We start our series of Interviews for International Women’s Day with the founder of the blog The Abu Dhabi PTA
Name: Gina Dillon
Occupation: Writer, social innovator, and change maker.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am married to an incredibly smart and witty guy who is my perfect life partner. I have two boys who were born 20 years apart. I have two dogs and I have a soft spot for animals. I am a very curious person and I am always looking for new interests, new people and a new way to see the world. Continue reading “International Women’s Day Interview”→
Last week I was invited to a cocktail/mocktail master mixology class for bloggers. I must admit it was my first mixer and Samia, one of the PTA girls, agreed to join me representing the mocktail to my cocktail.
I had recently changed to a new medication which was leaving me feeling as disoriented as a sea-sick cruise passenger. I decided that maybe I should spare myself any embarrassment and cancel. So I sent Charlie the organizer a note. “I am sorry. Can’t come. In the process of letting new meds equilibrate. Not keen on making a fool of myself and since I cannot say no to a tasty cocktail, I must cancel.” Charlie responds, “Please come cocktails are tasty.”
So I went. I took a taxi to Samia’s place and she drove us to The Meridien Abu Dhabi which is the wrong hotel. Not the wrong hotel if you want to try out the new Greek restaurant (Opa!) but the wrong hotel if you’re going to join the bloggers at the Market Kitchen.
We drove a few minutes up the street to Le Royal Meridien home of the master mixology.
What a beautiful hotel. Unfortunately, in my time here in Abu Dhabi I have completely overlooked this fabulous hotel and all of its wonderful restaurants. Since we arrived late I wasn’t able to see the swimming pool which is a huge disappointment to me because I am on an official search for the most fabulous pools in Abu Dhabi. Hint. Hint. Le Royal Meridien.
I will also say, that my friend Laura used Le Royal Meridien to cater her masquerade party which was fabulous and the talk of the town for several days afterward.
Anyway, Samia and I climbed the stairs to this little bar above Market Kitchen which resembled the living room of my Italian aunt. If I were Italian and I had an aunt. It was super cozy, softly lit and the perfect place for an intimate evening. All around the place oozed Italian comfort. And the bar smelled like all of the fresh fruits we were going to use to concoct our mixology drinks.
From the beginning I knew things were going to be tricky because I was the only American at mixology. Samia is Canadian/Pakistani married to an American/British Pakistani. So she has the ethnic-mixology to converse that I do not. I should say thank you Samia for knowing Urdu. We would’ve been stuck in the lost corridors of Abu Dhabi without it. So I started the mixology night off not understanding anything anyone was saying. Could be due to the meds. Could be due to the fact that most of the other bloggers were British and although we share the English language we usually cannot share a conversation. I laugh as if I understand what they are saying and hope that they are not describing the recent event of their grandmother’s funeral. Life is not easy in a multicultural, ethnically blended city.
Anyway, Samia jumps into this mixology like she’s one of the crew. She’s chatting everyone up like she’s known them all her life. She’s like that regardless of where you take her. And there I was woozy on my prescription meds. “Gina I think you should go behind the bar and mix up a few drinks.” Samia said with her usual chatty smile which convinces you that everything is a good idea. I stumble by the bar past Bruno Valentino to begin my class in mixoloy when it occurs to me that there couldn’t be a more perfect name for the person who is hosting a mixology at an Italian restaurant than Bruno Valentino. Perfect. Although, now that I think about it, Bruno would be even more perfect as a silent Hollywood film star except those days are gone. Too bad for Bruno.
You might be expecting that due to my meds, limited communication with my cohorts, and the dark lighting of the venue that this blog post will end in a huge debacle and otherwise total failure. But it did not. It was an absolute success. Regardless of not understanding instruction or knowing what I was doing, both Samia and I managed to whip up some very tasty cocktails and mocktails. The rest of the evening was dedicated to eating some fantastic appetizers and drinking the very tasty drinks that I was promised. I will assure you that regardless of cooking skill, current medication routine or your ability to communicate, you too can mix up these tasty drinks. Give it a try.
Although I will remind you if you would like to visit and try the entire collection of fantastic cocktails from the masters please visit Market Kitchen at Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi.
I must say it was a great event and the Market Place is a lovely place to get together with friends new and old, and also with those you cannot understand. It makes an evening far more entertaining.
