Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chuck at the race

An 83-year-old man smoked me at this morning's Dogwood Classic 5K race -- except I didn't know it until I was standing in the food line across from him.

We met over the bagels and bananas after the run and struck up a conversation. Turns out his name was Chuck. I had to repeat my name a few times. "These hearing aids don't work as well when you get to be my age," he said. I chuckled.

Then, as is good race etiquette, he asked me how I did. I said OK, considering I had only run once since the Knoxville Marathon relay four weeks ago. I finished the three-mile race in about 30 minutes.

"We were in the same neighborhood," Chuck said. I really looked at him then. "Oh, yeah?" I said in a surprised voice. (I suspect he came in 10-20 seconds ahead of me.) I became super curious at that point. I had to give him a high five...or rather, an elbow five since our hands were full of food.

Chuck told me he began running at age 52 or 53 to overcome depression. He also was going through a divorce and running became a saving grace. He's been hitting the pavement ever since. He encouraged me to keep running. "You've got youth on your side," he said.

I was so inspired and gave him another elbow five. This experience with Chuck validates the main reason I run races: the camaraderie I find among other runners.

Speaking of camaraderie, I saw five pals -- two editors and three reporters -- from the Knoxville News Sentinel: John, Eric, Lance, Natalie and Gerald. That was pretty awesome.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The semester is over. Hallelujah!

Yes, it's that liberating.
This couldn't have come soon enough. When I walked out of my statistics class for the last time yesterday evening, I was relieved and overjoyed. There's still a final to study for but I can see the light and I know the end is nigh.

Whew. What a semester. I used to think I was smart until I started taking statistics. It's definitely humbled me, that's for sure. It really worked (more like bent...or maybe broke?) my brain. The subject required serious mental calisthenics.

But. it. is. finished. Again, I say, HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Compassion and Newsboys

I did a really cool thing tonight.
I was one of six people who staffed a Compassion International table during the Newsboys concert at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. My sole purpose was to help concert goers consider and begin sponsorship of a child and embark on the incredible journey of breaking the cycle of poverty for a boy or girl halfway around the world.

I was near tears most of the evening, particularly as I helped people pick sponsorship packets or answered questions or shared briefly about my experience with Compassion.

Some of my table mates hamming it up

Compassion's mission of advocating for children and releasing them from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty is something close to my heart. I've been a part of Compassion since December 2001 when I started sponsoring a boy named Jhonny in Bolivia. He turned 19 this month.

I've also sponsored a girl, Diane, in Rwanda since May 2004. She's now 14 and has been asking in her letters when we'll get to meet. I hope it's one day soon.

Being at the event tonight wasn't all work. We got to also enjoy the concert. I came home with ringing ears and a happy heart.

Newsboys! Michael Tate is that teeny figure on center stage

Food adventure: Germany

It has finally come to an end.
The last of UT's Ready for the World spring cafe took place today. I must say, they went out with a bang. The journey took us to Germany and the food was absolutely delicious.

We also had the largest crowd yet: 110 people (capacity is supposed to be 60). As usual, we had returning diners and new faces like this guy:

That's former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. He was the guest of Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise.

Now on to the food. The cafe typically starts with the appetizer but they were so busy today that the soup came out first. It was a cold cream of asparagus soup that featured pureed asparagus and spinach. It was seasoned with spices and dusted with paprika. As a lover of vegetables, I was digging this. It's something I'd like to make at home.

The second course was the appetizer, a soft baked pretzel with beer cheese. M.E.R.C.Y.!!

The entree was jager schnitzel with bacon mushroom sauce. It was a pounded pork loin paired with herbed spaetzle (think noodle-dumpling combo) and sauerkraut salad.

The crowning glory of the meal was the dessert: black forest cake, which was a layered chocolate cake with cherry sauce and whipped cream. The tartness of the cherries and sweetness of the chocolate was a fantastic pairing. (Think red wine and dark chocolate.)

The table decor was quite creative. I hear there was a German beer-tasting class the night before and they emptied the bottles for today's use ;)

I was a little sad that the cafe ended. But hey, it starts back up in mid-September. There will be a new series of countries for the fall semester. A huge shout-out to the faculty and students of the class. They made the cafe such a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's a boy!

Not for me, silly! For my sister :)
I'm going to be auntie to a third nephew come this summer. My sister, and mother of my niece and two nephews, called recently to share the wonderful news.

