Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodnight Vina

Its New Year's Eve, and a former colleague of mine is dying tonight. Perhaps not tonight, maybe tomorrow, but there is little time left. I am so sad for her family. I am sad her life is cut short.

As this decade ends, I picture Vina's beautiful smile and hear her laughter in my head and think about the good that I sometimes don't recognize. Right now, Vina would roll her eyes at my current maudlin state. She'd tell me to lighten up and look forward, and so...

I toast to the new year, the new decade, the, happiness, love, peace, legos, chocolate....what am I missing? Great thanks to all my friends and family for this wonderful life and the chance to keep trying to make it better. Goodnight Vina. And goodbye.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I made it

I made it through the year. I think it was harder on BZ and the kids than on me. Perhaps I don't fully feel it yet. I do feel a sort of elation if that counts. It feels good to be home.

Yesterday, I got dressed for my last meeting of the year, got my paperwork, got in the car. I picked up the phone to give my confirmation call and saw that there was a message waiting. My meeting was canceled. I had a semi-phone meeting/holiday chat and was done. All dressed up for a phone call in the car in the driveway. Done. My Central Valley year is over.

I cleared out the Fresno apartment this past week and drove home not being able to look out the back window. I exchanged cookies with the cool retired guy I rent from. I got a little sad. This whole month has been about goodbyes with my clients. It's nice to know I have been valued, appreciated, needed. This is the part that's hard to leave.

But look what's here!

Max learning how to blow a bubble:

More 5K races in pink boas:

Happy Holidays, it's good to be home!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Yes, I love the food and the chaos in the planning...but mainly I love to be with family and friends. And, its a special time for me to stop and be thankful. And this year, I am very thankful. Down on my knees thankful. Although I am not a religious person, I feel prayer might be in order to make sure my thankfulness is heard wherever it needs to be heard.

There are several special people I know and love who are going through such difficult times. Dealing with loss of income, loss of health, loss of love. And although life is far from perfect here in our little tree house, we are so lucky. I am so lucky, blessed really. My family is currently healthy. We are currently earning incomes. We still agree to be married and follow our marriage vows, even though we might skip a paragraph or two from time to time.

This is the first year in a long while that I have felt that, life is really hard. This is the first year of my 7+ year marriage that I understood why people could so easily get divorced. This is not the first year that I have felt so trapped by the need to earn an income, yet this year seemed harder.

I share this to be clear: life is far from perfect but....I am reminded at Thanksgiving of all to be thankful for. I have wonderful family and friends. A roof, with leaks, but a roof all the same, over my head. And love. Wobbly and wonderful love. At least for today. As the 12-Steppers say, "One day at a time."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vacation in Fresno

Jeepers I'm exhausted. BZ went away for the weekend to visit family, and I decided to have an adventure of my own. I picked up the boys after school on Friday, packed up the van and headed out to Fresno. Friday afternoon heading East may not have been the best plan but who knew there would be 4 accidents to navigate? It took a bit longer than expected....

Fresno may not seem like a great vacation spot, but listen, there are lots of activities there for kids. And, I have an apartment to stay in for free. I kinda wanted to show my place to them and it ended up being a really good idea.

My plan for Saturday was to start the day at the zoo, go across the path to playland, then down another path to Storyland. Once done in the big park of activities, go grab lunch and head over to the Amtrak station. A colleague in the area suggested taking the boys on the Amtrak for one stop (30 minute ride) to Hanford. In Hanford, around the corner from the station, is a famous Ice Cream parlor and restaurant. The best laid plans....

So the first part of the day was really fun. The zoo was surprisingly entertaining with tigers, elephants, flamingos and crazy colored frogs and lizards. And hot chocolate, it was cold!!!!!! Storyland was being renovated while we were there so although the price was reduced significantly, it was disappointing since half the displays were inaccessible. Playland had a limited number of rides but...still fun.
Amtrak. I was really excited about this and had already bought our tickets online. How cool, right? Well, trains are noisy...really noisy and loud. And Aiden would have none of it. He screamed and cried which made Max start bawling as well. Before I burst into tears, I dragged both boys back off the train and back into the station. Got a refund, went to Baskin Robbins by car. Good enough. In fact, they had two different rainbow sherbet flavors.

Oka Sushi for dinner and then, I had planned an evening of giggling and playing games...but I was wrecked. I cheated and turned on some kid TV channel with cartoons. Nice easy ending to a ridiculously long and over-planned day.

Sunday, time to head home. Aiden didn't want to leave what he dubbed, "the guest room." And in a way, either did I. I almost never get to spend such concentrated time with these guys. It wasn't easy, I got tired out but, it was mostly really fun.

On the way home, we stopped to play miniature golf at Boomers in Modesto. Also fun. My kids love these places. We then grabbed a fast food lunch (with prize) and finished the rest of the drive. We had a whole afternoon and evening to settle back home. We played Star Wars, Lego something-or-other, ran around the living room, played Wii Fit, jammed in a dinner and bath time...oh and homework, stories....lights out...boy, much more tiring doing this parenting thing alone.

