Aladdin: Get Ready for a (magic carpet) Ride

Serina with her proud little sister, Sophia, after opening night.

Serina with her proud little sister, Sophia, after opening night.

When my oldest daughter started her journey with “Aladdin” earlier this summer, neither of us knew where it might lead. This theater business is hard work. Initially, she swore she would never do it again.

Serina is a rising fifth grader at the Academy for Academics and Arts so it’s no surprise that she’s interested in performing. Up until now, though, horses have been her main obsession, leaving little room or desire for anything else.

But as the Aladdin production, coordinated by the Huntsville Community Chorus Association and directed by Micki Lighthall, took shape, Serina had a serious attitude shift. Two weeks in, she came home dancing and singing songs from the Disney classic. (Now I can’t get Arabian Nights and A Whole New World out of my head.) Sometimes the rehearsals ran late. During “tech-week,” she came home at 10:30, long after her early-bird mom had gone to bed.

Aladdin (Guerin Tidwell) and Jasmine (Eboni Booker) following the matinee on July 18.

Aladdin (Guerin Tidwell) and Jasmine (Eboni Booker) following the matinee on July 18.

By the time opening night rolled around, however, Serina, was hooked on musical theater. So was I. The cast of 80 kids (18 and under, hence Disney Jr.) was phenomenal. They spent their summer vacations working their talented tails off and the payoff was huge. The cast, directors, producers, tech folks, set and costume designers and the countless other volunteers were rewarded with the satisfaction of a job well done, having pulled off a spectacular community production in about eight weeks. The community was rewarded with an hour-long show that showcased some of Madison County’s amazing young talent.

Eboni Booker plays Jasmine. The Sparkman High graduate has a phenomenal voice, which she’ll continue to grow when she starts the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall.

Guerin Tidwell, a student at Bob Jones, delights as Aladdin. Marcus Gladney, a rising junior at Lee High School is smokin’ as Genie. Marcus is a product of AAA and we are proud of him. Be sure to keep an eye out for Jafar and Iago, as well. This villainous pair often stole the show, as did the magic carpet, cleverly played by Ella Jackson, a rising sixth grader at AAA.

Serina with Genie (Marcus Gladney)

Serina with Genie (Marcus Gladney)

You only have three chances left to check out this summer smash. I’m learning what many others have known for years: This community has an amazing pool of talent, showcased on stage and behind the scenes. If you can make it to Randolph School’s Thurber Arts Center, be sure to hit one of the following remaining shows:

  • Friday, July 24, 7pm
  • Saturday, July 25, 3pm
  • Saturday, July 25, 7pm

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids.

I’ve always told Serina God gives us all gifts. Her beautiful voice is one of hers. It is wonderful when your child not only discovers, but embraces, her gift. As a mom, that makes my heart sing.

Posted in Community Theater | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Mother’s Day Farewell

Mormor is headed back to Minnesota.

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Mormor with us in November 2013.

They call ours the sandwich generation and we were a classic example. Only sometimes the bread crumbles and the sandwich falls apart.

In July 2012, my mom, Sigrun Hovland, moved from Minneapolis to Huntsville, AL. It would be perfect! She would share a home with my husband, our two daughters, and me. This would be happily ever after for all concerned.

While she would be close to us and vice versa, we didn’t consider the fact that we uprooted this amazing woman from a community in which she’d been deeply entrenched for nearly 50 years. She had developed a solid network of friends, mostly fellow Norwegian natives who shared her language, customs, Church, political views and coffee addiction.

Celebrating Mormor's birthday, 4/9/15.

Celebrating Mormor’s birthday, 4/9/15.

This Mother’s Day will be her third with us here in Huntsville. It will also be her last. Mormor, as the children call her, heads back to Minnesota on Tuesday. We will miss her terribly, but respect her desire to return to the soil in which she’d so firmly planted her roots when she immigrated to the States in 1964.

It might sound like a great idea to have your mother move in with you. For us, it did, and it was for many reasons. For starters, she and our girls, Serina (freshly 10) and Sophia (just shy of 8), developed a bond that would never have been possible otherwise. She is their last surviving grandparent and they adore her. I know that they are better for having had Mormor here to shape, influence and love them unconditionally.

Easter Sunday 2015, with Mormor at St. Mark's.

