Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mt. Kilimanjaro and other life stuff

Day 3 on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; Courtesy of teammate Michelle D.
Life has been full, y'all.
One moment I'm writing about how I'll be hiking East Tennessee trails all summer. The next thing I know, I'm getting off Mt. Kilimanjaro in October. And now, we're eight weeks from the end of 2014. Um, what? Not sure what happened there but there's been a lot of life-living in between.

My inner writer over the last few months has often lamented my neglect of this blog. I meant to write and all. But a strange thing has happened: I haven't quite figured out how to distill into bite-sized chunks all the good and hard and beautiful and strange and amazing things that have found their way into my life these last few months. So, I just...stopped writing. Publicly, anyway. But I've been journaling. A lot. And processing. And learning. And living.

Lots of stories to tell and posts to be written. For now, I'll leave you with what is perhaps my favorite photo from this fall. The above was taken on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I climbed the mountain with 23 other Americans in early October as a way to raise money for a Compassion International water project to bring clean water to a community in Arusha, Tanzania. Definitely not your average fundraiser. It was one of the most butt-kicking and awesome experiences of my life. Here's a bit more about the trek.

Thank you for stopping by. I'll be back again soonish.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Tennessee, how I love you!

Seen tonight at State Street Garage in downtown Knoxville
Favorite definition of nekkid: naked with intent.
(Hat tip to my friend David for this definition!)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hittin' the trails!

I've started a new chapter of discovery and adventure now that grad school is behind me.
First on the list is hiking -- and lots of it. This summer, I plan to explore much of East Tennessee's woods on foot with friends and with the lovable Plucky Alapo, aka Plucky dog.

Plucky on House Mountain in East Knox County
The first Saturday in June found Plucky and me on top of House Mountain, the tallest point in Knox County. The roughly four-mile trek was moderate -- although, there were many spots where Plucky dog took the lead and literally pulled me over boulders and large fallen trees. He was like a nimble little mountain goat.

I packed us a lunch and I took my journal and we had a picnic at the top (well, Plucky watched me eat, mostly). I spent about an hour drinking in the sight of the lush valley below us and journaling. Then it was time to go home and we trekked back down. Fun times! It was my first trip to House Mountain, even though I've lived in Knoxville 11-plus years and it's is just 15 minutes from my house.

More to come on future hikes. I'm always in the market for friends to hike with me so let me know if you're available!

Friday, June 6, 2014


Say hello to "Grace."
My friend John McRae completed this piece for me this week.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When cancer sucks.

At Rebecca's wedding in 2008.

I lost my sweet friend Rebecca to cancer this morning. She was 38.
Rebecca discovered last summer she had stage 4 colon cancer and underwent aggressive and painful treatments. She slipped into eternity at 8:50 a.m. today.

Right now, I want to spin-side kick cancer in the gut and in the face! It all seems so unfair. Life is hard and full of sorrow sometimes. Gah! But even in this craziness, God somehow constantly turns my heart toward hope. Sweet HOPE. Hope to live fiercely today because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

I've been chewing on Romans 15:13 for a few days now. It somehow seems very appropriate today: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound with hope."

I'm praying that God turns the hearts of Rebecca's family--her husband, her brothers--toward hope. And peace. And one day soon, joy again.

Posted by Rebecca on May 25

I'm so thankful to have known such a vibrant woman. Rebecca and I met in 2003 when I moved to Knoxville. I was on assignment for the News Sentinel to write about Market Square Booksellers, a new bookstore that had opened downtown. She was behind one of the counters that displayed her jewelry. I asked her about them and Rebecca, who was deaf, signed. I signed back and pretty soon, we launched into a conversation and made a lunch date. We became friends.

She eventually married and moved to Washington D.C. She came back to East Tennessee a few weeks ago to be near her family. I'm glad she was surrounded by those she loved when she passed.

Rebecca signs "I love you" this morning.
Photo is courtesy of one of her Facebook friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Alternate universe

I'm definitely living in an alternate universe. This afternoon I spoke with an 18-year-old man with a deep voice named Jack who excitedly told me about his acceptance to his top college of choice in Ohio. This took my breath away. This is the same kid I babysat when I was in college. The same brown-haired, browned eyed toddler who didn't like to wear pants.

Jack was three-and-a-half when we first met and we spent afternoons and evenings together several times a week during his grade school years. I eventually left Brooklyn, NY, and moved south and he continued to grow up. He's now taller than me, actually. Smart kid, too.

I've known all along he would one day graduate high school and go on to college. But that day has come a lot quicker than I imagined. I feel young. I still look young (I think. haha.) But my sweet kid is now officially an adult and I'm super proud of him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'A Snicker of Magic'

This past weekend, I indulged in my first non-academic book in months. My choice? "A Snicker of Magic" written by Natalie Lloyd and published by Scholastic.

It's a whimsical tale of a young word catcher and collector Felicity Juniper Pickle who travels the country with her mom, younger sister and dog Biscuit in search of home. They arrive in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee--a town once rumored to be magic. Felicity hopes to bring that magic back and in the process, set her family free from its wanderings.

The book is quite simply a delicious read. It's full of wacky characters (aka a beautician mechanic) and enough ice cream to inspire you to grab a bowl yourself (which I did. Two times.)

Felicity's joys and aches soon became mine because her experiences have once been mine--and in some instances still are, even as an adult. I found myself reading the book with pen in hand and underlining sentences as they bore witness to the very whispers in my heart. I know your happiness and pain, Felicity!