I look forward to a good night's sleep tonight. Knock on...where's the wood?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aiden's Scooby Doo Party

Preparing for a Scooby Doo party can take longer than one might inspect. Especially if one has been drinking the night before. And even though that first drink, a cucumber gimlet, might have tasted like "summer in a glass," it wasn't very helpful.

So at 12:30 am Saturday night/Sunday morning, I thought I would save some time by baking the cake for the next days festivities. This great idea might possibly have been related to my alcohol consumption.

Eek. Some technical difficulties for sure. Yes, I have an electric oven which I hate and cannot control for the life of me. But, I also had a cucumber gimlet and a sake dancing through my wimpy little mama veins. Not incredibly attractive (the cake) and, what you cannot see is the bottom, or the lack of a bottom. The whole bottom of the cake stuck to the pan.

Enter the most incredible invention ever. Sleep. I just hung up my apron and went to bed.

And the next morning, Sunday morning, I remembered the second most incredible invention: Chocolate icing. Lots of chocolate icing. More chocolate icing. And decorations, lots of decorations.

And of course other stuff, like cookies, Scooby snacks, ghost meringues.

Oh right, this is about Aiden, the birthday boy and his loving brother (at least in front of the cameras).
And finally, a party with party games. No one was interested in Pin The Blame on The President, so we played Pin the Bowtie on the Skeleton and Make a Mummy. Special thanks to our volunteer mummies: Gwen, Amy, Jessie and BZ. All good clean fun.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yummy mini meatloaf

I actually cooked something with taste. Meatloaf. No really, delicious. I found the recipe on Epicurious, a new Iphone App. I know, I know...but there it is...rather, here it is:

You can view the complete recipe online at:

Speedy Mini Meat Loaves
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 cup plain unseasoned bread crumbs
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons milk
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, garlic, onion**, salt, thyme, and pepper. Divide the meat mixture among the 12 muffin cups, pressing the meat firmly into the pan.
3. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meat is almost cooked through—the "loaves" will be firm when pressed lightly in the center but not set.
4. While the meat loaves are baking, whisk together the ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce*. After baking for 20 to 25 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Brush the tops of the loaves with the glaze, using it all up, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes more, or until the glaze has thickened and the meat is completely cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes total. Run an offset spatula or butter knife around the edges of the muffin cups and pop out the meat loaves. Serve hot.

The Deen Bros. Take It Easy
August 2009
by Jamie Deen, Bobby Deen and Melissa Clark

*I skipped the glaze for the kids and just had them decorate with ketchup.
**The only change I made was to saute the onions before mixing them into the rest of the ingredients. I did this since BZ is allergic to raw onions, and freaks if he bites into a crunchy onion. It worked, he loved it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coming home

I have been working pretty hard lately. Aside from living in Fresno half of the week, every week, I have been putting in extra hours, extra driving so that I can eventually come home.

This is my marketing month for next year. If I enroll some magic number of new clients, then I won't have to commute as far. This is exciting. So normally, the idea of marketing makes my stomach turn, but this month, I say, "bring it on..."

And it seems to be working. At the end of each day, I feel a little closer to home. My mood is already shifting, and perhaps I should hold off until I know for sure, but I feel pretty confident. And this confidence seems to be attracting more success.

I was home for an extra night this week, and everyone was in such a good mood. Dinner was good, the kids played well together, BZ didn't overcook the steak. I'm telling you, things are going very well. And it feels good in the moment to feel good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mind-games with a 6 year old

Max asked me to picture myself in a room. He asked, "What is behind you and what door do you go through, the entrance or the exit?" He assured me that I could make up anything I wanted.

I answered that there was a big pile of chocolate behind me and I went out the exit since I needed to get away from the temptation/tummy-ache.

He then proceeded to share the results of this scenario at school, he asked lots of kids these same questions. He said that everyone seems to take the exit and almost no one ever went out the entrance. More importantly, he said girls and boys answer the, "what's behind you?" question very differently. Boys all say monsters, light sabers, dragons, etc, while girls all say, and I am not kidding, flowers, fairies, nice things. Sigh.

I am relieved that I said chocolate.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Days off in Abu Dhabi

I had a few unexpected days off. A scheduling misunderstanding. So I became a tourist quite quickly. The following is the new Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the 3rd largest Mosque in the world.

To go inside the mosque, women must be covered in the traditional "abayas" which are the robes, I cannot remember the name of the head scarves...

The reason for the black is so that no one can see through it. In fact, they were quite comfortable and I can see if you were a bedouin in the desert how it would protect you from the blowing sand and wind.

One evening, we went on a desert safari. The first activity was called "dune bashing." Translation: Get in a jeep, hold on tight and let the driver go crazy driving as if it were a roller coaster. Fun for the first 10-15 minutes but then the motion sickness took over. I remained nauseated for the rest of the evening.

