Tuesday, December 29, 2009


This past weekend I went up to Chicago to visit Mom-in-law and Jason's sisters, Rachel and Leah to celebrate Christmas. Hands down funnest weekend ever. Thursday night we caught a movie...The Blind Side...and Mom and I checked into our hotel. So apparently if you reserve a hotel room online and you tell them I would like two double beds with a nice view, the hotel will give you one queen bed...

But at least the view was nice.

Luckily they did have roll away beds available...and I may have been a little sneaky and taken the queen bed for myself. We also didn't know at the time, but discovered very quickly upon arriving, that there was some sort of conference for the Muslim community at our hotel. The place was packed! We stood in line for at least ten minutes just to get on the elevator to get to our rooms. Insanity.

We figured out it was some sort of education conference, but that's as far as we got. Which totally explained all of the teenagers, toddlers, and babies roaming the halls and throwing crayons, cups, and balloons in the water feature. But regardless of the minor inconvienence of a really crowded hotel, we had a fabulous experience there. I actually spoiled myself just a bit and the first night got room service. Mom and Rachel were out picking up Leah at the airport, and I didn't feel like fighting the crowds to eat at a restaurant downstairs. So I ordered a $25 hamburger. It was the best hamburger I've had in a long time. And then as I was putting the tray outside my room and the door happened to shut behind me. No shoes, no phone, no room key with me. I just stood and stared at the closed door for awhile wondering what to do next. Luckily there was a house phone close by and security was very understanding. It was just a little embarrassing.
Christmas day was homemade dinner and presents!
Cornbread stuffing with chicken, green bean casserole, yams, and cranberry sauce...Yum! Very infrequently these days do I get home cooked meals, I was very happy.
When it was time to open presents Mom had us all close our eyes and then dropped something into our laps. It was very furry and I was very nervous to open my eyes.

Maw Maw passed down two real fur wraps to Rachel and I. Leah being the anti-fur, California dweller that she is got a beautiful ring - not fur. But Rachel and I had to strike sexy poses of course. We also all got cards stuffed with money thanks to Mom and Maw Maw and Paw Paw. Leah was very happy...

So was Rachel...
Leah got Rachel and I really cool wrap skirts from sunny Cali. Maybe not so appropriate in the below freezing Chicago weather...but we just had to strike sexy poses in them anyway.
The natural progression of course would be to combine the furs with the wrap skirts...
We were having a lot of fun...A LOT of fun. There may or may not have been a glass or two of wine involved at this point.
But Rachel and I weren't the only ones getting presents. All the kids chipped in money and got Mom a digital photo frame. Rachel knowing Mom's aversion to all things technological had already loaded on a bunch of pictures...probably for the best.
Rachel's two adorable doggies were forced to stay on their little beds the whole time becuase Rachel is a big meanie.
They were really cute...and didn't really stay on their beds anyway. I got everyone a random sampling of some of my favorite stuff, smelly stuff, cute sockies, Bert's Bees chapstick, candles.
There were the coolest fuzzy slippers ever...I had to model those too of course...

Or maybe I'm just a ham for the camera. There was a vibrating neck pillow...
And there was a package that Jason had wrapped about a year ago that I thought was for Leah but wasn't really sure. So it was a surprise for everyone!
That night we all went to see Avatar in 3D at the Imax at Navy Pier. It was amazing. If you suspend belief enough to be ok with the fact that they're trying to kill the humans it was fantastic. The 3D plus the Imax was a little intense though. Rachel ended up pretty motion sick, and I had to keep taking my 3D glasses off to give my eyes and equilibrium a rest. But the special effects were beyond words, it was really an amazing movie. By the time we got back to our hotel that night they had finally found mom and I a room with two beds.
The view from the room wasn't quite as nice, but we both had beds to sleep in. And the bathroom was nice a big for mom and I to spread all of our Clinique products out.
Saturday was the day for shopping!!!! Mom was beyond happy because it was snowing just for her...she was the ONLY person in the entire city who was happy to see it snowing.
Watch out for falling ice. We shopped our little hearts out at Water Tower Place. At some point it became a really good idea to find a Puma store...because I love Puma...and the weekend was all about spoiling, pampering, and doing what we wanted. Some nice Chicago stranger that mom had no qualms about talking to pointed us in one direction. We then wandered aimlessly up and down the streets of downtown Chicago looking for the store. Some other nice Chicago stranger that mom had no qualms about talking to pointed us in another direction at which point we promptly hailed a taxi. The cabbie knew about a brand new Puma store that had opened up not two weeks ago. Yes please! Lo and behold on the same block was the Chicago theater that we needed to head to after shopping at the Puma store. Why did we need to head to the Chicago theater you ask?
To watch Cirque Du Soleil of course. Which was fabulous. We had floor seats about ten rows back.
Sorry my high ISO gets really grainy...but this is the stage from our seats. We were really close.
And it was about at this point that they nice security guard kindly told me no pictures allowed. At any rate the show was wonderful, the acrobatics unbelievable, and the skinny, long haired guy in a trench coat really, really scary. Afterwards we all hopped into Rachel's car to head back to the hotel. So this is what happens when you try to pile four women and a million shopping bags into a small Kia...

