month, maybe she'll let it slide.

On a second thought, maybe not.

Ok, back to work. *whip cracking*

Monday, November 7, 2011

Perfect day!

I might have to wear stretchy pants the rest of November.
Today's birthday celebration (No. 3) found me at the Crown and Goose in downtown Knoxville with three wonderful friends, Sara, Erik and Sonya.
(I popped out of the womb on this day almost three decades ago.)

I am a rich woman because I have amazing heart friends. Yes, the food at the Crown and Goose was excellent. But I walked out of there with something better than a full tummy. I walked out of there with a fuller heart, thanks to my friends. They added such joy and laughter (oh, goodness!) to my evening.


I would be remiss if I did not mention the awesomeness that was this cake at the Crown and Goose.


I must say, birthdays are a little bad though because they give you somewhat of a big head because of all the things people say about you. Some would call that affirmation. I received lots of it today via phone calls, text messages, emails and Facebook posts. I'm grateful for it.

Today was a near perfect day. Even the weather was agreeable!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Glad you were born so we can eat cake


"I'm glad you were born so we can eat cake."
So said 10-year-old Michael today when his parents asked each of the eight children to give a reason why they were thankful for me.
Boy after my own heart.

Arnie, Sarah and the children have been my adopted Knoxville family over the last seven or so years. If you're looking for me on a Sunday afternoon, chances are I'm at their home. I spend just about every holiday with them when I'm not out of town. Birthdays, too. I've even been known to nap in their guest bed.

I'm grateful that I was able to celebrate my birthday with them today (a day early.)
During lunch, I got the special birthday plate. Woo hoo!



One of my gifts was this lovey from 4-year-old Mary Kate.


My family made a happy day happier with this gorgeous bouquet of flowers.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Birthday celebration month begins

I kicked off my birthday celebration month in proper style this evening with good friends, good food, good wine and good conversation.


Jim and Kim took me to the Melting Pot in the Old City for a two-fer: celebration of my U.S. citizenship and commemoration of the day I slipped into the world. Two and a half hours and a four-course meal later, I walked out of there with a warmed heart, a full tummy and a slightly snug jacket (particularly around the mid-midsection.)

Some highlights of the evening:
The Melting Pot staff had a birthday card waiting for me. They'd all signed it.


The food was excellent! We were so caught up in dipping and cooking that I forgot to take pictures. I remembered toward the end when the desserts arrived. The first course was a cheese fondue with all manner of veggies, fruits and bread. The second was a tasty salad. The third was an entree that included chicken, sirloin, pork, shrimp and mushroom-stuffed pasta. And the last was what I believe is the restaurant's crowning glory: the desserts.


For dessert, we chose the dark chocolate fondue with hazelnut liqueur for dipping. Mercy! One of the fun parts was watching our waitress prepare the chocolate fondue:


I got to pick our wine so I paid homage to my mother continent.


Our stuffed, happy selves.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fighting for joy.

 It's hard to believe we're a mere eight weeks from the end of 2011.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are pressing upon us.
My friend Jake made this observation in a recent blog post: "Now we creep toward the holidays, which, sadly, have become anxiety-ridden endurance contests."

How true.

How is it that the days that were meant for giving thanks, enjoying friends and family and marveling anew at the wonder of a great God have turned into a time of stress? How is it that I lose my focus?

I've been thinking a lot about joy lately.
One of Webster's definitions is "a source or cause of delight."
I've heard that happiness is a momentary feeling or emotion that comes and goes based on external factors. But joy is much deeper. Yes, it is exuberant at times. But it also refers to a calmness, a peace that remains even in the midst of craziness.

A contentedness.

One definition of "contented" is to "accept one's situation or life with equanimity (calmness, confidence, assurance) and satisfaction."

My friend Rachel and I were talking tonight about how, oftentimes, we live for Dec. 26 -- a signal to the end of the holiday madness, if you will.
This year, I don't want to coast through the holidays. I don't just want to endure.
I want to live purposefully during it.

For some, the holidays can be a time of sadness, loneliness, a reminder of pain and loss.
Rachel and I talked about how we have these expectations that the holidays are going to be that Christmasy card fake idea. You know, the stuff you see on TV and hear on the commercials. The perfect family wearing the perfect clothes and eating the perfect meal. And when it doesn't turn out the way we imagine it in our minds, there's that disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, whatever.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the holidays and the gift of spending it with the ones I love. But if/when the drama and the stress come, what will they do to me, to us, this year? It's so easy to let the busyness and anxiety creep in.

This holiday season, I've resolved to fight for joy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween creativity


I am constantly awed by people's creativity.
I was at a Halloween party Friday evening and saw the coolest (and tastiest) treats. Above are chocolate mummy cupcakes. Below is a grisly face made of proscuitto and cheese. The hostess used her son's face mask as the mold.


I got to work this morning and my colleagues had gone all out with their costumes. (Me? I came as "Lola Alapo." Quite the classic look.)
This was my favorite costume:


Other scenes from work:



Thursday, October 27, 2011

The mail brings amazing things.

Travel is one of my passions -- after loving Jesus and food.
That's why I was thrilled this evening when I opened my mailbox and saw a packet that I instinctively knew contained my brand new U.S. passport.

It arrived 12 days after I applied for it, well ahead of the expected mid-November date. Yay for the travel off-season, our good friends at the U.S. Department of State and quick delivery by the U.S. Postal Service.

For years, I traveled on a Nigerian passport to Kenya, Poland and other countries in between. As a U.S. permanent resident, I had no trouble leaving or entering America. I also had no problems getting into most places. The issue sometimes came if it was a country that didn't have friendly relations with Nigeria. Boy, did they like to give Nigerians a hard time.

As a result, when I took overseas trips, I dressed in such a way that I could pass for a teenager in hopes that I would be left in peace as I came through that country's passport control.

A perk of becoming a naturalized American is getting the U.S. passport. Native-born Americans may not understand the gravity of this. Until now, I had to apply for expensive visas and fill out **ridiculous** amounts of paperwork (which I did gladly). I also had to get friends in those countries to vouch for me that I was not a terrorist, crazy, etc.

An American passport is like gold. You can literally walk into just about anywhere on the globe. No hassles.

I can't wait to use my passport on my next overseas trip. Who knows? I may just do a happy dance through that country's passport control.

World, here I come!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Because my co-workers are awesome

My U.S. citizenship celebration continued into today, thanks to my University of Tennessee colleagues.
I got to work this morning and found this on my office door:


                                                           hehe

How very cool!
I've been at the university only two months but my co-workers are already figuring me out. They gave me a citizenship gift ... and it was edible :)


Notice anything , uh, interesting about it? I think the Food City lady was having a bad day but her cookie cake was still delicious.
I have now been properly "Amurikanized" ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I am officially an American!!

I am officially a daughter of America.
My 20-year odyssey to this moment ended today when I took the Oath of Allegiance in Chattanooga and became a naturalized United States citizen.

                                          My naturalization certificate

Why it took that long is a story I'll have to tell you another time (preferably over a meal). Suffice it to say that I am overwhelmed.

At one point during the ceremony at the National Guard Armory, we each had to stand up and say our full name and our country of origin. I started crying as I listened to those around me. Netherlands, Peru, Iran, Canada, Vietnam, Nigeria and countries in between.
101 people. 45 nationalities. What a sacred moment.

I'm thrilled that a year from now, I'll be able to vote in my first federal election. Not only will I have a choice, I will also have a voice.

                          One of the pamphlets in my naturalization packet

Today was extra special because of the friends who were there to cheer me on. Thank you, Ansley, Bill and Angela, Patty and Tom, Nancy and Vern.
You honored me with your presence.

                                          The dinner party crew

I especially want to thank the people who prayed me through the many tough parts of this journey. You know who you are and you know what I mean. This is like the biggest "ebenezer" of all, isn't it? :)

I am not just Nigerian anymore. I am now Nigerian-American. I have fully come into the two parts of who I am.

Everything in me wants to stand on top of a mountain somewhere (or at the very least, a table in a public place) and scream: "MY IMMIGRATION JOURNEY IS OVER!!!"

It's on to the next chapter of my life.

                              The first day of the rest of my (American) life