Thursday, July 26, 2012

A deferred dream realized

I hopped and squealed through the hallway at work this afternoon.
Why, you ask? I got word that I've been accepted into UT's Master of Public Policy and Administration program. I officially start this fall.

This is huge for several reasons.
First, I can start my journey toward earning a master's degree -- for free. (Yay, job perks.) It's something I've wanted to do for some time but didn't have the time or money while I was a reporter.

Second, I've always had an interest in international relations and foreign policy and I'll be able to concentrate in this subject area. (What happened to my initial interest in exercise science? Taking statistics in the spring was a wake-up call that I needed to go in a different direction. I passed the class but I didn't enjoy it -- a huge no-no for the nerdy me. I've never really liked math and science. But I thought time would have softened the hate. Nope.)

The third and biggest reason is this: In 2008, I applied for the Ambassadorial Peace Fellowship through Rotary International, one of the most respected organizations out there. Their mission is service in the community, in the workplace and around the globe. In short, they're all about doing good at home and abroad to better the lives of others.

The fellowship would have allowed me to study and earn a master's degree in peace and conflict resolution and international relations at a university somewhere outside the U.S. I chose a university in Queensland, Australia.

It was a rigorous six-month application process and then another few months of interviews. Although I was competing with applicants from around the world, I felt confident that I had a good shot at securing one of the 60 fellowship slots. I made it pretty far along in the application process.

I got word in November 2009 that I had not been accepted. It was one of the more painful disappointments I've ever faced, particularly because I seemed to fit and exceed every qualification Rotary was seeking. What made it tougher was the disappointment of the regional Rotary folks who had sponsored me. It was so cool how they were pulling for me. The rejection honestly didn't make any sense. In effect, I was dealing with the loss of a dream. And. it. hurt. bad.

That was one of those times I had to put legs to my faith and truly live it. Did I really believe God's promise of Jeremiah 29:11-13 that he had good plans for my life?

So, I grieved the loss of this fellowship and then moved on. I figured God wanted me to stay put in Knoxville.

Fast forward to today. When I got word that I had been accepted into UT's program, I was overjoyed. How neat that God has given me back the dream of studying peace and conflict resolution and international relations. You know, sometimes God doesn't give back something we've lost because he typically has something better. In this case, he gave me back that dream although I'm not sure why.

I texted my dear friend Andy to share the news and he responded: "What do you guess God is up to? Time will reveal it."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A week of dresses

I've been shopping -- in my closet.
I'm in the process of cleaning out my wardrobe and I've discovered pieces -- dresses in particular -- that I love but haven't worn in some time. I also have dresses that my dear, fashion-forward friend, Chandra, recently gave me but I have yet to wear.

The purge is due in large part to a desire to be living more simply. I'm not going spartan or anything but I really would like to be using what I already have before I buy new things. There are plenty of clothes I don't wear and need to give away. Besides, the laundry basket-turned makeshift closet on my bedroom floor has been driving me nuts.

In the middle of all this, my friend Charles turned me on to the 100 Thing Challenge and to the blog of a guy named Dave whose motto is to live joyfully and thoughtfully simple. I like that.

So, after discovering all these finds in my closet, I decided last week that I would wear a dress every workday (even on Friday, which is typically my dress-down day!) I love girly stuff and getting dolled up. Dresses don't often make it into the mix, however.  I'm typically in slacks and a nice top. I also don the occasional skirt. (I've come a long way since my tomboy days. See No. 8 in this post.)

Apparently my co-workers noticed the dress initiative, too. On Monday, the first day of dresses, one guy said, "Wow. You're usually so casual." Others called it Fashion Week. Ha! :)

Here's how my experiment went. A BIG thank you to Charles for being such a good sport and for taking my picture everyday.






It was a fun week but by Friday, I was itching to get into casual clothes (and out of my heels). I had committed to wearing dresses the whole week, however. So my compromise was putting on a casual dress even though I had a couple of other fancy dresses I hadn't worn waiting in the closet. I might bring those out next week.

Who knows, maybe I'll have "A Week of Dresses -- Fall Edition" post come this winter. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On top of the world. Sort of.

