Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Under the bridge


There was a barbecue party under Interstate 40 in downtown Knoxville tonight.
The guest list included 600 of Knoxville's residents who call the city's streets their home.
On the menu was pulled pork, corn chowder, baked chips, yogurt, chocolate and white milk, sweet tea, and a variety of desserts. Music blared through speakers as guests found their seats.

This here was the last-Wednesday-of-every-month shindig, courtesy of Lost Sheep Ministries and in partnership with my friend Joe Bryant and his Black Eyed Joe's BBQ, as well as a host of volunteers.

The attendance requirements are simple: come as you are. Sit your butt down and enjoy some good food.

On these evenings, guests also tend to other tasks: getting clothes or shoes; getting taxes done; medical check ups. Tonight, it was blood pressure tests.

An hour before the 7 p.m. feast began tonight, I came to pull 60 piping hot pork shoulder roasts, separating the fat from the meat. Nothing makes me happier than being around great food. I donned two pairs of plastic gloves and dug in. It being my first time and all, I got great advice from the veteran pullers. One lady told me, "if it's something you'll eat, put it in the good pile. It it's not, toss it."


We then made an assembly line and began serving.
Joe believes in giving what he calls his "first fruits." The way he catered tonight's event (and every one before it) is how he would cater a wedding. Just because someone doesn't have a home does not mean they don't deserve the best, he said.
His approach to serving the guests "resonates with them," he told me tonight.

Then just like that, the party was over, guests dispersed and volunteers broke down tables and chairs and loaded them into waiting vans.

I came home feeling good-tired and smelling like barbecue. I call that awesome on both fronts.

                                               Joe's BBQ trailer

Charles the Man

I like bragging on my friends. Today, I am writing about Charles the Man.
<-- This is him.

What's that in his hand, you ask?
Well, Charles just won the award for the best master's student research project. He presented his paper this morning at the University of Tennessee's 34th annual Research Symposium.
His topic was the analysis of news coverage of the U.S. in Latin American media.

There were 41 symposium participants, which included master's and doctoral students and faculty. An award was given in each category.
(I got to listen to Charles' presentation, which was pretty cool. I even captured it on video.)

He's a smart one, this guy. (I know because I work with him everyday in UT's media relations office.) He's like the office's walking encyclopedia -- a purveyor of random and fascinating facts. I tell  him often that he knows everything. And he really does.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Food adventure: Brazil

Today, I continued what is quickly becoming a weekly adventure for me: I went to the Ready for the World Cafe. The fare was Brazilian food.
Don't let me tell you how good it was. Take the pictorial tour instead.

The first course was Empanadinhas, a shrimp pie. (Think Brazilian pot pie.)


Second course was asparagus & heart of palm salad served with light vinaigrette.


Entree was beef acebolado: beef and onions served with rice and orange beans.


Dessert was doncinho de coco or coconut truffles, which came in edible chocolate bowls. One of my table mates exclaimed: "It's like an Almond Joy just exploded all over the plate." :)


Part of the fun was experiencing the cafe with my co-workers Amy, Charles and my friend Megan. Here's Megan and me after the meal. We were so stuffed we couldn't finish our main dish or the dessert. Imagine that.


Yours truly with Donetta Poisson, the interim director of the UT Culinary Institute. She runs the student lab class.


By the way, the Ready for the World Cafe is in the UT Visitors Center on the corner of Kingston Pike and Neyland Drive. It runs through April 26 and is open to the public. It is a student lab that focuses on food production and service management.
There are seven luncheons left this spring semester: India (March 6), Korea (March 15), Italy (March 27), France (April 3), Liberia (April 10), Persia (April 17), Germany (April 26).

If you want to buy a ticket, call 865-974-6645. You'll thank me.

Social media and an African chief

I read a story this morning that absolutely made me smile.

An African chief has taken to Twitter as a way to keep the peace in his community.
Chief Francis Kariuki of Kenya — or, @Chiefkariuki, as he's known online — tweets to defeat thugs and thieves, locate missing children and farm animals, and organize village logistical matters, according to the Associated Press. He tweets both in English and Swahili.

That's one great news story out of Africa this morning!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Say it!

"If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write towards vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act — truth is always subversive."
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I liked this so much I stole it from fellow blogger Mallory Brooks. I'm shameless!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baby Andy is going home!!!

Baby Andy is going home!! Yahoo!!

My friends and I have been doing some serious rejoicing all evening :)

Andy's mama, my dear friend Caroline, texted me tonight to share the wonderful news. This fighter of a boy will be released Monday from the University of Tennessee Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after more than three months there.

Andy was born at 26 weeks and given a 36 percent chance of survival.

Now, look at him! He still has some challenges like learning to swallow but I'm confident he'll get that, too.

Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode. - Exodus 15:11, 13.

YAY, God!!

Food adventure: Japan

I had a culinary adventure today, thanks to the University of Tennessee.

Japanese cuisine was the fare of the afternoon. Today was the second week of the Ready for the World Cafe, a 10-week international lunch series presented by the UT Culinary Institute and a class that focuses on food production and service management. It is open to the public.

It's basically a lab and we, the participants, are the lab rats. This is one experiment I didn't mind. It was tasty. (I did Ireland last week, which was fabulous!)

For $12 (or $10.20 if you're a UT employee with a discount card), you get a four-course meal that consists of an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. You also get to rate the experience, which helps students in their quest for learning and improvement.

There are eight more luncheons this spring semester: Brazil (Feb. 28), India (March 6), Korea (March 15), Italy (March 27), France (April 3), Liberia (April 10), Persia (April 17), Germany (April 26).

Here's a pictorial tour of today's experience:
Appetizer: skewered chicken in yakitori sauce, which tasted like teriyaki sauce.


Second course: seaweed cucumber salad marinated in soy sauce & rice vinegar.


Entree: fried pork with rice and cabbage.


Dessert: green tea gelato with candied sweet potato.


We had an extra treat today. We learned how to make origami cranes.

Letters to Bolivia

It's been almost 11 years since Jhonny and I entered one another's lives.
He'll be 19 in a few weeks and has begun the trek into adulthood. I'm knocking on thirty's door and excited to see what's on the other side.

Jhonny is the young man from Bolivia that I sponsor through Compassion International. We've never met face to face. I hope to change that this year.

How neat to have been a part of his life through his letters. How cool to have let him into mine through my letters. I sat down to write him last night, which is what got me reminiscing.

It was fall 2001 when I embarked on a life journey with this 9-year-old kid. I was 19. I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself. Compassion is an organization I'd heard about and respected for a long time. Thanks to my babysitting job, I finally had money to sponsor a child. I especially loved the letter-writing and the idea of having a pen pal in another part of the world.

I didn't know where to start. Since I like surprises, I let the organization pick the child for me. I was thrilled when the packet arrived at my parents' Brooklyn home. I opened it and found a picture of this dark-haired, brown-eyed boy staring back at me.

Through the years, I've heard about Jhonny's progress in school, his father's illnesses and recoveries, his resilient mom who works hard in the market to provide for the family. In between chores, helping with siblings and academics, Jhonny enjoys soccer and running.

Life has been hard at times but his letters always contain hope-filled updates and colorful pictures, particularly around the edges. One time, though, he sent me this full drawing, which I've kept it on my fridge for years.

I've started setting aside "Bolivia money." I'm excited about the possibility of taking a trip to the South American country someday to meet Jhonny.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One man's pet = another man's food?

I read a story today about a California man who admitted to and was sentenced for killing and cooking cats.
My first reaction was an "eww" and a shudder. I mean, how disgusting is that?

But then, a very random thought occurred to me and it's this: wow, what a culturally diverse world in which we live.

We, as Americans, eat things that are considered pets in other parts of the world. Take cow, for example. To millions of Hindus in India, it is a sacred animal. I wonder if they're not mortified when they read or hear about its consumption in other areas of the globe. In my mind, that doesn't make sense because I enjoy a good burger.

In parts of Asia, cats and dogs are food. This boggles my mind because to me, they're family members. I can't imagine my Plucky dog on a platter. That makes me sad.

But then, I eat goat and have done so since my childhood in Nigeria. I have friends who keep them as pets and are incredulous when I tell them.

I don't condone the California man's actions. But several questions came to my journalist mind: Where is he from? Is he a recent immigrant? Was this a money-saving move? Was it culturally acceptable in his eyes? Was he truly crazy? The article doesn't provide the answers.

I found interesting the reactions of people interviewed for the story. Some called for the man to be put in a mental institution. Others were petitioning to have him removed from the community.

I don't have any answers. Just some random Monday observations.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chewing on hope.

I did something sneaky, sneaky in church today.
I starting tweeting during the sermon.
Pastor John Wood offered nugget after nugget as he spoke about A Call to Hope. They were like zingers hitting me exactly where I needed them.

I thought, perhaps they might give others "aha" moments as they did for me so I took to social media.

Some of John's thoughts that hit home this morning:
  • "Hope is as necessary to a healthy mind and spirit as food is to our bodies. Without hope, we die."

  • "Hope is not a wistful expecting. It is a forward direction of faith; a confidence that God will continue to fulfill his promises. Those who have that hope live differently."

  • "It's not putting smiley faces on painful things. It's knowing who our Redeemer is and that he's working everything out for our good."
More here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interruptions are not my enemies

My big lesson of the day: Interruptions are not my enemies. They're my friends.
How do I know this? I got ice cream out of them. And a fun walk with that guy to the left. And new eyes.

