Category Archives: Family

A Weekend of Cooking

So the last half of this past year, after having a wonderful time with the boyfriend, we both managed to slack off a little with our diet and exercise.  What’s the saying, fat and happy?  Well, we’ve both managed to slide back a little in our progress.  So, as with many people, the new year starts off with resolutions.  Resolutions to have a healthier year this year.  And so, this weekend was our time to motivate.  We’ve been having a great time with our new Christmas presents – I got some awesome kitchen knives from my man and he got an awesome Bosch kitchen machine from me.  It’s a mixer and much, much more.  He loves it.

This weekend we started with a run to Costco for our supplies for the weekend.  Back to my place, he made some delicious rye/pumpernickel bread using THE machine – YUM.  Taking a break, we watched some football which was VERY exciting.  Another great meal of salmon and asparagus for dinner finished off our Saturday night.

Sunday morning came, and we decided to make breakfast.  We went with omelets and toast with the homemade bread.  And then he wanted to make butter for our toast…yes, MAKE butter.  So he made butter with the same Bosch machine while I was whipping up our omelet.  He’s quite handy in the kitchen, that is for sure!  We did some more shopping in preparation for the evening’s project and then went down to the gym and worked out.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the gym, but it felt good to be back.  Now that we’ve found our initial gym motivation, I think it’ll be easier.  We have about two months until Cancun, so I’m trying to get back into shape for swimsuits!

After another football game, we started on meals for the week.

  I made some mini frittatas in muffin cups and now have some easy, quick, protein-rich breakfast for when I push snooze too many times.  I had one this morning (when I pushed snooze too many times and had to bring it to work) – these were a winner in my book!

After some more football, we started on our lunch for the week project.  I kept seeing these recipes and Pinterest board ideas for Mason jar salads.  I was really liking the idea, but had not as of yet bought any jars to make the salads in.  This weekend we finally bought some and with our Costco supplies, we started in on our Mason jar lunch salads.  We cooked up some chicken and chopped up our veggies (using the wonderful knives, and on a few occasions, the food processor) and had a little salad assembly line going on.  One would be filling while the other was chopping and trying to clean up in between.  It worked well, even with our many ingredients.  Capped the jars and put them in the refrigerator and they were good to go for the week!

Today I brought my salad to work –  the before (in the jar) and after (dumped out) are below.  As I was putting it on the plate, someone walked in and started asking me about it.  I’ve inspired a few people in the office to think about making their own!  🙂  And just for the record – YUM!


Here’s to a great new year of healthy, happy resolutions!  Looking forward to the rest of the year, full of friends, family, love and good times! All the best to you and yours!

Blog Update – Slacker edition

I’ve been a slacker, I know.  Here’s to a renewed blog in the New Year!  Life has been wonderful these last months.  My boyfriend and I are beyond happy with each other.  We took a few trips out of town over the fall – a camping adventure and a trip to Pittsburgh to see (and for him, to meet) my best friend Jeni and husband Jason, and they all loved each other. We also went down to see his family for Thanksgiving, which was the first time I’ve met them.  We took to each other like a fish takes to water…I love them already and they seem to love me too.  His younger niece asked me if I could be her aunt – I was honored.  They remind me a lot of my own family, and they really made me feel welcome.

The day after Thanksgiving, we went to Paris, which was just wonderful!  I’ve been there a number of times, but this was his first trip there and it was great to be able to show him my Paris.  I was also confident enough in my French ability to make it through most of the trip just speaking French to the various merchants and French people and not once asking “Parlez-vous anglais?”  We also got some beautiful photos, one of which I’ve attached below.

Paris at sunset

We had a great trip back, and a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s.  The new year is upon us, and as we’ve taken stock of the last year, the many ups and downs, we are blissfully happy to start this new year.  He is turning 40 this year, and we have planned a trip down to Cancun, where much of the rest of my family we will meet up with (and he’ll finally get to meet them in person!) and have a ton of fun.  We are both looking forward to that!  We also look forward to getting healthier in the new year, learning new things and just appreciating everything we have.  I think coming back to Washington for a tour was the best move I’ve made in a long time!


This is the end…of home leave

As all good things must come to an end, home leave is over. The weeks have flown by seeing family and friends. While in some ways I didn’t do nearly as much on this home leave as my last, doing nothing was probably better for me, coming out of Baghdad. It gave me time to just hang out with my family, get to know them and let them get to know me better.