Thank you very much Mr. Bruno Valentino and the entire staff of Market Kitchen Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi.
The Market Kitchen has shared a few of the fabulous recipes for us to try at home….and when you’re finished mixing please invite me over.
COCKTAILS. Cucumber Martini
2 oz. Hendricks gin
0.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
0.75 oz simple syrup
2 cucumber slices
2 mint leaves
Cucumber wheel and small mint leaf garnish
Muddle cucumber, mint, lemon juice, and syrup. Add gin.
Shake and double strain into chilled martini coupe.
Garnish with a cucumber wheel and small mint leaf
1 vol oz Sauza Hornitos Reposado Tequila
1.5 vol oz Ginger syrup
.5 vol oz Cointreau
1 rim ginger salt
1 lime wedge
Rim rocks glass with ginger salt and fill with ice.
Pour all liquids into a mixing glass. Shake. Strain over fresh ice.
Squeeze lime wedge and drop into glass
Cucumber Mint Swizzle
2.5oz fresh mint tea
0.5oz lemon juice
0.75oz simple syrup
0.25oz ginger syrup
1 barspoon chopped green apple
2 slice cucumber
6 mint leaves
Muddle mint, apple, cucumber
Add tea, lemon juice, ginger and simple syrup in a highball.
Fill highball halfway with crushed ice and swizzle until glass is frosty.
Fill the rest of the glass with crushed ice.
Garnish with mint sprig and cucumber slice
0.5oz elderflower syrup
0.25oz simple syrup
0.25oz ginger base
2oz chamomile tea
3 mint leaves in the shake
Orange and lemon wedge in the shake
Muddle strawberry with simple syrup and ginger base.
Add elderflower and chamomile
Add slapped mint leaves and orange and lemon wedges
Ice shaker and hard shake.
Strain into a cocktail coupe
Garnish with spanked mint leaf
2oz sour orange
6 halved kumquats
6-8 mint leaf
Muddle and dump into highball
Fill with ice and top with soda
Squeeze lime and drop into glass. Gentle stir.
Add 1.5 oz of Bacardi Light Rum for a Kumquats Mojito
Combine all the below
8 Vol oz Fresh lime juice
8 Vol oz Fresh lemon juice
8 Vol oz Fresh orange juice
6 Vol oz Simple syrup
6 Vol oz Elderflower syrup
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Nunya, you wicked woman. Did you just show me some hate?
Who names their kid Nunya is what my friends said to me. A modern day Hooper Humperdink it’s so sad to see. Please go away. If you don’t like this place move. It not as difficult as it appears to be.
Nunya, just go away. I am sure most will agree. You’re ruining our picnic and our Friday brunch too. We like our chocolate fountains, our cocktails and brie. You’re a cloud over our parade — so Nunya go ahead and leave!
I’ll call my favorite company they will Delight-fully pack for you. They’ll have you out of here in a day or two.
Nunya, I don’t understand it. What are you doing here? This place isn’t for people like you. It’s best that you just stay home and keep your nastiness to yourself. Call all your nasty friends over and lock yourself in a room. Because the good people of the world want nothing to do with you.
You remind me of some toxic chemical or maybe the flu. There’s no way anyone can like someone like you. I mean seriously, you spent your time spewing out hate when you could’ve gathered some friends and had some hot tea and sweet dates.
Nunya, I don’t understand why you’re here. If I hated this place I’d seriously pack up and leave. I would shake this place off like it were a disease. But instead you took the time to blab a few jabs, at someone who intended no harm to you. I’m just a PTA mom writing down a few thoughts that happened to have a viral blog post.
Oh, god, I hate the haters. They really bother me. I’m told don’t give them the time of day, just let it bounce off. But for some reason it drives me up the wall. There’s something that I feel brewing from within. So instead of forgetting about it, I take out my pen. Nunya, I’m afraid I’m just like Taylor Swift. If you treat me dirty then I am going to spread the word — and then turn around and flip you the bird.
So go ahead Nunya, you little Hooper Humperdink. It’s time for you to go. And next time please give it a little more thought before you publicly jot down all your nasty thoughts. Nobody is interested in your toxic smack or the craziness that circles around in your head. If you can’t come up with something sensible then do us all a favor and just go to bed!