Why am I holding a head rest...I don't know...but there was no where else to put it.
Sunday it was time for me to head home. But before I could do that there was one more thing we had to do. That's right people...pole dancing lessons. You thought I was joking? I was so not joking. Rachel's been attending an exercise class for quite some time now, and it just happens to involve a pole and/or sexy type exercise moves. So you walk into a big room filled with poles...no mirrors, and the windows are blacked out. You turn the lights down low and the music on high. It turned out to be a really intense workout...my abs are still sore. The teacher taught us one pole trick...and basically I learned to stick with my day job. Wow I took a pole dancing lesson...unreal.
The weekend was fabulous, it was great to spend time with Mom, Rachel, and Leah. Despite forgetting wallets, spilling water, talking with strangers, and getting lost a lot, those are the coolest ladies I've ever met. And I shall leave you all with one final picture. By far the all time coolest present I've ever received. I shall proudly display it from this day forward!

New Moon puzzle ball! (It was totally supposed to be a gag gift from mom. The intention was to return it and buy something you really want. What did I really want? To put together a New Moon puzzle ball, that's what I really wanted)
Happy New Year all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas with Jason

Jason did something very unique and creative this year in an effort to help me feel like we were celebrating the holidays together. He had all the presents he bought for me shipped to my friend Amanda so that she could wrap them...and then I could unwrap them. As an added bonus Jason included little notes for each present so I could read them as I unwrapped. It's probably one of the very sweetest things he's ever done...and he came up with the idea all on his own. I managed not to cry while reading the notes...but not by much. I think it was the best I could have hoped for considering the circumstance.

The presents actually had a theme to them. Everything he bought represented something from our marriage. The first gift was a DVD of the movie we saw on our very first date...

The Ladykillers. I would not suggest this movie for a first date. Or any date. Or to ever be viewed again. It wasn't very good. And Jason apologized profusely. Luckily the second date turned out much better, Jason took me to see Phantom of the Opera. So for my second Christmas present Jason got me the book the musical was based off of. I also got a season of the Simpson...because he always gets me a season of the Simpsons...and because while in Chicago I used to watch it pretty much three times a day every day. I was very bummed when I moved to Cincy and realized they only play it once a day here. I was very excited at any rate for another season to add to my collection

That's my excited face. I got some cool, vintage, fifties style salt & pepper shakers to represent our cool fifties diner style wedding reception.

That's me going, 'what in the world are these things!' My second favorite gift was a crochet book of cute little animals. Jason knows I love to crochet and I love cute things. I've determined everyone is getting a cute, crocheted something next Christmas. This is my, 'this is cutest book ever' face

But my all time favorite gift that Jason got me this year was the Office Dundee Award!

I love The Office. I appreciate it so much more now that I've been entrenched in the corporate world for a couple years. And I love my husband for remembering all the things that make me happy like silly plastic awards, cartoons, and handmade adorable creatures.

Amanda and Chad were wonderful, they sat patiently and took pictures of me while I opened and read all my presents. They shared in the moment with me so I didn't have to be alone. And they also got me a super cool present too.

Amanda sells Mary Kay products, so I got a box full of Mary Kay goodies. Smelly stuff, a neck pillow, little sockies, and an eye mask. I wore it all the rest of the night...and I'm currently resting my neck on the pillow right now. Fabulous! But of course Christmas wouldn't be complete unless I let the doggies open presents as well. They would be very upset if I got to open presents and they didn't get anything at all.

So this is normally how present opening goes with the dogs. Sammy rips into all the wrapping paper like the crazy dog that he is while Edar dances around the scene much like the fruitcake he is.

See...rip, rip, rip....scratch, scratch, scratch...prance, prance, prance.

But we weren't sure what Gus would do since this was our first Christmas with him.

Apparently he enjoys the paper much more than he enjoys the actual present.

So now it goes rip, rip, rip...prance, prance, prance...shred, shred, shred. And we're one big happy family.

The toys lasted exactly 5.2 seconds before stuffing littered the floor

And here's what the carnage looked like at the end of the day...

Thanks Amanda and Chad for being such great friends and allowing me to have such a wonderful Christmas with Jason. You guys are the best, and I love you both.
Chicago fun will be coming up next!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quick Update

My mom had surgery on her ankle today. Everything went well and she'll be in the hospital for several days. The next few weeks, possibly months, will be difficult but we've gone through this before...rehab.

It's 11:00 at night and I just got in from a seven hour drive from Chicago. The doggies were happy to see me. Poor Galahad the goldfish didn't make it through the weekend. And Chompers the Chief Operating Hamster is still chomping away. My trip to Chicago was very eventful and fabulous. There are many, many stories to come of "The Hoyt Christmas Vacation". But for now I need to dispose of a dead goldfish, referee three dogs playing tug o'war with a monkey, and get ready for work tomorrow. Night.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas From Iraq

Hello all and Merry Christmas. I'm going to appologize ahead of time for the brevity of this post, but for some odd reason I'm having Blogger issues and so I'm going to end up keeping it short and sweet. I hope everyone is having a good Christmas with plenty of good food and family fun. Chow here was mediocre overall I have to admit. But they did have the coctail shrimp again and I went to town on that, so all is not lost.

This blog is pretty much about my job as a Project Purchasing Officer (that's what they call it) for these reconstruction projects. These next photos are of our most ambitious to date. This is part of a large project to rehabilitate a canal system that will eventually irrigate thousands and thousands of acres of airable land for the Iraqi's to grow a lot more crops. The first part is to get power to the old pumps before we start to replace and refurbish them. To that end, we have here a monstrosity of a transformer that we are having installed at one of the local sub-stations for the national electrical grid. This thing will take in 132,000 volts and down size it to either 32,000 or 11,000 volts to be used in the motor houses along the canal. One side benefit is that it'll also help to provide quite a number of folks in the area with a stable electrical current as well.

And here is a photo of SGT Julun hard at work. He has an electrical engineering degree so he's the one I rely on to do my site inspections and make sure that everything is on the up-and-up and that the contractor isn't wasting our money (really his since they don't get paid till it's done).

He says that in a few weeks we'll go back and be there for the testing to make sure everything is running fine. I'm not so sure I want to be there to see if a 132,000 volt piece of equipment WORKS! I think I have him just come back and tell me how it went. HA!

I would have liked to have more photos of our project inspection...but we realized once we got to the sub-station that one of our tires wasn't doing so well. You see - this picture here below is what a GOOD tire on an MRAP looks like.

Well, as luck would have it we didn't get out of there and back to the base soon enough (we were over an hour away to begin with and the tire was already near flat). So in the end this is what we ended up with - a "not-so-good" MRAP tire.

Yep - we tried to limp it back home as far as we could but only got about half-way there. Then we had to wait a bit for the recovery team to make it out and haul our busted vehicle back home. The guy in the blue by the way is an Iraqi Policeman. They escort us everywhere since June 30th, so they were around too....probably doing the same thing most guys would be doing about then, trying to figure out if their wife will believe the "flat tire" story one more time.