Easter Sunday 2015, with Mormor at St. Mark’s.

What we didn’t realize is how isolated she would be. Both David and I work full-time and the girls are in school. She was alone all day. Sure, we have great resources and an active senior community, but it isn’t easy for everyone to start over socially at 78.

The family dynamics can be challenging, as well. Mom struggled when David and I disagreed. As my mother, she would occasionally get mad at my husband on my behalf. (Yes, we all have our issues.) Mom and David also have strong, yet opposing political perspectives. They love each other very much, but just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can or should live with them.

Mom is also worried about her neuropathy, which continues to take an aggressive toll on her health.

She had lived alone since October 2002, when my dad passed away. She likes things certain ways. So do we. Those “ways” don’t always align, a potential source of tension in any living arrangement. Multi-generational living works in many other cultures. I’m sure it has also worked for other families in the U.S. It just didn’t work for us.

A few months ago, Mom told me she’d been reading the serenity prayer:

God grant me the
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

It’s been my personal go-to prayer for years so I was happy to hear she’d been meditating on the message. Even so, I was surprised when she said God granted her the courage to change the things she could. She was moving back to Minnesota.

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Merry Christmas 2014 – with the girls and Zoey.

My immediate reaction was that I had failed her. I hadn’t made it work. Thanks to good friends and a loving God, however, I finally realized it wasn’t about me. It is about my mother.

At age 81, she has demonstrated the depth of her courage by embarking on this new journey. Next week, Mom will move into a senior living community, Augustana Care, in South Minneapolis. She will be near her friends, her Church, my brother, Larry, and her favorite stores, Ingebretsen’s and the Wedge.

The Minneapolis community is lucky to get this incredible woman back. We were beyond lucky to have her here for as long as we did. God blessed my children with a deep and special relationship with their maternal grandmother. Mom says God blessed her during this “season,” as well.

We are going to Minnesota in August for my niece, Rachel’s, wedding. We’ll see Mormor then in her new digs, which I know will fit her beautifully.

In the meantime, we will shed a few tears.

Mom, we love you and we will miss you more than you know, but wish you all the best in your next adventure. Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted in Faith, Family, Mother's Day, multi-generational living, Southern living | 1 Comment

Fun and Flurries: Snowmageddon 2015

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This year, winter in Huntsville, Alabama has been rather uneventful. Then came Feb. 25 and 8.1″ of snow, the second snowiest in the city’s history, according to the National Weather Service. While the roadways were deserted, Huntsville neighborhoods were buzzing with wintry activity. Residents came out in full force, dressed as appropriately as possible, to celebrate. As a Minnesota native, even I can appreciate the occasional snowfall, knowing it will be gone within a matter of days.

Our daughters, Serina and Sophia, were among the kids who embraced the flurries. Along with their friend, Abagail, they ran around in the snow as it continued to fall Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, they discovered the drifts and the dance was on.

I managed my usual 5-mile walk-run along the Greenway with my dog. That’s my kind of fun. Zoey’s, too. Upon my return, it was all about the kids.

We eventually tried building a snowman, but by then the temps had risen into the upper 30s and the snow was damp and heavy. Even so, Abagail and Serina persevered, eventually completing their “snowgirl,” Lucy. It was a far cry from the giant snowman someone built around the corner, but the girls were perfectly happy with their creation. The girls also welcomed our young neighbor, William, into the snowy mix. Looking quite dapper in his blue snowsuit, this sweet guy quickly captured their hearts, especially Serina’s.

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Playing in the snow is great exercise so after a good hour or two, we’d had enough. It was time to throw our clothes in the dryer, eat chicken noodle soup and seal the deal with a good cup of hot chocolate.

After about 24 hours, most of the sensational snow had already turned to slush. Next week, temps in Huntsville are expected to hit 60. By then, Snowmageddon 2015 will be a distant memory, captured in a few photos that we’ll admire while sitting on the back deck in our shorts and t-shirts. Just the way we like it.

Posted in Ala., Family, Running, Southern living | 2 Comments

Eggland’s Best ‘Your Best Recipe’ contest winners announced

And the winner is…

The Southwestern Chorizo Tostada Bites won in the overall and appetizer categories.

The Southwestern Chorizo Tostada Bites won in the overall and appetizer categories.

