Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Passages; or, December has come (and almost gone)

I say it over and over again: the more you are here, the more things come back around.

And this: it's not always a bad thing. 

Soccer started again. Starting next week on Tuesday nights, come out and see the ladies recreation league (and Wednesdays, witness my hobbling and limping). 

GTMO Christmas, take 2 
The same: lobster dinner, all-day with family, long distance phone conversations to loved ones we miss terribly. 
New: worst mail delay ever---at least 7 packages of presents didn't make it, and several were ordered before Thanksgiving. Also, people in the States didn't get packages we sent in early December. Maybe Christmas went to Europe or the Middle East? Maybe we need to order in October next year?
More new: Christmas day at the beach. Windmill Beach was packed with picnickers, sun worshippers, scuba divers, and swimmers and it was a fun afternoon, soaking in the sun, breaking for a brief rain storm, and swimming in the warm water. 

Goodbyes at Ferry Landing

Too many goodbyes to count already, and our youngest said goodbye to one of his first friends here, a classmate and neighbor. He managed to take a flying leap off the pier and swim out as the ferry pulled out. It's a fun tradition, and I get very emotional every time it happens. You think after years in the military and then criss-crossing the country we would get used to saying goodbye, but I still cry a little bit every time.

And this Christmas, for the first time in GTMO, we put up a tree.

Today I put away the Christmas ornaments and managed to whittle our EIGHT large plastic containers of Christmas ornaments and decorations down to four. How does a family of only four people manage to collect so much stuff that is generally only displayed for one month?  Probably because I suffer from sentimentality and sometimes have a hard time getting rid of stuff. Some of my strongest memories come from tchotchkes and ornaments and all other things Christmas.

When I was 22, I ran out of money and options and instead of finishing my Master's degree---I only had a thesis to write, and I was completely clueless on a topic---I basically took the first teaching job I was offered, in the town of Meridian, MS. (As an aside---NEVER take the first job you are offered, unless you are desperate). I made $17,000 with no health benefits. I have a nasty scar on my leg from burning myself on the tailpipe of my car (which was hit and ---you guessed it---I only had liability insurance so I never did get it fixed) and I didn't have the money to go to a doctor. My principal was awful---he called me "baby girl," referred to a student as the N word in front of him (I was mortified, and later gave the kid a big hug), and when I told him I didn't think we should be saying a prayer ("in Jesus' name we pray") over the loud speaker of a public school every single morning, especially when he told me that no, the Jewish kid in my homeroom HAD to sit and listen to the prayer and couldn't stand in the hallway, he told me he would pray for me.

I won't tell you what I said back, but let's just say it wasn't nice and I got the shortest reference letter known to man when I finally quit so I could finish my thesis and get married. Oh, and he asked if I were pregnant when I told him I was getting married. Classy!!!

In all this madness, I met an amazing group of beginning teachers, and we dealt with our shared poverty (and shock at the craziness of the school system) by eating communal meals and hanging out every weekend.  I have managed to stay in touch with one (our first children, both boys, even had the same due date!) and we still laugh over that year we survived together.

I also managed to strike up a beautiful friendship with the 70-something year-old grandmother of my boyfriend, who was living far away in Dallas but made sure I connected with his grandma as soon as I moved there. We immediately got along---she had been a life-long teacher and totally empathized with many of my first year travails, and she was a wonderful support person for that year of insanity. She was a pistol, full of mischief and good humor, creative and resourceful, and whip-smart. Like most Southern ladies, she was an outstanding cook and could make you forget all manners and ask for third or fourth helpings at the dinner table.

About now you are thinking, "Um, what's the point?" Hold on. I promise it's coming.

In addition to black bottom pie and coffee at Weidmann's and looking at fancy dolls at a store across the street (yes, we both collect dolls), she found out that I liked glass Christmas ornaments, and that was that.

This lady LOVED Christmas more than anyone I've ever known.

