I’ll be the judge of that

And that, and that, and that…

Last week, I mentioned how much I love my full-time job as a professional fundraiser
at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

This week, I got to dabble in my “other” position: Eggland’s Best CEO (Chief Egg Officer). While it’s mostly an honorary title that I won in 2013 by producing a video for the EB CEO contest, the job comes with a few hard-core responsibilities.

For instance, I was recently invited to participate in the 2014 Eggland’s BestYour Best Recipe.”  We were on hand as the 28 recipes were judged.

We had a blast. Not only did I get to hang out some really cool chicks, we were able to sample the 28 eggstraordinary dishes that made it into this third judging tier.

There were 5 finalists in four main categories: breakfast, appetizer, main course and, my favorite, dessert. There were also 10 “kid friendly” recipes, some of which had made it as finalists in another category.


Food stylist Lisa Feeney and her assistant, Kris Ruggeri, spent hours whipping up all 28 recipes in Feeney’s kitchen.

The judging took place in the lovely Morristown home of food stylist Lisa Feeney, where she and her assistant, Kris Ruggeri, had slaved away for hours by the time judging began at 9 a.m. Lisa and Kris continued to crack, chop, grind, mix, blend, boil, poach, simmer and bake until the very last dish was tasted—and tested—at 6 p.m. Throughout the day, professional food photographers snapped away at these edible works of art. Eggland’s Best eggs stole the show, of course. Feeney and Ruggeri went through about 15 dozen in all.

Judges painstakingly scored each dish, judging the four primary categories on taste, creativity and visual appeal. (Kid-friendly recipes were judged on ease of preparation, how involved kids could be and taste.) The scoring, like baking itself, is a science. All the data will be tabulated to determine the winner.

20140922_102820Since not even the finalists know who they are, I’m not allowed to show any pictures of the food. You’ll just have to wait until October 6, when all finalists will be announced on the Eggland’s Best website. The category winners and the grand prize winner will be announced in November. There is a chance the overall winner will, like Donna, also earn the top prize in his or her category.

This is serious prize money: $1,000 for each category winner and the kid-friendly recipe.

I got to hang out with my sister, niece and nephew along the way.

I got to hang out with my sister, niece and nephew along the way.

The overall champ gets a whopping $10,000 and will rule the roost as top chef! There will also be a fan favorite this year, where Eggland’s Best fans will be able to vote for their top recipe. That winner also scores $1K.

Frosting on the whole EB cake: I also got to spend some time with my sister, Heidi Hovland, her son, Riordan, 8, and daughter, Lena, 11. They conveniently live 15 miles from the voting site.

I’m back in Huntsville now, but I plan on reliving the judging memories by making some of those great recipes. Not sure which one will win, but I’ll be sure to whip it up. You can, too. Eggland’s Best will publish all 28 recipes in a PDF cookbook that will be available on the company’s website.

The way I see it, we’re all winners!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fundraising: “That’s not a fun job”

On the way to school Wednesday morning, one of the radio hosts talked about cancer.

Sophia with Ms. VB on the first day of kindergarten, fall 2012.

Sophia with Ms. VB on the first day of kindergarten, fall 2012.

“Ms. V.B. had cancer,” said Sophia, 7, referring to Tracy Van Buren, her joyful, spirited kindergarten teacher who succumbed to cancer in March 2014. She was 54.

“Yes,” I said. “Cancer killed her.”

The girls thought that was a horrible thing to say.

“It’s the truth,” I told them. “A horrible truth. Cancer is a horrible disease.”

But there is a bright side.

I reminded them that I work at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, where really smart scientists are doing genetic research on different kinds of cancer: brain, breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and kidney. I firmly believe that, slowly but surely, their continuing efforts are bringing the world closer to a cure.

“But you’re not a scientist,” said Serina, 9.

HudsonAlpha institute 1

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit organization committed to improving human health and quality of life through genomic research, educational outreach and economic development.

No, I’m not. My girls never really wanted to know what I did at HudsonAlpa. I wasn’t a scientist so that somehow made me less cool than my lab-coated colleagues. But today, they were curious about my role.

“What do you do again?” asked Sophia.

“I ask people for money,” I told them frankly. “I’m a fundraiser.”

“That doesn’t sound like a fun job,” said Serina.

“It can be fun,” I said. “I work with people who really want to help those who have cancer, or another disease, and don’t know what to do. They feel helpless. I give them an opportunity to support the research by donating, or giving money, to the cause. That means lots of people get to be a part of it, even if they aren’t scientists.”

That pacified them for the moment and they moved on to the normal morning commute activity of counting cars with Alabama stickers versus those with Auburn ones. In my head, however, I was stuck in the conversation about my career.

As a kid, I never aspired to be a professional fundraiser. I never even knew such a career existed. My aspiration was to work in TV news and I did that for about 10 years. After that, I landed a job at the local YMCA as the marketing director. A few months into that job, my CEO added fundraising to my job description. Seriously? Seriously.

Hence, my career in fundraising was born.

I want my children — and others — to know that there is fun in fundraising.  There is pressure and there are challenges, the greatest of which is a tough economy. But I have yet to hear about anything close to a “cakewalk career.”

The pros in fundraising, however, far outweigh the cons, especially when you are raising funds for a place like HudsonAlpha, a Huntsville-based nonprofit organization committed to improving human health and quality of life through genomic research, educational outreach and economic development.

In fundraising, my team members and I meet amazing people and develop solid relationships, many of which cross the line from professional to personal. Donors often become friends. And it is really fun when you match a generous philanthropist to the perfect giving opportunity.

I earned a BA in English at the College of St. Benedict with a minor in communications. I thought labs in my science courses were optional (they weren’t), and I let the frogs out in 9th grade biology (not exactly a stellar science student).

Even so, through this unusual field of fundraising, I am able to be a part of the remarkable science that is, day by day and base pair by base pair, hammering away at some of life’s biggest health problems: cancer, major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, heart disease, ALS, Parkinson’s, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

I may not be scientifically savvy, nor do I fully understand the process of genomic sequencing, but I get the big picture: As a fundraiser, I am able to connect people of all economic abilities to the exciting work underway at HudsonAlpha. As co-founder Jim Hudson, an incredible visionary and serial entrepreneur, once said, “You don’t have to be a scientist to make a difference in human health.”

That may be a simple revelation to some. To others, including me, it is a profound statement that makes me realize I have a pretty important job, even as a non-scientist.

If you are interested in learning more about HudsonAlpha or wish to support its potentially groundbreaking efforts, please click here or email me at kpetersen@hudsonalpha.org. I would love to hear from you. We might even have some fun!

Posted in Ala., Biotechnology, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Climb to Preikestolen

DSCF3546Spiritually, I believe God is always close.

Geographically, I believe there are locations, wonders of the world, in which He grants us all even greater access to His majesty and mystery.

Preikestolen is one of those places.

My sister, Heidi, our friend, Chris Carey, and I made the trek up to Prekestolen, or the Pulpit, on Friday. From the side, it looks like a huge pulpit towering some 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) over the beautiful Lysefjord. The breathtaking attraction is a quick bus and ferry ride from downtown Stavanger.

This was my second trip up Preikestolen. I’d gone before with my entire family (we miss you Larry, Denise, Rachel and Christopher!) when we traveled to Norway in 2003 to bury my father’s ashes in his hometown of Egersund. But I didn’t remember it being quite so steep, especially at the beginning.

Christine Carey (c), my sister, Heidi (r) and I at the top of Prekestolen.

Christine Carey (c), my sister, Heidi (r) and I pose at the top of Prekestolen.

It may not be Mount Everest, but for those of us who aren’t used to tackling rugged, steep terrain, it might as well be.

I actually wondered if I’d be able to make it. Thankfully, I got through the first 10 minutes, which were definitely the most difficult.

It had been a few weeks since I’d had a really good workout and I was suddenly charged with the challenge of narrow, sharp “staircases” consisting of worn, weathered rocks. The scenery also inspired me, with the view becoming increasingly beautiful the higher I got.