My not-so-little Baby Brother and I went on an outing last Wednesday to the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. This was a first for both of us. The view of New York City was pretty spectacular. (I've been to the top of the Empire State Building, which gives a slightly different bird's eye view of this expansive city.)

Some of what we saw while 70 floors up:

Looking toward Central Park.

Looking toward the Empire State Building.

I love that guy to my left!

The view finder seemed to be smiling at us...

After our excursion to Rockefeller Center, not-so-little Baby Brother and I grabbed dinner and took it over to Bryant Park. We people-watched while we ate.

On our way to the train station later that night, we spied some students performing gymnastic feats on the steps of the New York Public Library. One of their t-shirts read "Penn State Gymnastics."
You never know what you'll see in New York City!

You can take the girl out of NYC but...

Even after nine-plus years of living in Knoxville, my heart is still very much in New York City.
Part of it, anyway.
I half-jokingly tell friends that my visits there remind me that I'm still normal. The diversity of people, looks, accents, food, thought, scenery, transportation, craziness all invigorate me.

I returned to Knoxville this weekend after eight days in New York City. It's where I grew up. During this trip, I was intentional about spending alone time with each family member. I was so thrilled it worked out. (We're usually in groups because there are so many of us.)

I also enjoyed time with old friends. I hung out with my junior high school pal Wendy who lives across the street from my parent's Brooklyn home; I met my friend Robert and his wife Rochelle for dinner at a cool Brooklyn diner; I visited the kid I babysat while in college (he's now 16.) And remember my friend Peter? He sent me back to Knoxville with another collection of books. (Sad face!!)

The trip wasn't exactly restful. But it was sweet.

Some scenes from last week:

In the Fort Greene neighborhood, Brooklyn.

My favorite landmark: Le Brooklyn Bridge.

Hot dog from a street vendor. Ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut? Yes, please.

I spotted this dude when Wendy and I were heading back from dinner. How he managed to ride this really tall bike with no seat was a mystery. But it was interesting to watch.
 I spent a day in Connecticut with my friend Peter and we stopped by the beach near his home.

Speaking of water, this is one of my favorite things to see in New York during humid summers.
By the way, I'm a light packer. I try to carry everything on board for domestic flights. It was pretty easy with summer clothes. I actually had room to spare. It's trickier in the winter and during the holidays. But I love the challenge. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

1st Independence Day as a U.S. citizen

I've commemorated Independence Day for the 20-plus years I've lived in the United States but today is the first time I'm celebrating as an official American citizen. Glee!

A couple of friends reminded me of that fact yesterday and it made me smile. I took the oath of citizenship nine months ago. The picture is from my naturalization ceremony in Chattanooga.

So, happy birthday, America. Yay, me!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The sucker punches of life

Life feels cruel sometimes.
On my heart tonight are:
...The dear wife of a beloved former pastor who is stricken with cancer--again--and is slipping away at a Texas hospice even as these words tumble onto my computer screen
...A former News Sentinel colleague who died suddenly --and so young--on Sunday
...Precious friends in Middle Tennessee who are still struggling to cope with the loss of a beloved son, brother and father

A friend recently posted this very accurate assessment: "Death, disease, crisis/tragedy, natural disaster & their kin are such RUDE visitors - they rarely give much RSVP (advance warning) & never bother to politely ask, 'May I come in.'"

But even as I wrestle with the havoc these unwelcome guests cause in the lives of beloved ones, it's as if an unseen Hand gently tugs at my sleeve and tenderly turns my face toward a resident and constant friend: hope.
Hope reminds me of:
...Wonderful news today from a Knoxville friend that his cancer had shrunk after weeks of radiation; he faces surgery to remove dead tumor cells and then a journey to recovery
...The laughter of a now-7-month-old boy that I hear every week when I visit his mama. He was born at 1 Ib, 3 oz, and given a 26 percent chance of survival
...Rain, sweet rain tonight that breathes new life into parched and withering grass

Tonight, the pain and joys of those near and around me cause me to run into the arms of the One who said He is touched by our pain and sympathizes with our weaknesses; and that we can find grace and receive mercy when we are in need.
My heart cries, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy."