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.