There were slick spots and frightening drops down, if you dared to look. There were young children and older adults; some walked gingerly and cautiously while others shot ahead ambitiously and even aggressively. There were guard rails, but only here and there.

After an hour and 35 minutes, we reached the top of Preikestolen. Heidi, Chris and I reveled in our achievement. And our prize: a panoramic view that not even the most advanced camera could adequately capture. We, along with hundreds of other visitors, marveled at the fjord below and the mountains that stretched into the distance, framing nature’s portrait perfectly.

Some hikers, including children, sat at the edge, their legs dangling over the water 600 meters below. The thought of getting that close made me shudder and I was glad our children stayed in town with their dads and Mormor. We posed for pictures, a conservative two feet from the wide open cliff.

prekestolen fjordAfter snapping pictures and soaking in the scenery, we began our descent. I arrived at a plateau and realized I hadn’t taken time to fully thank God for the glorious gift I’d just received through the Prekestolen experience. I sat down on a rock near another overlook, more deeply absorbing the sights, not just with my eyes, but with my spirit. The moment filled me with strength, peace, serenity and joy.

I continued my descent, thinking of the running world’s saying, “Never waste a downhill.”

On this hike, however, I learned not to waste the uphill, either. After all, it was the uphill that led me to the Pulpit, one of the most magnificent places on earth, where God seemed to paint his own amazing grace into each stroke of the glistening fjord, the towering mountains and the sky that seems just within your reach.




Posted in Health, Norway, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

God as my travel agent

Norway 2014
We made it to Norway! But only by the grace of God, the ultimate travel agent.

cousins 2014

Heidi (r) and me (l), flanking our cousins Mette, Kjetil and Eirild.

This was a highly anticipated trip, not just for David, our daughters (Serina, 9, and Sophia, 7), and me, but also for my sister, her family, and our mother, AKA “Mormor,” for whom this entire “birthday celebration” trip was planned.

The Debacle
Our Iceland Air flight was scheduled to leave Dulles at 8:40 p.m. July 12th, getting us to Oslo around noon July 13. I had scheduled a flight from Huntsville to Dulles, getting the four of us to DC via Atlanta on Delta by 5:30 p.m. My mom was on a U.S. Air flight, set to arrive at Dulles around the same time.

Or so I thought.

I’m a terrible travel agent. Factor in the ADD and I have no business planning big trips, especially ones involving other travelers.

We checked my mom in first at the Huntsville airport. Tried to, anyway. “You were on the 10 a.m. flight. The later flight was canceled,” the U.S. Air rep told my mom. “Sorry. Everything else is full.”

Dread started creeping into my gut as I vaguely remembered a conversation about her changed flight. David, the girls and I were on a Delta flight so I headed over to that counter, handing the agent our Travelocity flight info. After a minute, the representative said, “You’re scheduled for a flight on July 26, not today.”

Suddenly, a deluge of dread filled my spirit.

girls with second cousins

Girls with second cousins they met for the first time.

I had scheduled the flight to Dulles for the 26th instead of the 12th, with the return flight to Huntsville correctly scheduled on Sunday, July 27. I had been overwhelmed by the scheduling assignments and failed miserably.

“We are on an 8:40 p.m. Iceland Air flight from Dulles to Norway. Is there another way to get us to D.C. on time?” I pleaded.

She scrambled, her fingers attacking the computer keys like the Williams sisters would a tennis ball, eventually sighing, “I’m sorry. I can get you there at midnight. That’s the best I can do.”

What about Atlanta, Birmingham or Nashville?


At this point, I’m bawling openly. I look over at my mom sitting patiently and peacefully in the airport-issued wheelchair at the U.S. Airways counter. The children are sprawled out on the floor, quietly coloring.

I call Iceland Air, explaining the “situation.”

It would cost $3,500 to put all five of us on a flight the next day. A costly mistake on my part; one I could ill afford.

Full raccoon eyes now. The agent apologized. It was our only option. Poor scheduling is not covered in Iceland Air’s flight change policy.

I prayed, asking God to help me out of another mess. The good Lord had bailed me out many times before. Would He pull another miracle here? If not for me, for the girls and my mom, to whom I eventually explained the expensive option.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s only money.” This from a retired 80-year-old woman on a fixed income.