Congratulations to Lidia Haddadian! She takes the cake — and scored $11,000 — for the recipe she submitted in the Eggland’s Best “Your Best Recipe” contest.

Haladdian’s culinary creation, Southwestern Chorizo Tostada Bites, helped her clinch $10,000 as the overall winner, plus $1,000 as best recipe in the appetizer category. The competition was not just fierce, it was delicious.

Here is a rundown of all the winners:

  • Grand Prize & Appetizer Lidia Haddadian — Southwestern Chorizo Tostada Bites
  • Breakfast Patricia Powell — Poached Eggs with Serrano Ham and Garlic Braised Asparagus
  • Main Course Pamela Lloyd — Sunshine Potatoes
  • Dessert Julie Merriman — Flourless Chocolate S’mores Cake
  • Fan Favorite Najwa Fakhouri — Lamb and Tomato Saute’
  • Kid Friendly Michele Kusma — Dutch Apple & Honey Noodle Kugel

Flourless Chocolate S'mores CakeEvery category winner received a $1,000 prize for his or her recipe. But really, we can all be winners by making these culinary creations at home. Click here to access all the winning recipes, along with complete nutrition information. (The rich, decadent Flourless Chocolate S’mores Cake is first on my list!)

Everyone knows Eggland’s Best does eggs better than anyone else, but the NJ-based company also does some pretty awesome contests. This is the second time they’ve done the “Your Best Recipe” contest, which was flooded with more than 3,000 entries from all over the country.

Last year, I was the winner in EB’s first “CEO” contest and proudly bear the title of “Chief Egg Officer.” When my “reign” ends (as my husband calls it), I have to admit, I’ll have a tough time giving it up.

For Lidia and the others, the excitement is just beginning. Congratulations to all the winners. You earned it!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Horse Crazy: The adventures of polocrosse

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Serina, r, Sophia, center, and their friend, Kylara, enjoyed petting the horses at TVPC Tournament.

My oldest daughter is horse crazy. Serina, 9, rides at River Pine Farm every week, learning how to properly tack, untack, walk, canter and trot. But she’s also a horse “reader,” mentally consuming every horse-related book, fiction or nonfiction, she can get her hands on.

Sophia, 7, is following in her sister’s footsteps, admiring these amazing animals that are strong, yet graceful and have personalities as unique as humans.DSC_9388 So when my friends, Barb Fisk and Marianne Kearns, told me about the Tennessee Valley Polocrosse Club tournament scheduled this past weekend in Harvest, my husband, David, and I knew our family had to attend.

This “Fall Finale” gave us an opportunity to check out a sport none of us had ever seen, while giving our girls the opportunity to meet a lot of their favorite animals.

DSC_9369Polocrosse is best described as lacrosse on horses. When the more seasoned players take to the field, it’s suspenseful and fast-paced, and clearly requires serious skill and extensive training. The horses and the players move together, seamlessly, trying to catch the ball, pass the ball, scoop up the ball or shoot it into the goal.

DSC_9436The horses’ manes are typically shaved and the tails are plaited and/or folded over so they don’t get tangled during the matches. According to Polocrosse International, the sport was invented by Mr & Mrs Edward Hirst from Sydney, Australia. After visiting England, where they witnessed an indoor horse exercise used to help young riders take better charge of their horses, they created the exciting horse sport now played on fields across the country and around the globe.

On Saturday, we learned that a team consists of six players, divided into two sections of three who play alternate chukkas of a maximum of eight minutes each. Six or eight chukkas comprise a full match.

20141108_145827 (1)We not only watched the matches, but let the girls meet the horses that lived on the beautiful farm. They made many new friends. A horse-lover myself, so did I. We met many of the riders, as well, who hailed from different parts of the U.S., including one young man from our native Minnesota. There were tournaments for all ages — some as young as 7.

As we headed home, I asked Serina and Sophia if this was something they’d like to try. Ultimately, both want to stick to traditional riding and work toward their goals of becoming competitive jumpers. But both said they would sure like to watch again. More than anything, they want to make a return visit to the farm — and the beautiful horses living there.

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Sophia, ready to ride at River Pine.

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Serina, in her element at River Pine.

Posted in Horses, Polocrosse | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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