I like this very much! Yay for her growing family. I'm also excited for a second reason: she's buying me some time. {{{insert maniacal laughter here}}}

She's shifting relatives' attention from me and redirecting their inquiries about when I'll get married and start having kids. And it's working -- for now. Hehe.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Starbucks & a sweet Earth Day

I gathered some intel today that Starbucks, in honor of Earth Day, was giving away free coffee and tea to patrons who brought in their own travel mugs.

Accordingly, I secured two mugs from the kitchen cabinet and headed out the door to meet my friend Darlene. Following our movie matinee, we proceeded to Starbucks near the West Town Mall to test the validity of this information. It proved to be correct!

Hats off to Agent Yemi (also known as The Big Sis) for the tip and to the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Tennessee Valley Authority for supplying the mugs.

Bottoms up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Julie + Ryan

I went to the first of four spring/summer weddings this evening.
My friends Julie and Ryan got hitched at the Magnolia Manor in Lenoir City.

One of the cool things about their story is this: they met in second grade and were inseparable through fifth grade. They parted ways in sixth grade and were out of touch until 2009 when they were reunited through Facebook. Neat, huh?

I met Julie through church several years ago and we got to know each other while we were in the same girls small group. The awesome and humbling thing about doing life with people is having a front row seat to see the amazing things God does in their lives. I love that God can redeem the hard things we go through and bring something beautiful out of them. Julie and Ryan's marriage was a celebration of that gift.

We all got our eat and our dance on after the ceremony. By the way, Julie and Ryan are HUGE sports fans:

For party favors, Julie and Ryan had a candy buffet and we got to pack our own treats. Mercy! I *loved* this. I think I'm going into a sugar coma as I write.

One of my favorite things about weddings is having a lot of my good friends under one tent. Fun times. I also couldn't pass up a photo op with Caroline and Rachel, two of my best gal friends.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Entertainment Thursday

Can I do this when I grow up?
A demo team from Flower Mound, Texas, performed this routine at the Taekwondo America National Tournament in January. Impressive choreography! I came across the video a few days ago, courtesy of my Taekwondo school's Facebook page.

A few of us at our school have been talking about possibly starting a demo team. The group would eventually participate in the team portion of the national tournaments, in addition to each member competing individually in their division.

Be sure to watch the finale. Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food adventure: Persia (and other items of note)

The one thing about delaying a blog post is, if I wait too long to write it, it might be overshadowed by other news. For starters, did you see that Pat Summitt will no longer be head coach of UT's Lady Vols basketball team? And did you hear that Dick Clark died? Holy news day! Oh, to be in a newsroom on a day like this!

Now that I've got that out of my system, I'll press on to the main topic of today's post (ahem, which I should have written yesterday but ran out of time doing other fun things and hanging out with cool people.)

Yesterday was UT's penultimate Ready for the World cafe for the spring semester. The adventure took us to Persia, which is modern-day Iran. At my table was Omid, a UT student who was born and raised in Iran. (He came with his friend Virginia who is from Uruguay.) I was glad we had an expert with us to authenticate the meal.

The first course was hummus served with pita. This one was tomato-based and had garlic, lemon, tahini, cucumber, onions and parsley. Interestingly, Omid said hummus is actually not really popular in Iran like it is in Arabic countries.

I take it the students in the lab class were going more for a broad Middle Eastern flair. It was still pretty tasty.

The second course was more on point, according to Omid. The shirazi salad consisted of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion, mint and a light vinaigrette. Omid noted that the traditional Iranian dish typically doesn't come with lettuce. It also is served on the same plate as the main course, not as a separate dish.

The main entree, khoresht-e-bademjan, was a delicious eggplant and lamb stew served over rice and potatoes -- except without the eggplant. There was an eggplant mishap in the kitchen so the students opted to leave it out of the meal. Doing so, however, removed what made the dish traditionally Iranian, according to Omid.

I actually didn't mind because I'm not a big fan of eggplant. I thought the entree was perfectly tasty without it :)

Dessert was a rice pudding served with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and hazelnut pieces. Yum! - and also very Americanized. Omid said rice pudding is typically sprinkled with cinnamon and eaten for breakfast.

The fun thing about the cafe is it's a lab class and the students have the freedom to experiment. That they did.