The Solution
We were waiting for the return call from Iceland Air’s agent when a flurry of energy burst out of the Delta counter. “We might get you there through Dallas. Hurry. Get your luggage over to the American Airlines ticket counter.”

It was leaving in 30 minutes. We would go through Dallas, arriving in Dulles in time to catch the Iceland Air flight. The U.S. Air agent, aptly named Mr. Jewell, jumped on his computer, managing to get mom on the same AA flight.

Somehow we got in our seats and took off with American Airlines, arriving safely in Dallas.

The view from Kjetil’s home in Sande.

The Silver Lining
When we got on our flight from Dallas to Dulles, my mom and I were seated next to each other. Reflecting on the situation, she said, “I wasn’t worried. I was praying.”

I had prayed, too, I told her.

Then I realized something else. In our original plan, Mom was on her own on the flights to Dulles. Turns out she had been dreading the solitary travel from Huntsville to Dulles. Her neuromuscular disease has progressed, greatly compromising her mobility.

“This is the silver lining,” I told her. “This is way better than our original itinerary. God is a much better travel agent than I am.”

All along, God was in charge of the entire situation. Isn’t He always? He worked through the travel agents to create a scenario that was better than the one we created for ourselves.

How often do you see teams from three different airlines working collaboratively to correct a scheduling error for which the customer alone was responsible?

Thank you, God
Thanks be to God. I believe in miracles — on land and in air. Of course, I’m still holding out for one more. There’s the case of the missing suitcase — my missing suitcase. Stay tuned…


Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rolling down the (Flint) River

When you leave the office, leave the office
You work hard Monday through Friday. If you’re like me, you often forget to leave the daily grind at the office and focus entirely on family when the weekend arrives. Fortunately, I did a great job of doing just that over the long 4th of July holiday.


David, Serina, Sophia and I posed for a picture outside of the NACK rental facility before “rolling down the river.”

How? In part, by rolling down the river. What a wonderful way to spend a chunk of non-working time!

Rentals for your paddling pleasure
David and I canoed down the Flint River once before, but it’s been years – certainly pre-children. We somehow forgot about North Alabama Canoe & Kayak, a rental shop and shuttle service on Moontown Road in Madison County.

The girls wouldn’t fit in one of NACK’s smaller canoes along with David and me, so one of the guys suggested that Serina, 9, canoe with Daddy and Sophia, 7, and I try the tandem kayak.

The water levels were decent. For amateurs (although growing up in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” my family and I were frequent users of our 17′ aluminum canoe), we did pretty well. Even though David and Serina’s canoe capsized within the first 30 minutes. (Subsequently, our bag of towels and clothes was drenched; next time we’ll keep the towels and clothes in the car unless we have a waterproof bag.)

20140705_171613Finding friends on the Flint
That capsizing incident was our first experience with the good Samaritans of the Flint (we met several along the way). Other boaters stopped, helping David flip the boat and get the water out so he and Serina could continue rolling down the river.

20140705_154125While Sophia and I had a few close calls and rammed into branches and banks here and there, we never flipped. Thank goodness. After all, our cell phones were in a dry-box in our kayak (for picture-taking purposes only!).

When we got stuck a few times in shallow waters, a Flint River friend was always nearby to set us free.

This was a trip of camaraderie, family togetherness, team-building and appreciation. It was an adventure we took as a family, but we met delightfully diverse groups of other outdoor enthusiasts along the way. Additionally, with two different boats, David and I had the opportunity to give the girls rare, yet highly coveted individualized attention.

Nature at its finest
As far as appreciation, there is something magical about being in the heart of nature. The Flint runs south from Tennessee through Madison County, eventually connecting with the Tennessee River. It was beautiful and peaceful. There were moments when we just drifted, no one saying a word.  We soaked in the sights and sounds of our surroundings. It was heavenly as we enjoyed glimpses of God’s grace and gifts.

There were moments when we felt as if we were the only river-riders on the entire waterway. Then we’d come around a pseudo-sharp curve, and hear laughter from a group of kayakers and canoeists ahead.