Be careful over there! my American friends said to me. As if the Middle East is simply one big mosh pit of danger, mayhem and debris.
Be careful doing what? I thought to myself. Choking on lobster, slipping on a marble floor, or poking my eye out with a canape skewer?
What exactly do they think could happen to me? — I LIVE IN THE UAE!
Oh, no, you’re mistaken. I don’t live in Saudi Arabia. I can drive here. It is fine. And I don’t wear an abaya. Although on a bad hair day it sure would be a snap. And if I decide to do so it does not effect my feminism. My human rights are not limited as you might think they would be. I just can’t look like a harlot when I’m walking the streets. So far that hasn’t been a problem for me.
None of the craziness you see on TV is anywhere near me or my family. This is the wealthiest place in the world. There are no beheadings or prison camps or things like this you might read. I am perfectly safe here — I LIVE IN THE UAE!
In the UAE, they prefer that I not scream obscenities or flip my middle finger at the crazy new driver that cut me off at the pass. Yes, in the States I would shout, shake my fists, and tell them to kiss my arse. But I really don’t miss that privilege and it is okay by me, if we all focus on a little more civility. You see, it is a conservative place in many regards. They prefer if we all do not behave like total schmucks, lugheads or goofs. In fact, everyone here uses their manners and are extremely gracious; they call me madam and my husband sir and they go out of their way to please us.
They must be thinking about Iraq or Iran and they are as close to the UAE as New York is to West Virginia; although, you must agree, there is a huge difference between them. If you lumped New Yorkers and West Virginians together, any American would tell you they have nothing in common. They may be the same religion and in the same country but there is a world of difference between them. We live in a bubble, a very expensive bubble it may be; that separates us from the rest of the Middle East. Life here is grand we have no complaints. We live in a world of over-the-top excess. Free from the badness many nations face.
There’s no danger here. We are a very happy bunch. We shop and we explore and we eat fancy brunches. Tell the media how happy we are and to stop lumping Muslims together. There’s nothing threatening about being here. Get out your maps and look into it. Get on a plane and come visit us.
We are here of our own choosing we like our little Utopia. Please save your be careful over there for someone who needs it. We are living the dream. Please come and see it!
We love living in the UAE!
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“Gone Girl” was filmed in my hometown…how exciting! Stay tuned for more on this subject.
Whew! The summer has come to an end. And for most expats we are very excited to get back to our own lives. Not that we don’t love you. Not that we didn’t love visiting you. But the summer exodus to our hometown is absolutely, positively, exhausting with a capital “E”. Ever wonder how it feels to be a displaced person no place to call your home roaming from place to place? Well, we do. Not that we don’t love you. Not that we didn’t love visiting you. But coming home is kind of weird.
I attended my first women’s gathering at an Emirati’s home. It was like a baby shower on steroids. It was a mix of about 40 local and expat ladies; friends, families and acquaintances held at the magnificent home of one of the local ladies.
It was pouring rain and Brenda, Samia and I all rode together in Samia’s car. We arrived like a band of hooligans. Rolling in like a pack of wet mutts. Unable to find a parking spot that wasn’t in the middle of a small pond, we kept pulling in and out trying to find a better option, and each time we struck out, the more embarrassed Samia became. It must be a South Asian/Middle Eastern thing because as an American, I found it all amusing, as a South African raised in the apartheid, Brenda found the puddle a small problem by comparison — but Samia wasn’t so nonchalant.
“Brenda, please pull your umbrella inside the car!” In the crazy, wind-blown, rain splattering event of getting from the car to the “palace” Brenda’s new umbrella was turned inside out and it resembled more of a white flag than it did an umbrella. While we were pulling in and out of unacceptable parking spots Brenda stuck her umbrella outside the car window as if a symbol of surrender.
“Brenda, please bring your umbrella inside the car!” Complete embarrassment was all over Samia’s face. “No, really. Please, Brenda.” Chuckling Brenda agreed.
“Look at this place!” Samia marveled. As I said — it was definitely impressive. But I had more fun watching the expressions on Samia’s face. It’s like she was entering the Taj Mahal for the first time.
“Oh, my, we have to take our shoes off before entering the house! What do I do? I don’t want to take my shoes off! I am 4’11 if I take my shoes off I will look 15 pounds heavier!” Perplexed and horrified with her choices Samia’s Middle Eastern Cinderella’s Castle fantasy quickly came crashing down. “Well, I guess we do not have a choice. We must take off our shoes.” Brenda offers up advice in her years of international diplomacy experience. “When in doubt; don’t offend.”
