Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sneaky, sneaky!

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage has found the way to this girl's heart. :)

I closed on my house refinance in December after a three-and-a-half-month process. It was supposed to take about a month or so. But due to low interest rates, Wells Fargo received a huge volume of refinance applications, which meant a long delay in the closing process. I didn't mind that as much. What I did mind was the lack of communication and response whenever I called or emailed to inquire about the status of my application.

It was rather frustrating and by the end of the process, I was put off by my mortgage company. My mortgage consultant apologized and then told me I would be getting a satisfaction survey to critique the process. Oh, and she would be compensated based on the survey. Great. While I waited for the survey to come, I wrestled with what it meant to be gracious while also being honest in a way that would help Wells Fargo improve their process.

Weeks passed and no survey. Then last week, my postman Charles delivered my mail along with a small package from Omaha Steaks. I opened it to find the above gift certificate, seasoning and an apology from Wells Fargo. Alright! Now, we're talking.

I ordered my yummy goodies over the weekend and on Tuesday morning, received confirmation from Omaha Steaks that my package had shipped. About two hours later, I received the Wells Fargo survey in my inbox. Sneaky, sneaky!

I have to give Wells Fargo credit for backing up their apology with something tangible -- and for trying to secure my goodwill with food.

I came home tonight and found this happiness on my porch:


Saturday, January 26, 2013

How good is it? Slap yo' mama good.

When I woke up this morning, I couldn't have imagined I would be dragging my vanilla ice cream through vinegar. But drag it I did and it was oh, so good.

After a wonderful dinner downtown, my friends Jim and Kim and I meandered around Market Square and found our way to the Tree and Vine, an olive oil and balsamic tasting shop. It looked so appealing from the outside so we went in to investigate.

The tasting bar
We found large silver jugs lining the walls and bottles of olive oils and balsamic vinegars set in one long row on the counter. The proprietor Paul was in the middle of walking a customer through a tasting when I heard, "Try this one. It's slap yo' mama good!" My ears perked up and I had to see for myself.

I really only wanted to taste the basil-infused olive oil and traditional balsamic vinegar combo that had solicited that comment. Pretty soon, I was working my way down the counter dipping bread into one oil/balsamic combo after another and sipping infused aged balsamic vinegars from tiny white cups.

And then Paul said the magic word: chocolate. What?!
He led me over to the chocolate-infused balsamic vinegar and gave me a taste. It would be good drizzled on desserts like ice cream, he said. (And I'm thinking, "yeah, like I would ever do that.")

"Wait one second," Paul said. He went to the back and brought out a small cup of vanilla ice cream for me. Oh, yes he did. "Drag a spoon of the ice cream through the chocolate vinegar."
Then there was blueberry balsamic vinegar. And then mandarin orange balsamic vinegar. Wow. Talk about a taste explosion. I was hooked.

Paul the proprietor (and a former naval aviator)
As Jim, Kim and I made our purchases, the conversation turned to airplanes. Paul is a former naval aviator (think "Top Gun") and Jim is a recreational pilot (small planes). We also talked food and travel. Paul and his wife Terri lead culinary tours to Italy several times a year. They opened the Knoxville Tree and Vine about three months ago. They have another, their first, in Asheville, N.C.

As we left the store, Jim, Kim and I excitedly discussed what tasty creations we would make with our oils and vinegars. (Ribs brushed with chipotle olive oil, anyone?)

Who knew that a spontaneous stop would turn into such an exciting evening?
What an unexpected and unusual food adventure, and what a treat.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My precious grandmother has died

My precious grandmother, Comfort Ayoka Alapo, died in Nigeria this afternoon.
I'm thankful for the 90 years she graced this earth and for the rich legacy she gave me.