This past weekend I went to a family reunion, the first big one since 2000. In my last post I mention the number 200; I underestimated and the numbers are closer to 300 in my family! That includes my aunts, uncles, cousins, kids of cousins, and kids of kids of cousins. It’s seriously insane. How insane, you ask? We needed name tags at our family reunion, specifying your name and lineage (e.g. Daughter of X who is son of Y.) Seriously, craziness. But it was fun seeing them all together again. I was also pleasantly surprised that I have a few readers of this very blog among my family members. 🙂 Here’s a random pic to give you an idea of sheer numbers – and this is just a small percentage of everyone was that was there:


The rest of home leave has consisted mostly of unpacking all this stuff! I am still living in a land of boxes with no end in sight. But at least now I have silverware, dishes and pans – I am able to cook again! I made homemade gyoza the other night and my date and I made sushi, which were both delicious! Gyoza are really very simple to make (even the wrappers!) and I’m glad I made enough to freeze! I found a great grocery store in the neighborhood for sushi grade fish, which made proper sushi (rather than my makeshift Baghdad sushi.) Here’s a pic (which is also much better than the Baghdad sushi picture):


Thanks to a wonderful friend, I also got to go see The Eagles in concert! It was an awesome concert – highly recommended. Joe Walsh is just amazing on that guitar, and it’s crazy how many great songs they have had. Today I had a Baghdad out briefing class and stopped into my new office to see firstly, where it is so I can find it Monday when I start, and secondly to say hello. I walked in and I instantly knew I was in the right place – my name was on the desk. 🙂 Said a quick hello, then saw a few more old friends on my way out the door. You really can’t turn around without seeing someone you know! I walked to and from work today, which was pretty great – it’s pretty close and I’m looking forward to being able to walk! The bus line is also very convenient, for those days I don’t feel like walking. I’m so excited! I’m also going sailing this weekend – I can’t wait!!

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! This is the first July Fourth I’ve been in the USA in many years. It’s starting off as a beautiful day. I’ve gotten a little festive this year, with jello molds.

20130704-080200.jpg Because what else says America like jello in all its festiveness? Today we are having that American creation called the taco too. 🙂

I’ve been enjoying my home leave with family and seeing some old friends. We’ve gone out on the lake (it’s Minnesota, “the lake” means whichever one you’re closest to) a few times on the pontoon and I’ve had more than a couple Bloody Marys – because nobody makes them like Minnesota does, and it’s also the only place I’ve been where you get a beer chaser with it!


I got a message from WordPress yesterday telling me I’ve been writing this blog for two years now! Looking back on the adventures in Iraq, it was a truly unique experience and I think I learned a lot about myself in that time. Not only that, I also turned forty! I thank you, my dear readers, for all your support these last two years. It’s amazing for me to think that people all over the world are reading my blog, and it reminds me how big and small the world is in the very same moment.

America is an amazing mixture of people and I am proud to be home on this Fourth of July. I hope everyone has (and had) a wonderful day!

Merry Christmas!







I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  My holidays this year were some of the best in recent memory.  In Baghdad, no less!!  While I was unable to make it back to the U.S. to see family this year, I ended up having so many laughs over the past week that I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.  I am so fortunate to have such awesome people in my life.  Between game nights, dinners, karaoke, movies, and calls from my family, it was FABULOUS.



We (boyfriend and I) made sushi and egg drop soup for Christmas Eve dinner – I had brought back some cold smoked salmon with me from Greece to use in the sushi – and it was delicious!  I made my first attempt at a rainbow roll – it was so pretty I had to take a picture.






We ate,  then my mom called, wondering if we had opened presents yet.  I had received one, but it didn’t end up being the one from her.  I had her on speakerphone, and so the boyfriend and mom got to say hello to each other.  We opened presents, then friends came over and we played games – and talked to my family some more while we were playing (EVERYONE got to say hello and LOVE YOU MOM) – it was a perfect night.  Christmas Day we watched one of my all time favorite non-traditional Christmas movies – The Ref.  It was his first time seeing in and he was not disappointed.  We made it out of the apartment and to the DFAC for Christmas dinner.  It was a wonderful way to spend the holidays – with the one I love.







Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted; I was on my first official R&R!  Before that, I was roving in Basrah for a week.  While I was there, having finished reading the two books I brought with me, I wandered over to the PX to see what I could find.  More books!  While I do buy a fair number of ebooks, sometimes I just like something more… tactile and papery.  One book caught my eye, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and I bought it.  It’s a great read that I think everyone can benefit from.

Now, some of you might say, but Darlene, you seem like such a happy person, why do you need a happiness project?  Because we can all be happier!  Changing our mind set to be happier, rather than focusing on negatives, makes life better.  I have incorporated some of Gretchen’s thoughts into my own life so far, and am going to start my own Happiness Project.  I hope you’ll join me!

One of the first things I’ve incorporated is taking better care of my health.  While I usually eat pretty healthy, I tend to slack when it comes to exercise.  I make excuses and get lazy.  But last week, I finally made it to my first yoga class here!  And I showed up for Insanity class – which apparently changed times – but instead of just going home, I hopped on the treadmill and pushed myself!  I’ve tried getting a regular exercise routine going in the past, and haven’t stuck with it.  While on my way back from R&R, I had copious amounts of time in between flights and did a little impulse purchasing.  This isn’t my normal MO, but I was intrigued by the little device just sitting there asking me to buy it.  I thought it was a very good motivational tool for me – it’s called a Fitbit!  So far I love it, and have now purchased some companions to it.  It tracks a bunch of different things that you access online – steps, stairs, sleep… I love it and it really has motivated me.  Hopefully it’ll continue to do so…I suppose only time will tell, but I’m excited.  I’m thinking about starting another blog to track my fitness progress.  I think that will motivate me even more to keep with it!

Musings of a Scattered Brain

I’m very happy to report that I’ve had over 1,000 views on my blog!  Thank you to everyone for staying with me.  While I realize sometimes my blog is a bit scattered, with a mélange of thoughts, pictures, and musings, it’s just who I am.  I’ve been roving in the front office this week, and I think I’ve brought a few smiles up here, and a little entertainment.  I hope I’ve brought that to my blogosphere too. 🙂

We’ve been having a few difficulties getting fresh fruit and vegetables in lately, so our salad bar is sorely lacking.  I’ve been missing salad a lot.  It was usually my fall back plan when nothing else looked good to eat in the DFAC.  Is a little lettuce, tomato and cucumber too much to ask?  I may have to start cooking a bit more at home with my PX purchases, but with long hours in the front office, I just don’t feel like it when I get home. 

Now I’m getting ready to take another trip – this one back to the states for R&R.  Family and friends await me, and I’m looking forward to getting back.  Not only to see them, but to be amazed at the produce section of the grocery store, as I usually am when I return home.  It is sensory overload, with all the different colors, scents, varieties, and just the pure volume of all those fresh fruits and veggies.  It’s a sight to behold that most people in the U.S. take for granted, but it gets me every time I come back from extended periods overseas. 

Wishing you a wonderful day, and hoping to see you around the globe!


I’ve been having a wonderful time up here in Kirkuk – as I said, new adventures are what I’m all about! New friends, new experiences, and new terrain add up to me!  So, in my short time here, here are a few things I’ve learned in Kirkuk.  Hope you enjoy!

1. There’s a LOT of incoming here. It’s a little sobering, especially after attending a memorial for a soldier killed by IDF (indirect fire) just the week before.

2. The DFAC (dining facility) is bigger, but not better – I miss my Baghdad lettuce selection.

3. Honey Badger does whatever it wants. Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit.

4. Getting really drunk in a small place like this is NOT a good idea. (No, it wasn’t me!)

5. A lap dance is so much better when the stripper is crying. (Look it up!)

6. You make friends really quickly in a place like this. Someone up here asked me when I was leaving, so she could start crying now. I am loved.  I’ve only been here a week and a half, with two more to go, but I already feel like part of the family.

7. You can have an awesome time around a table with four iPods and a love of music.  It’s a music throwdown!!

8. Once people accept the idea of Pooh, they love him. It’s important to introduce him early, so people know that I’m not quite ‘normal.’ Normal is overrated – I am the kind of person that will sing to someone that comes into my office, and I’m the kind of person that will dance wherever I feel like it – I don’t seem to have those social inhibitions when it comes to singing and dancing. 🙂

9.  When you are a good rover, people want to keep you.  When you are a good rover AND crazy and fun like me, they REALLY want to keep you.  I have a feeling I’ll be in high demand.