I followed Brenda and Samia inside and noticed that at these types of events proper dress is either formal or national dress. Samia is in her best shalwar kameez, looking like a Pakistani princess, and Brenda is wearing a modest African dress accessorized with a small cocktail purse. They reminded me that I am a lost soul. Americans do not have national dress and until events like this, it never seems to be a problem. Aside from a Budweiser/American flag bikini, American women do not have anything to wear that says: I am an American. This has always been a huge problem with the Miss Universe pageant. Every other country looks like a million bucks in their bejeweled national ensemble and then there’s the American girl typically draped in the some fashion modification of the American flag.
As we entered into the palace our hostess greeted us in a beautiful leopard print floor length gown with a neckline too tempting for even most American ladies. She looked absolutely stunning and in a million years, I never would’ve guessed this was the same lady that could easily sneak past me in the school halls without ever grabbing a moment of attention. One by one, they arrived draped in abayas and then slowly removing them to reveal ridiculously elegant and some rather sexy gowns. I sat there feeling somewhat prudish, definitely under-dressed, and embarrassingly boring in my simple Ann Taylor outfit.
We sat in the ladies majlis, a formal entertaining room off of the center entrance hall, which was decorated in a bold rose decor and offered a variety of seating options for more than 30+ ladies. I could tell this wasn’t the type of event that only occurs when someone gets married or has a baby, or some other typical life milestone; but instead, this rooms gets a lot of use — these ladies gather frequently and this room offers all the accoutrements necessary for a super swanky tea party. Hired Filipina ladies served up Arabic coffee, tea, and dates in exquisite dishes as I relied upon Brenda to fill me in. What is this? What will it do to me? And should I partake? Which basically means, will this have me glued to the powder room while I am here at this super swanky event?
The bell rang for dinner. Yes, I am not kidding. A. small. bell. rang. to signify that we should all move to the enormously large extended-family Lawrence of Arabia dining room. The table itself was huge. Ever practical me, I am thinking to myself how many immigrants did it take to carry in this massive hunk of a dining room table? It was certainly larger than an operating table. It would’ve definitely been large enough to hold both Jack and Rose from the Titanic. It’s too bad Jack didn’t have this table. He would’ve made it to New York. One thing I am eternally grateful for is the towering baskets of fruit in the middle of the table. Thank goodness there wasn’t a baby animal on a platter laying peacefully dead in a mound of rice, dates, and a few random cashews —that would’ve blown the whole thing for me.
I looked around the dining room table to see the look of confusion on the faces of the expat ladies. What fork were the other ladies using? I think I was using the wrong one. If Martha Stewart would’ve concentrated more on these tid-bits of Middle Eastern etiquette versus insider trading, I probably wouldn’t be in this quandary I am in tonight around the Lawrence of Arabia dining room table. But no, the American capitalist let me down, but then again, Martha was probably never invited to a swanky Arab ladies dinner party. One-up. Fist bump!
After dinner, some of ladies were touring the upstairs of the villa. And I almost joined them but I caught the gaze of an Arab princess. Maybe she wasn’t a real princess but she could’ve been one. She was absolutely lovely. Far lovelier than Princess Di. Sorry Brits, but she was much more elegant. And she appeared to be staring at my small trio of hooligans. Either in amusement, interest, or dismay, her eyes followed me as I snapped (pre-approved) pictures around the magnificent villa.
Brenda really wanted to go upstairs to-see-what-there-was-to-be-seen. “B, I’m not going up there. I already feel like a third-class citizen.” I said, half jokingly. “Seriously, I don’t want to look like an uncouth and uncultured troll that’s never seen the inside of a place like this….really, we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves. Okay?!?……. Really, Samia is just now recovering from the earlier embarrassment.”
“Ladies, I think we should at least get a picture of the three of us before we go. Let’s sit on this beautiful sofa together. This is perfect.” Samia smiled elegantly in her national clothes.
“Pardon me” I said. “Please, do you mind retaking this photo because it looks like I am breastfeeding my friend.”
OMG…….you can’t take us anywhere!