By the end of our nearly three-hour tour, our arms were tired, but our hearts were full and our spirits invigorated. We 20140705_174800will definitely roll down the river again — no email, spread sheets or Word documents allowed.

Want to roll down the river?
If you’re interested in sharing a similar experience with your family, visit NACK’s website or give them a call at 256-529-0357. It’s pretty reasonable: $35 per adult per canoe or tandem kayak and $10 per kid. Next time we’ll go earlier and pack a picnic, bring a cooler and leave our towels in the car.

Posted in Family, Health, Southern living, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uphill — off the bat

ALS 4968593033_nSeriously?

My third 5K of the year was my worst to date. The first stretch was uphill. That about did me in right off the bat. Oh, the cramps!

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed participating in the second annual David McKannan Memorial Run. The ALS Association, Alabama Chapter did a great job coordinating this event and the volunteers were fantastic. The run is in memory of a beloved Huntsville native whose life was cut drastically short by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as  Lou Gehrig’s disease. The 5k raises money to advance research of this crippling and fatal disease.

But I was disappointed in my performance.

I am a creature of habit and am only accustomed to the flat route that I run regularly. The Huntsville Greenway has an awesome path and I’ve made friends with the creek’s resident blue heron, along with fellow Greenway runners. Unfortunately, I haven’t challenged myself with any inclines.

A couple of years ago, I managed to master the uphill run to my home that completed my route. But when I started running again this year, I made sure my day’s distance was complete before I started the hill so I could walk the final stretch.

Guess I’ve got to start heading for the hills. I finished the David McKannan run in about 34 minutes. I did 32 at a race February; 33 in April. I am definitely moving in the wrong direction as far as my race times.

But I take to heart what  Jeff Gronberg, CEO of presenting sponsor, deciBEL Research, said before the race — something about us all focusing on PR. Not a personal record, but personal responsibility. What a great perspective, whether it is for ALS or another cause.

I’ll take my PR for supporting ALS research through the David McKannan Memorial Run.  I’m also thrilled for the opportunity to work at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, where ALS is among numerous research areas.

Sure, it’s great seeing your hard work pay off with a PR regarding time. But hey, if you don’t get that PR, take comfort that your other “PR” is making a big difference in the long run.

Look at it that way and we’re all winners!

Posted in Health, Running | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The sandwich generation’s Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the fabulous moms out there.

I used to have to call my mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and thank her for her awesomeness.

20140511_154920Now she lives with us, having moved down to Huntsville from Minneapolis nearly two years ago. My dad passed away in 2002 and a neuromuscular disease has since taken a toll on Mom’s health. She was capable of living on her own, but not quite comfortable with it, hence the move to Alabama.

As a result, my husband and I are part of the sandwich generation, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” We are typically in our 30s and 4os and we are a growing group.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. Sound stressful? It can be, especially when it comes to child-rearing practices and politics, depending on where parent and spouse sit on this issue. 

But more than anything, it is a rewarding experience for not only mother and daughter, but son-in-law (I think!) and grandchildren. I never really knew my grandparents. Two died before I was born, one when I was a toddler and my last, when I was 8 years old.

It’s amazing to see our daughters, Serina and Sophia, interact with my mom on a daily basis. When the girls draw family pictures, “Mormor” is as much a part of the portrait as mommy and daddy.

Mom is still sharp, still drives and gets along really well with the help of a walker. At 80, she’s slowed down. Heck, haven’t we all? But she is beyond helpful, preparing dinners during our busy workweek and folding mountains of laundry. Plus, she is my biggest cheerleader.

The term sandwich generation was just added to the dictionary in 2006, but there is nothing new about multi-generational living. It’s trended before in the U.S., typically during economic downturns, and it’s a way of life in other parts of the world, including India and Asia.

It may be a novelty for us, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saying Happy Mother’s Day has never been easier — I don’t even have to pick up the phone. I just hope she knows how much I appreciate her every day of the year! Hold on, I think I’ll go tell her.

Posted in Family | Tagged , , | Leave a comment