One more item of note from yesterday: seven former News Sentinel colleagues came out to the cafe. I loved seeing them!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Being transparent is hard.

Being transparent is hard. It tears at my pride and knocks down the walls I try to hide behind. But I like that it gets at my heart.

For a couple of weeks now, I've been chewing on an article that has blasted my walls to smithereens. It's been that profound for me. "Dear Pastor: From a Black Female Congregant" was written by my friend Trillia. (It even got a retweet from John Piper.)

She tackles questions I've wrestled with these nine years I've been in Knoxville: what does it look like to live as a black woman of faith in a largely white city? What does it look like to date? What do interactions look like?

It was quite disconcerting to see in words the thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind.

I've been putting off blogging about this article for almost two weeks now because I just didn't know how to do it. Trillia notes that she doesn't presume to speak for all black females and neither do I. It's just such a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece that I wanted to share it. Read more here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The bling.

Here it is, y'all. It's officially official.


We had our belt ceremony this evening at my Taekwondo school. I don't always make it to the ceremonies but this one was especially important. So much so that I skipped statistics class for it. (I talked to the teacher first and he was cool with it.)

When our master instructor James Rich called me up to receive my new rank and belt, you betcha I was crying and I didn't mind that 100 people were watching me do it. The first-degree black belt ceremony in the Taekwondo journey is the only one during which the master instructor ties the belt on you. (For perspective: there are 17 ranks between the beginner white belt and the first-degree black belt. Then there are nine degrees of black belt. Mr. Rich is a seventh-degree black belt.)

In the three years I've been studying Taekwondo, I've failed two promotional tests.
"A couple of storms make it sweeter," instructor Julius Agh said to me after I received my black belt.

Yes, indeed.

From here on out, no more color belts for me. Just black belts with gold stripes that will indicate my degree. I have a sneaky suspicion there will be more.

A big shout out to my friend Rachel who came out to root for me. She was also my pro bono photographer for the evening. More pictures to come. Stay tuned.

For now, here are a few shots she snapped with my iPhone.


Me and my Jedi Master James Rich

You keep coming back, eh? :)

My blog is 1-year-old today.
It's safe to say ... I still don't know what I'm doing :)
A BIG thanks to all who have been coming back and reading these last 12 months. For those checking it out for the first time, welcome aboard. You honor me with your presence.

I thought by now, I would have come up with a spiffy name for the blog or I'd be writing about a niche topic. But nope.

My friend and kindred spirit Peter had this to say to me in a recent email: "The thing is that you are such an unpredictable person that I simply cannot even guess what you're doing. But, as you know, I love unpredictable people like my wife, Jane, and like young Sarah.You all go round and round the traffic circle of life and none of us knows which turning off you're going to take."

Unpredictable. I like it. I'll keep it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A love affair with books.

Photographer unknown
"I read library books as fast as I could go, rushing them home in the basket of my bicycle. From the minute I reached our house, I started to read. Every book I seized on, from 'Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue at Camp Rest-a-While' to 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,' stood for the devouring wish to read being instantly granted. I knew this was bliss, knew it at the time. Taste isn’t nearly so important; it comes in its own time."
-- Eudora Welty

This quote sings to me.
It came my way via my friend, Mama Lloyd.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Food adventure: Liberia

I went on a culinary trip to the mother continent today, thanks to UT's Ready for the World Cafe. The journey took us to Liberia. (I'm from Nigeria -- five countries to the right of Liberia in West Africa.)

I was especially excited about today because an old friend was the guest chef. Hawa is owner of the Palavah Hut, an authentic Liberian restaurant on Magnolia Avenue. She and I met years ago through a story I did while I was a reporter at the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Today's first course was fried plantains with a tomato sauce. It was yum! These plantains were semi ripe, which meant they were semi sweet. I prefer mine ripe and sweet. By the way, they're not bananas. (An aside: finding plantains in Knoxville is hit or miss so I'll take them anyway I can get them.)

The second course was an eddo (or taro root) soup cooked with onions, garlic and sweet peppers. In Nigeria, we call the starchy, potato-like tubers yams (but they're not sweet potatoes.) We cook them differently. One of my favorite ways was cutting them up like breakfast potatoes and eating them with fried eggs. Mmm.

The entree was stir fry chicken with collard greens and rice. It was served with thin sweet potato strips, which added a sweet flavor. One of my table mates commented that the meal was pretty healthful: not too greasy but quite hearty. Hear, hear.

The dessert was a papaya pie (also known as paw paw.) It came with a sweet mango cream and toasted coconut flakes. It was the perfect ending to a delectable meal.

Today's cafe gave me another treat: I ran into acquaintances from my former life as an education reporter. Melissa Copelan, spokeswoman for Knox County Schools, and Buck Coatney, director of the school system's Career and Technical Education program, came as guests of Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise.

Good times.

We're nearing the end of the spring cafe. We have just two left: Persia on April 17 and Germany on April 26. And I have a really good feeling about them :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

1st degree black belt!!

Say hello to your newest first-degree black belt!!
Wow. It has finally happened. I passed my Taekwondo belt test tonight.

I'm super overwhelmed right now. And relieved. And excited.

I got a war wound on my left foot tonight and I'm sporting it quite proudly. This happened during board breaks. I didn't mind though because I broke both my boards. Back in February, I failed my first attempt for first-degree because I didn't break the board on my left foot. Tonight, I rammed my left front kick into it and it gave way. The second board surrendered to my right side kick :)

I wore this shirt all day today to get myself into the spirit and ready for tonight. Fun times.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shotgun rainbow

File this one under the "something you just don't expect to see" category.
A hat tip to my friend Roger for giving me the heads up about it.

Food adventure: France

I'll never look at the ducks at the Fountain City Lake the same way again.
I ate their cousins this afternoon during UT's Ready for the World cafe. This week's adventure took us to France.

The first course was a tartlet, a mushroom, goat cheese pastry surrounded by edible flower petals. I guess the French like to be all fancy with their food, hence the petals.

Second course was salade lyonnaise, which consisted of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, bacon pieces and topped with a poached egg. It was served with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.

The entree was duck confit, a salt-cured duck. It was served with couscous and fruit compote made of blueberries. I'm typically not a meat-and-fruit-together kind of eater but this was worth trying.

Dessert was creme brulee, which is made from cream, egg yolks and topped with caramelized sugar.

I came in a bit late today and just plopped down in a seat. Turns out I sat right next to Andre Nowading, the executive chef for Knoxville Krogers.

We're getting down to the end of the semester and the cafe is slowly drawing to a close. There are three more countries left. Liberian food will be featured April 10, Persian on April 17 and German on April 26. Get in while you can. For a ticket, call 865-974-6645.

Nowading will be the guest chef during Germany. He's half German and said he plans to use his grandmother's recipe for the chocolate cake he'll make for dessert that week. I can't wait.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

The worst part after a race? The terribly stinky clothes. The best part? The exhilaration.

What fun it was to participate in today's Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon. I was the first leg of a relay team, a departure from the usual half marathon I've done in years past. (Well, one year, I ran the first relay leg and the half marathon. I figured if you could get double credit for the same thing, why not? :)

I can't get over the excitement and the camaraderie you find in a race like this. The energy in the crowd of thousands was palpable as we waited for the 7:30 a.m. start near World's Fair Park.

The marathon event is like a huge reunion. I saw friends, acquaintances and old faces from past races. I ran Mile 2 and 3 with Dave Keim, my former News Sentinel editor. It was cool to catch up as we ran. He left me in the dust at the first water stop ;)

A special treat was being part of the Knoxville News Sentinel's team - the Deadline Dawdlers. Lance Coleman, who now seats in my old cubicle, was the second leg, my former editor John North was the third leg and Diana Condon, the advertising director, was the fourth leg.

Speaking of News Sentinel people, former publisher Bruce Hartmann patted me on the back as he passed me in Sequoyah Hills. Hehe.

After I did the hand-off to Lance on Cherokee Boulevard, I stayed awhile to cheer folks on. I remember how much it meant to me and what encouragement it was to have spectators rooting for me as I climbed the hills during the half marathons.

After about 45 minutes, I got hungry and drove to the Thompson-Boling Arena for the post-race party. As I stuffed myself with two slices of pizza (and bagels, oranges, banana, two bags of chips, a bottle of Powerade and a bottle of water -- hey, you work up an appetite during races), I watched on the jumbotron screen as people crossed the finish line in Neyland Stadium.

I teared up as people raised their hands in victory after crossing. There's nothing like it when you hear your name being called and you're like, "that's me! that's me! I can't believe I just finished this crazy thing!"