Released in February, this young adult novel caught the attention of the New York Times. That, my friends, is a big honkin' deal.

The book drives home this point: your words are more important than you know.

At Natalie's book release party in Oneida, Tenn. this spring
'Snicker' was especially enjoyable for me because it's written by my friend.

Natalie and I met 16 years ago in Colorado Springs when we were high school students. She was the winner of a writing contest where two other gals and I were runners up. The organization flew us all to Colorado for a weekend of photo shoots and girl fun. I returned home to Brooklyn, NY, and she to Oneida, TN, and we promised to stay in touch, which we did.

When I moved to Knoxville 11 years ago, Natalie and her family helped me find an apartment. They became my family since I had none in East Tennessee.

We both made a profession out of writing--I went the newspaper journalist route for a while and I'm now in public relations. Natalie went the magazine and columnist route and eventually wrote "Paperdoll," a book for teen girls about true beauty.

'Snicker' is her first novel. Pick up a copy for your children. Heck, pick it up for yourself. It's quite a ride.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Master Lola!

I've been a Volunteer at heart for a while but I now have the cred to make it official.
I became Master Lola this week following the graduate hooding ceremony Thursday at the University of Tennessee. I am now an alumna of the Master of Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program. YAY! In short, I am ready for a life in public service. Cool, huh?!

No job changes on the horizon. I'll continue in my gig in the UT office of media relations. Since I work at a state university, I am already a public employee. The degree will help me to do better what I'm already doing. I'm excited to see how life unfolds from here on out. I'm especially thrilled about all my newfound free time. It's a beautiful thing!

With other grads of the Master of Public Policy and Administration program

My dad and sister Remi traveled from New York City for the main campus ceremony. Their presence was such a huge blessing. Two of my dearest Knoxville friends Caroline and Rachel also were there to cheer me on.

Rachel, Remi, moi, dad and Caroline

The MPPA faculty held a smaller departmental ceremony for the 11 graduates on Friday and the program director personally hooded every one of us, which was super cool. (At the main campus ceremony Thursday, we put on our hoods ourselves. Only the doctoral candidates were hooded by their advisors.)

Professor Joe Jarret, moi and Professor and program director David Folz
An aside: I was totally digging the professors' procession robes and hats I saw at the main campus ceremony and our departmental hooding. They were among the coolest and most colorful I've ever seen. Makes me wish the professors wore them everyday in class. Haha.

One final photo of le graduate:
Downtown Knoxville in the background. I love my city!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Arriving on fumes...

I arrived on fumes but I made it.
At 7:37 p.m. this evening, I submitted my very last graduate school assignment. And then I had a big cry afterward. Now, I'm going to eat a cupcake. IT. IS. FINISHED!!!
This is how I feel right now:

Source: Willy Thuan, Phuket

Monday, April 28, 2014

The end is near!

The end is near! The end is now, y'all. :)
The countdown begins to graduation. T minus 10 days until I'm Lola Alapo, MPPA (Master of Public Policy and Administration).

Of course, I've got to get through today and tomorrow. Tons of assignments to turn in within the next 36 hours (translation: very little sleep). But my co-workers are totally making it worth it. I arrived at work this morning and found this on my door:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The time I burned down a house...

I can now add "(legal) arsonist" to my resume.
I literally burned down a house Saturday. In my defense, a fire department made me do it.

My handiwork
I was in the mountains of Kentucky this weekend as part of my Global Disasters Nursing graduate class, which I'm taking as an elective for my master's degree. The interdisciplinary course is the result of a huge grant the University of Tennessee received to improve the community wellness and disaster preparedness of Clay County, KY. The county is one of the most remote in the state and ranks near the bottom of Kentucky counties on major health indicators. Most of the residents live in hollows and are ill-equipped to deal with a disaster because of poor housing, poverty, terrible infrastructure, limited resources and lack of disaster education.

The community experienced a massive flood last April, the results of which are still evident in unstable foundations, mildewed walls and rotting floors of many homes. Nursing and architecture students and I, a public administration student, did home and health assessments this weekend to gauge the most critical needs of the residents. The data will be analyzed and will provide info to UT and Clay County Emergency Management folks on how to move forward.

So what did all this have to do with me becoming a fire bug? Well, we met up with a fire department to discuss potential partnerships and projects to help them better address the emergency needs of Clay County. We came upon the volunteer fire fighters as they were preparing a condemned house for a controlled burn for training exercises. Turns out per their policy, they're not allowed to set fire to anything--even for training. They typically use a volunteer. Cue, Lola. I promptly offered my services. They suited me up, showed me what to do and boom! (Well, not really a boom. Since it was a controlled burn, the fire chief and I had plenty of time to get out of the house. I gleefully tossed a lit paper napkin onto a pile of wood doused in some gasoline near the second floor and then promptly made my exit.)

No tellin' what you'll get into when you're in Kentucky.

A (legal) fire bug in the making.
dun dun duuuun!!

We had to go before it was fully engulfed. :(
I did it!
More pictures and videos here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

11 big 'uns.

Harold Neal/Flickr
I've now officially lived in Knoxville as long as I lived in my adopted hometown of Brooklyn, NY. It's a strange feeling, really. Yesterday marked my 11-year anniversary in good ol' East Tennessee.

I've always considered New York home especially since I spent my formative years there after my family immigrated from Nigeria. But Knoxville is the place where I've come into adulthood--securing my first (and now, second) real job, buying a home and doing other general grown-up stuff.

I'm one lucky gal to have two places where I equally belong.