Visiting my grandmother in Nigeria in 2008
But my heart is so sad: for my family, for my dad, for lost dreams.
When I last saw her in Nigeria in 2008, she chuckled as she promised that she would come to America for a visit after I had my first child. I really did hope that would happen. Over the last few weeks as she weakened, my desire to see her grew stronger and I hoped she would hang on long enough for our family to see her again.
I am sad that she is no more on this side of eternity; that my children won't meet their great-grandmother; that I have no more living grandparents; that a hole has been ripped into the fabric of our family.
But I am also thankful that she lived well and vibrantly; that I come from a line of strong women; that her story is part of my story; that I am because she was.
And I thank God for my heritage as a Nigerian-born American.
After seeing my grandmother in Nigeria in 2008, I wrote this story for the News Sentinel about the experience. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to tell her story in a public way.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A decade in the 'Scruffy Little City'

Hard to believe I can now count my life in 10-year chunks.
Harder still is that I've been in Knoxville a whole decade. Today marks my 10-year anniversary in this Scruffy Little City.

Something strange happened along the way: I fell in love with Knoxville. This coming from a girl who only meant to be here three to five years. It was supposed to be a pit stop and a stepping stone to a bigger city. But roots are a powerful thing. They have this finicky way of growing down deep. Knoxville has been for me a place of deep friendships and deep character growth.

Honestly, I don't know what's next. There's a wanderlust rooted inside my being. I'm pursuing a master's degree in public administration with a focus on policy and international relations. I don't know where this will lead. If I've learned anything in the last 10 years, it's to make plans with open hands.

So for now, Knoxville will continue to be home. I'm content.

View of downtown Knoxville from Neyland Stadium
TDOT Henley Bridge Webcam
Source: WUOT 91.9 FM.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Walking on water in Beantown

I can now add "walking on water" to my set of skills. Don't believe me? Here's proof:

Notice the crack in the ice to the right? eek!
I kicked off the year with a Jan 1-2 trip to Boston to visit my friends Andrew and Rene. We went for a walk through the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and spied the above frozen pond that beckoned to us.

Andrew, being the chivalrous gent that he is, took his life into his own hands and stepped onto the pond to test its hardiness. When it didn't give, Rene and I took turns on the ice.

Nevermind that it was 20 degrees during our walk. (12 degrees the night before.) Pretty soon, we began playing ice soccer on the pond and participating in all manner of goofing off.

When we heard a loud pop and the ice cracking, we quickly jumped off.

Although I was raised in the Northeast, this was my first trip to Beantown. (Can you guess why it's called Beantown? Something to do with slaves, rum, molasses and beans. Seriously. Look it up!)

Andrew and Rene showed me downtown and other fun sights. When the wind got too unbearable, we went home and comforted ourselves with food, hot tea and several episodes of West Wing on Netflix.

(In addition to being my good friends, Andrew and Rene are also the grandson and granddaughter-in-law of my dearest friend Peter.)

Some other fun sights at the arboretum and around Boston:

I met this white guy at the arboretum. Tee hee.

I spied this cool mural on the side of a building downtown

A Jack and the Beanstalk ice sculpture
How cute is this?! Tiny library in Jamaica Plain where my friends live
What a cool house, also in Jamaica Plain

Friday, January 4, 2013

A cause for much rejoicing

Baby brother after his naturalization. I love that grin!!
My 25-year-old baby brother became a naturalized United States citizen this afternoon!

When he took his Oath of Allegiance in that New York City federal courthouse, he became the final member of the Alapo family to officially become a Nigerian-American.

I am extremely proud of him that he stuck with and fought his way through what can be a frustrating bureaucratic immigration process. I went through the same and became a naturalized American in October 2011.

I only wish I could have been with my brother today at his swearing in. I returned to Knoxville last night after a two-week Christmas break in New York. I missed the ceremony by about 12 hours. Immigration sent my brother notice of the date well after I purchased my plane ticket.

But I'm so thankful my oldest sister was able to go with him to celebrate this monumental occasion. Well, sort of. There were so many people there to be sworn in that family members had to sit in an adjacent cafeteria and watch via TV. But my sister was able to take some pictures afterward and embrace my brother. Her hugs conveyed all of our excitement.

At 2:11 p.m., I received this sweet text message from my brother: "I just did my swearing in for the U.S. citizenship. I'm now an official American citizen."

What an amazing start to the new year for the Alapo family!

Wisdom for 2013

Source: King George VI's 1939 Christmas message, via Sally Lloyd-Jones