*A very big thank you to our most gracious hostess*
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You’ve always know we crave adventure. Even as a child we got bored. Running, exploring and asking questions. Why is it now a surprise when we expect more?
There was always a new challenge to win, another adventure to seek or a new goal to meet: That’s why we have gone away.
There’s nothing more exciting than staking claim to a new city, a new culture, a new way of life — it is really quite exhilarating to see. Making new friends, new memories, and experiences; that’s the oxygen we breath.
Who can blame us? Working the same hours for less pay? If there’s a better option why not take it and dig the treasure while we can exhume it, because someone values us, enough to pay us, for the knowledge and skills we have invested — that’s why we’ve gone away.
Do you know how badly it would hurt us to see the disappointment in our children’s eyes, if years from now we told them the story of the opportunity we abandoned which would’ve changed their perspective for the rest of their lives? That’s why we chose to go away.
Companies dispose us, banks abuse us, and our civil society has become far less humane.
Talent is ignored when the company becomes bored and restructures just for the fun of it. There are no gold pens or extravagant parties for 50 years of dedicated service. We are bought and sold. Disposable commodities of the frivolous. As our professional careers are left teetering on the edge.
Why have we gone away?
We’ve gone away because the world has become smaller and our options have increased exponentially. Now working in Dubai is as easy as working in Shanghai and all we have to do is open our minds to embrace it — that’s why we went away.
There once was a dream of the happiness one would feel at the end of one’s working tenure.
But traveling stinks with weak knees, irritable bellies, and exhausted stamina. As we wished we would’ve enjoyed this in our thirties.
Retirement is no given, and we prefer not to risk it, and never see the globe while we can enjoy it.
Instead we will show our children the world, and share our picture books of all of the places we’ve explored, and tell our stories to all that will listen.
A very big thank you to UAE Murals for the use of their beautiful artwork!
Maria Hegedus is an American artist from South Carolina who lives in Abu Dhabi.
She has worked as a freelance muralist and has completed a variety of custom designed murals in businesses and homes. She has done many commission pieces including portraits, watercolors, landscapes and more. She has painted on canvas, watercolor paper and various items including vintage luggage, pottery, mannequins, ornaments, etc.
She is expanding her client base in the UAE and is excited about focusing on “local” Arab-themed art. She is intrigued with the rich culture and heritage of the region and will be featuring this in many of her upcoming pieces.
Twice I was in a room filled with people who looked just like me — and it was odd. Nobody with dark skin. Nobody with a Middle Eastern accent. Nobody dressed in their country’s native clothes. Only white people, in white people clothes, having white people conversation — and I was bored.
Since I arrived in the Middle East I have been immersed in a melting pot of cultures and I have not stepped outside my melting pot since I arrived. Here in the UAE, my norm has been a mosaic of languages, clothing, and exotic features; all of which I now consider ordinary. One day I asked my friend Wlede, “Is this dress too African for me?” Of course not! was the response. In the States I would have received many stares for exploring fashion outside of my own ethnic group. Here nobody raises an eyebrow. Many days I ask myself, “Who have I become? Do I even still feel American anymore?
I never realized the extent of our global education until Max called out to me, “Yalla habibi! (Come on my loved one — which, as a nine year-old boy, he obviously didn’t quite understand or he wouldn’t have said it.) Another day he tossed out a “Ya know mate” that would rival any Aussies’s. And then he surprised me with the British terms keen, trolley and trainers almost in the same sentence. Who is this kid?
Raising an expat kid is different. They absorb the culture of their classmates and sometimes identify it as their own. They will swear up and down that they are from countries outside their home. Laura, my Italian friend, has three children who assumed they were Chinese. Imagine explaining to your child that although they’ve lived in China all of their lives, they are not Chinese. Interestingly, in their little view of the world they do not recognize the difference.
My friend who is a kindergarten teacher asked her class, “So class where are you all from?” One little boy screamed, “Exxon Oil!” While another little girl with a Texas accent said, “I’m from Saudi.” Many American children of teachers teaching internationally and other expats living abroad have never lived in the United States. They’ve lived here and there around the world, moving from assignment to assignment. Kerstin, my American friend whose children have never lived in the USA said, “I hated it when my kids lost their Aussie accent!”
Of the nineteen children in my son’s class there are probably ten different ethnic groups represented. During holidays the children disperse around the world to visit family or vacation in far away places. The cultural experience an expat child receives in the UAE is unmatched. Yes, we are living in the Middle East but we are truly receiving a global education due to the overwhelmingly large expat community. We are a melting pot larger than New York City. And fortunately for me, I am learning to pick and choose the best each country has to offer.
When deciding to move internationally, our goal was to create a global citizen. Someone who isn’t defined by geographic borders, an inherited culture, or misinformed by the evening news. Someone who is as comfortable in Dubai as he is in London. Someone with a kind heart, an accepting spirit and a thirst for knowledge and exploration.
And then one day Max said something to me that was so British it made me smile.
I realized with the quip of his little British slang that this experience was achieving its bloody goal.
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I just received my first hate mail and it absolutely blew me away. Who hates the PTA? LeeAnn Rimes. Sure. Gwyneth Paltrow. Overachiever. Madonna. Of course. But the PTA? Give me a break. We are the moms organizing the Harvest Festival, popping popcorn, and selling school sweaters after school. Lady, do you really want to hate on us?
Collectively, we resolved that she probably isn’t very happy. She’s an American living in Saudi, and understandably, life can be difficult for an expat woman. First we are lured with the promise of big money and adventure. The world is at your fingertips. Six hour flight to Rome, to Greece, three hours to the Maldives, five to Germany — for an adventurous person this is a dream come true but for some it is not. They miss home. They miss their old life. Their old friends. They miss everything.
For others, we thrive. We find new friends. We make new memories. We move on. But still there are those moments when it is a little difficult and nobody at home seems to understand because we always look so happy in our Facebook pictures. And we are. But there’s a bookshelf somewhere full of studies that prove when people are thrown together in an unfamiliar environment that survival instincts kick in and people do what they need to do. Okay, so the PTA does what we need to do and more, but there’s always those days when we miss our sister, our parents, or our friends.
Some women are starving for friendship so they sign up for every ladies luncheon, girl’s night out and volunteer for every school function. Whatever it takes to keep them busy. Just hoping they will discover their overseas BFF and life will be full of Cosmos, reruns of Bridesmaids, and incredible shopping adventures. And sometimes that is exactly what happens and sometimes it is not.
Sometimes husband’s careers are sidetracked, kids are yanked out of school, and families are uprooted because it is all too much. It is a culture outside your own and it isn’t always easy to adapt. It may be a country in development that does not follow the same familiar patterns. And many times it can be too much constantly asking Why? Learning to go with the flow isn’t always easy for some. So they try to create work-arounds or a new system for doing something but it is exhausting. The reality is not everyone is suited for this type of lifestyle. You really need to know who you are as a person before you commit yourself to something so challenging.
So back to my hater. I am so very sorry you’re having a bad day. A bad life. Or you made a bad decision. Possibly the expat life isn’t for you or you simply miss your family. But before you pack your bags and go you should join a ladies luncheon, a girl’s night out or even better; maybe you should join the PTA.
I wouldn’t have married you if it weren’t for that thing. The joke, the smile, the thing that caught my eye. That thing the gave me the idea that maybe you were the one. The one who could hold my interest for a very long time.
I wouldn’t have stayed married to you through the hardships and the difficulties if it weren’t for the pesto, the wine, the indie films and the travel; all of the things that make us a we. I honestly would’ve given up.
I would not have brought a child into this world if we didn’t see eye to eye. Sharing the same values, beliefs, and dreams about the future. I stayed with you not because I have to, but because I saw the commitment in your eyes when you kissed your child goodnight and the role model you exemplify every day.
Lesser might have left you as we shifted state to state deciding which keepsake stayed and which would be thrown away. If it weren’t for the laughter that awaited us and the moments I knew would strengthen us; I might have gestured my hands with enough. I am done.
I would’ve reconsidered this whole marriage thing if the obstacles and the hurdles seemed higher and more difficult than than the emotional rewards but you always had our best interest in mind and I believed in you.
I am married to you not because of the successes we have acquired but because of the growth, and the drive, and the accomplishments we leave behind as we set our sights on what will make our family stronger.
As I set here today reflecting on that initial day when you walked in with your introduction; I could’ve walked away or not given you the chance to stay but instead I took a gamble that would fill my heart and soul with happiness.