Next up is a lot of cash. Though about as good as Monopoly money outside these borders, right here is the equivalent of $310,000 US all in Iraqi Dinar. This is actually two seperate payments for two similar projects. The projects were to complete all-encompasing assessments of the water and sewage systems throughout the province. Whereas we can usually walk into city hall and find out all about out water and sewage networks back home, that's not quite the same level of organization here. Things get put in place as needed, with little planning, and often times paid for by towns who don't communicate what they're doing to the state.

Below here are the two completed baseline assessments. With these the provinial leadership can stop managing by crisis and start a true planning process of how to repair their delapidated systems and plan for an improved water distribution and sewage collection network throughout their province. Also, bonus to the contractor and other provinces, now that the template is done really other provinces can hire this specialized engineering group out of Baghdad for their own province's assessements and they'll be able to be done for a little cheaper at least.

Last but not least - I keep saying that I'll show you what approximately 9-million dollars in paper looks like. Well here you go. The stack of files on the right of this picture is it.

Yep - that's 9 million dollars in that stack of papers. Now don't get me wrong. There is no way to quantify the hundreds if not thousands of e-mails and draft documents and phone conversations and virtual conferences that go into all of this. Especially on the big-dollar projects (over $500K). The amount of work involved is staggering. But it is also amazing to me that in the end, such a smile amount of papers can equal such a large amount of cash.
Also, I figured I'd throw in the photo of my desk on the left there. That's where all the magic happens. And the only reason it's so clear right now is that we've had about a week of "catch-up time" while most all the civilians are out of the office taking their R&R around Christmas. Not exactly fair if you ask me. But the time to catch my breath and knock out some of my t0-do list has been priceless.
Ok, sorry for such a short blog and I hope I didn't mess up my spelling too much in my haste (spell check doesn't seem to be working on Blogger right now either). Now it's time to make the rounds calling the family since I'm sure they're all out of church and hopefully still awake. Take care for now...and have a wonderful rest of your Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Prayer Request

About three months ago my mom attempted to get out of bed, fell down and broke her left ankle. Last night in an attempt to walk into the kitchen to get herself a nighttime snack she fell down and broke her right ankle. My poor mother as many of you know has been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for the last twenty years, the disease has left her, among many other symptons, frail and brittle. 2009 has presented many struggles for my parents, and it doesn't look like 2010 will be much better. Your thoughts and prayers are much needed right now. For my mom, her recovery for her left ankle, her surgery for her right, her constant pain, and the daily struggles of living with MS. For my dad, his struggles with taking care of mom, and his private battles. I'm just crossing my fingers that this will be the last broken bone for awhile. Please keep mom and dad in your prayers and I hope everyone has a safe and injury free Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas

The holiday puppies would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Reindeer Sammy knows if you've been bad or good.

Gingerbread Gus is ready to be left out with a glass of milk for Santa

And Edgar has wrapped himself up as a present in the hopes that I will ship him over to Jason.

Poor Edgar he misses Mr. J the most. I won't let him run around and be a fruitcake nearly as much.

Every little outfit I buy for the pug turns out making him look like a stuffed sausage. This was a large gingerbread costume! And pugs are supposed to be toy breeds...that means ten pounds or less...Gus you're pushing thirty.

So there are only 116 more days until Jason comes home for good. Only 37 more days until I get to see him again. I had a dream last night that I went to lunch with my work friends and Jason and his team members were there waiting for me. He had come home early and tracked me down to surprise me. The unadulterated joy I felt at that moment was almost too much to bear when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel...37 tiny, little days. I'm trying so very hard to focus on the present.

I have Christmas plans to visit Mom-in-law, and Mr. J's sisters in Chicago. It's going to be fabulous. Shopping, movies, presents, girl stuff, maybe possibly even pole dancing lessons....what!?

Not sure yet what my New Years plans will be, but I'm sure it will be something fun. And then pretty much the entire month of January will be cleaning the house and preparing for Jason's two week R&R. Because seriously it's going to take almost a month to get the house into Jason approved shape. I certainly don't think I'm super messy, but Jason and I have very different ideas of what super messy is. I think that if he were to walk into the house tomorrow in its current state he would turn right back around and head back to the desert. So if anyone really loves to clean and wants to help me out I certainly wouldn't turn anyone away :)

On a side note, I just watched Julie & Julia....and I loved it! If I actually cooked I would have loved it even more.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.