I got to meet a camel and then even ride on one.

There was an evening meal followed by shisha. Not so bad. It had a bit of flavor to it, but no head rush, not like cigarettes. In fact, not like much at all.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What I am thankful for

1. Skype. Connecting me to family for free is amazing and wonderful. Here is what I get to see daily:
2. An unexpected day off spent at the Hiltonia Beach Club:

There was a beach as well (at the beach club) but we were warned about jelly fish. I still waded in a bit, it was nice, like a bath. Perhaps some pictures after my next visit.

3. I am really lucky to be working with a great group of trainers. Dang, they make me laugh. Work hard, play hard....lots of adventure here in Abu Dhabi!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just another day in Abu Dhabi

My eyes are burning. Probably from another day of dehydration. An incredible place but I cannot imagine living here. Fascinating cultures to learn about, amazing things to see....but no f-ing way. Construction is everywhere:

This is our work site:

This is the biggest Mosque in the UAE (my photo only captures about 1/2 of it):

This is the Shangri-La Abu Dhabi hotel pool (loveliest I've ever seen):

This the opulant, over the top Emirates Palace Hotel (ceiling painted in gold, yes, real gold):

These fellows, rather, these Sheiks, are pictured EVERYWHERE (I broke rules taking this photo):
Our current itinerary:

Tonight we are off to a Brazilian restaurant, tomorrow a tour of Abu Dhabi, Saturday morning we go to Al Ain for a cultural experience of some sort, and in the evening we go on a desert safari and ride a camel to dinner (OMG). Sunday we go to an Iftar, which is the Ramadan feast that follows the breaking of the fast. Whew. These are the plans so far.

And I thought I was on a business trip.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Under construction

Just so you know, I'm not permitted to share any photos of the hotel construction on the internet. Its all under wraps until the grand opening. The Yas Hotel on Yas Island, is just one small project of many others that spread across a 26 mile drive along the waterfront.

Today I saw a model of the 10 year plan. Its outrageous. Talk about money. And yet, not much is spent on the facilities we are working in, or the lunch we are being served or the transportation that we are taking to and from the work site (picture a small bus with little to no ventilation, no AC and 115 degree weather. Now fill the bus with a bunch of sweaty people. Add motion sickness and stir).

The hotel we are staying in is very comfortable. The biggest snafu so far is that I don't have the right adapter for my hair flattener/straightener/de-frizzer. Do you have any idea how big my hair can get in this heat and humidity? Did I mention 115 degrees. Yup. Hot. Here's the view from my room into the street:
I hear the evening prayer but from where? Its a beautiful sound...and now, the Muslims can break their fast.

During Ramadan, which started two days ago, the Muslims fast, which means, that the display of food or beverage in public places or around Muslims is forbidden during daylight hours. So at our work site, if we are thirsty, we have to go into the kitchen, close the door and discretely drink water. And no smoking or music during this holy period. Not surprisingly, the first few days of Ramadan are the hardest as they have to get used to not eating all day. Even harder is when it falls in the summer and days are longer. Our students are nodding out, midday and can you blame them?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Comfort in knowing

Here is where I will be staying in Abu Dhabi, since the hotel I will be working in is still under construction:
Its the Rotana Hotel. It seems kind of nice. It recently got renovated and its pretty high tech and swank looking. And, in some of the pictures there are women in sleeveless tops, tank tops...hmmmm. Perhaps it is OK on days off, or just within the hotel walls?

All very curious. I feel a bit relieved to know that I am staying at a nice place. I figured I would be, but...its nice just knowing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Abu Dhabi

If you thought the Central Valley was a long commute...try Abu Dhabi. That picture above is where I am heading toward the end of the month, the soon to be opening Yas Hotel on Yas Island. I will report more as I learn more.

By the way, have you seen where the United Arab Emirates is on a map? Its literally on the other side of the planet. No kidding.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


We were gone for a week and it flew by. We drove down last weekend to Carlsbad. Spent two days at Legoland.
Everything is made of Legos which is hard to tell in the photos...but really, a gazillion legos...
Seriously, there is a miniature version of NY (in photo), Washington, DC at the Inauguration, Las Vegas, Fisherman's Wharf, etc.
Legos of all sizes for all sizes....

There was also a 3-D theater, I just love the glasses with the hat, couldn't resist.

This guy was not made of Legos, although, there was a Lego version of him nearby.

A bit of time at Sealife Aquarium, Spent time on the beach. I got in three days worth, not bad. Too bad there are NO pictures of me. It stinks when I am the only one snapping the shots. I have to admit, it would be hard for me to look as excited as BZ with a sand castle.

I got to see some old friends from long ago Dinamation days, really fun.

Lots of fun adventures, even Benihana...
And then we drove the 8+ hours home. A final note, when we hit Livermore, less than an hour from Oakland, we pulled off the freeway to play miniature golf, extending the vacation by just a wee bit. That was fun too.