10.  I love my life.  Truly, simply, I love it.  I’m so happy to be in this place in my life.  I am such a positive person now!  I thank all my friends and family that have helped me to get to this place in my life.  I appreciate all who remind me how special I am and how much I mean to them.  Friends, family, laughter, love – it’s wonderful!  I hope to see you all around the globe soon!

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Home leave is not only a time to get in touch with what’s going on in America, it’s also a time to get back in touch with those friends and family you don’t get to see while living overseas. I’m fortunate to have a lot of both, and home leave can be both exciting and a little tiring, trying to see everyone and do everything. So, as I come to the close of my home leave, I look back to see what I’ve learned about myself during home leave. I’ve learned a lot, so here’s a top ten – in no particular order…

1. I learned just how much I love music – music makes Darlene’s world go round. I could listen to live music every day and not get enough.

2. I make friends very easily. In my three days in New Orleans, I made three new facebook friends. Traveling alone helps to make new friends – I’ve learned the best way to make new friends is to sit at the bar and start chatting.

3. Family traditions can be passed on to people that aren’t technically your family, but have been around so long that we count them as such. Family traditions can include VFWs and karaoke.

4. Living out of a suitcase kinda sucks, but I’m grateful I got to see as much as I did on my home leave.

5. Class reunions can be fun, but nothing beats seeing the people that really care about you. And the people you really want to see at the reunion aren’t usually the ones that show up. Some people look great, some people you can’t recognize, and others just haven’t aged well. You end up chatting with people you never talked to in high school.

6. After getting another tattoo while on home leave, I want to get another one – now comes the process of figuring out what that one will be. Hopefully it won’t take as long to figure out as this one did. They are contagious – I’m sure of it. I think it’ll have something to do with music.

7. I realized how much I care about people that I haven’t seen for a really long time, and how much I miss having them around me. I love moving on to new adventures, I just wish I could take people with me.

8. I need to let go of people that aren’t present, in the moment, WITH me, when they’re with me. I need to not be just an option – I need to feel wanted. Most of my friends are, and I love them for that. A few aren’t, and I’ve realized that’s not good for me. I need to be worth it for them, or there’s no reason for me to make the effort.

9. Everybody loves traveling Pooh. From my new friends in New Orleans, to former classmates, to my friend that has a picture of Pooh in Rome up on his fridge – most are jealous of how many places he’s been.

10. Twenty years ago, I thought everyone was like me. I now realize how unique I really am, but at the same time how similar I am now, as a person, to how I was back then. Apparently I’ve been like this for awhile, I just didn’t know it. Old friends see this – but it took them telling me how they saw me back then to realize it.

Friday I start my new adventure – in-processing and training for a couple weeks. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

I’m a Little Bit Country

Ok, so I just came home from a bar where my parents like to hang out. It was about as hick as they come. So, for hick bars and small towns everywhere, and inspired by the hick bar I just left, here’s a list off the top of my head of “How You Know You’re In a Hick Bar:”

1. There’s a wedding reception going on. They haven’t just stopped here on their way to the reception, this is where the reception is. In place of a band or DJ, they are using the bar karaoke for music. The wedding cake is a sheet cake.

2. They don’t take credit cards – only cash.

3. There are various animal heads adorning the walls – and they are decorated.

4. They have concealed carry classes in the bar.

5. Someone gets up to sing karaoke and they can carry a tune and you think they are AWESOME, just because they are compared to everyone else.

6. You may be a little bit country, but everyone else is a LOT country and not even a little bit rock and roll.

7. The only place you find the name of the bar is on the white board, just in case they want to change it.

8. The closest you get to diversity is the really tan guy in the cowboy hat with the cane.

9. There are more pickup trucks in the parking lot/lawn than there are beer signs in the bar. Oh, and there are a few horses tied up outside.

10. When you and your brother are introduced to someone new, they are more interested that your brother works in a bullet factory than they are that you work overseas.

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I was once on an island and eight parakeets landed on me. I had positioned myself to welcome them. Hope has that effect. I want to see all of creation awaken with hope~ especially the Middle East. Anything is possible for those who believe. ☆☆☆☆ Come believe with me. ☆☆☆☆


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