What a frustrating...and wonderful day it's been.

First, there was the blackout at work. I was away from the office when the lights went out, which left me wondering what files I had open and if I would be able to recover the work. Then I realized, "wait, it's 3 p.m. We can't get anything done."

We went home early...which meant I got to take Plucky for a long-overdue walk. Gorgeous weather for it, too.

We got back and I realized I had time for a fitness class. I decided on Pilates. You know, keep it low-key.

But as I walked out of the house, a City of Knoxville guy dropped off a recycle bin. I tried to explain that I already had one but he was like, "no, I don't think so." So, I had to show him and explain all over again why I didn't want two...but he left the second one anyway....which meant I had to find a place for it...which made me leave late.

As I drove down Cecil Avenue in North Knoxville, I glanced to my left and caught sight of the Smoky Mountain range. Breathtaking. I actually had time to look. It made me wonder how many times I've driven down Cecil and never noticed them because I'd been in a rush.

I was feeling pretty good as I got to the University of Tennessee campus. I knew there was a basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena tonight but I wasn't worried. Parking on that side of campus doesn't affect the recreation center, which is on the other end. What I didn't bank on was a swim meet in the building right across from the fitness facility.

Every. lot. was. full. Every. space. taken.

I drove around for 15 minutes looking for a spot, all the while grumbling and muttering bad words. I'd had enough. I was going back home. As I sat at the light near Cumberland Avenue, it was as if a thought from heaven slipped into my mind: "hey, ice cream's on sale at Kroger."

Off to Kroger I went. I looked through the ice cream cases with glee. I finally settled on black raspberry dark chocolate chunk. A fair substitute for Pilates, I think.

Another thing about the interruptions: they've given me time to write tonight's ramblings. It's been a while and I've missed writing posts.

Today was a shift in perspective. I hope to continue to see frustrating events with new eyes. Thankful eyes.

I'm off to study for my statistics exam. But first, ice cream.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jamaica, mon!

        God painting a sunset over Montego Bay; seen from CCCD's campus

I spent eight days in January in one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
I was at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Jan. 21-28 as part of a six-person work team from my church.

We painted students' dorms and the missionary family's house, moved furniture and did other needed maintenance.
Above all, we got to hang out with and love on the kids. CCCD is a boarding school that serves deaf children in kindergarten through high school.

I'm fluent in American Sign Language but I haven't used it much since I moved to Knoxville nine years ago. It was neat to be able to put those skills into service again.

We also had a couple of afternoons to enjoy the beach.

The trip was amazing. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself here. (Captions are to the right of the photos.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Disappointment = character builder

I tested for my first-degree black belt in Taekwondo tonight and I didn't pass. I didn't break one of my boards.

I stepped up to the board and I pulled off a clean break with the right foot. It was the left foot's turn and the last thing between me and the belt. And it just didn't happen. I can't tell you exactly what went wrong (maybe I didn't pivot enough?)

Oh, the disappointment stung -- still does. I confess that I didn't want to write this post. I feel embarrassed when it comes to admitting failure. It was especially tough because three friends came out to cheer me on.

But I realized something tonight: although the failure hurt, it was not devastating. Then I realized something else: that's huge growth for me, character-wise. Disappointments don't bowl me over like they used to and for that, I am so thankful.

In the three years I've been studying Taekwondo, this is the second test I've failed. (I've passed 15 so far. Not bad.) I failed the first test in December 2010 when I was trying to move from blue belt to brown belt, the first level of advanced. I boo-hoo'ed inconsolably.

Maybe that first test fail took the edge off this second one. I dunno. But I do know that I overcame that first fail. When I finally got that brown belt, it felt so good. Likewise, I know it'll be doubly sweet when I finally get the first-degree black belt. I try again in a few months.

One of my sisters often says to me, "every disappointment is a blessing." I didn't always like hearing that but now I don't mind because it's so true.

I had a few friends and another sister praying for me tonight (I get so nervous when it comes to tests!) Their prayers weren't in vain. I felt the strength of them. I wasn't as nervous as I could have been and I thoroughly enjoyed the test, from demonstrating my pattern to the sparring (especially the sparring!) to the board breaks. I loved being with my Taekwondo family and cheering on fellow students.
It meant so much to me that I had the support of my three friends on this big night.

Yes, the first-degree black belt eluded me tonight. But it won't be for long.

Oh, are you wondering why there's a picture of a tasty loaf of bread in this post? My dear friend Sarah brought it to testing tonight as a surprise. It's made from scratch. (She even milled her own wheat.)

Call it my consolation prize. My night is already looking up :)