She bought me BOXES of glass ornaments. Enough for a tree, actually. Then once I married her grandson, she made us a tree skirt, helped me make stockings, and made some beautiful crocheted ornaments. She also gave us several nutcracker ornaments, which we've added to over the years.

My own grandmother also loves Christmas. Over the years, she's made us ornaments, and she and my beloved grandfather sent me the most beautiful wooden box of fancy glass ornaments I've ever seen. I'm so afraid of breaking them, this was only the third Christmas I've put them on the tree.

I also picked up one of her habits of buying a Christmas ornament any time I visit somewhere special to me. I have a nice crèche scene from Sante Fe; beautiful painted ornaments from Playa del Carmen, Mexico; several ornaments from our one visit and my parents' multiple visits to the Hawaiian islands; and nice quality German ornaments---those Germans really know how to do Christmas!

We also have a large number of ornaments from the 70s that belonged to my husband's family. Add to those 15 years of ornaments collected from raising two boys---lots of homemade elementary school projects---and you get the general idea of our ornament collection.

All in all, we could decorate a small forest of trees. And I don't think I can get rid of any of them.

Christmas brings back wonderful memories of family, some gone from this earth, and I love to think of the places we've seen and how much our boys have grown when I look at the tree.

And every time I pack the ornaments away, I am brought back to that first year of teaching, single and broke, and hanging out with my new 70-something year old friend who would become my grandmother-in-law. I'm sure I would have grown to love her regardless, but the fact that she provided much-needed diversion and support during a crazy year made it happen that much faster. I miss her terribly---she passed away when our oldest son was only a toddler---but every Christmas, I love the rush of happy memories when I put something she made or gave us on the tree. It is her eternal Christmas present to us---the wonderful memories that come with unwrapping every ornament we carefully store in tissue the year before, and knowing the joy she got at Christmas and how tickled she would be to know her ornaments are still the primary decorations on our tree.

Before I get too mushy about the holidays, there's this: our GTMO house is almost half the size of our last house. The dining room, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room/panty, bathroom, and den could fit in the dining room/living room of my last house, which is where we had all our Christmas decorations spread out. I love Christmas, but sentimentality aside, it's a relief to have that little bit of space back.

Onward to 2014. Here's to collecting more memories (and hopefully, less stuff!) for the new year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

International friends; or, That time a Russian lady poured Vodka in my ear

Today's weather in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 85º and partly cloudy. 

For such a small place with a small population, the vast diversity of people here blows my mind.

Case in point: we went to a party a while back to celebrate the visit of an unaccompanied serviceman's wife. The couple is from Puerto Rico. To celebrate his wife's arrival, he prepared grilled bacon wrapped asparagus (my favorite), steak, and fresh ceviche on a bed of fried plantains.

Yes, here in Gitmo. And it was amazing. To top things off, there were people from South Africa and England celebrating, too. It's like music, hearing so many accents at one time in one place.

And that's how it is at school events or aisles of the grocery store, with people originally from places such as India, Korea, Jamaica, Jordan, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia. What we lack in real life Cubans in Gitmo, we make up for in the assortment of residents on base.

I have gotten to know a few ladies from Russia, as well. One of them is a whirling dervish of energy. She is very animated when she talks, and as a former teacher in her country, very smart (and quite sarcastic at times). What's not to love about that?

Our kids attend school and played soccer together. One day I was watching a game, and suddenly, I hear someone with a very thick Russian accent saying loudly, "YOU! YOU PLAY SOCCER!"

Me: "Um, yeah, well I used to play outdoors, and before I got here, I played in an indoor league, and. . . "


And this, folks, is how in 30 seconds I went from having every Tuesday and Thursday night free to playing in a rec league that I absolutely loved. That whirling dervish of a lady is very, very convincing.

I have felt out of sorts, to say the least, while dealing with an ear infection in one ear (and completely off balance, to boot). I was bundled up in bed watching Dr. Zhivago yesterday morning, and despite having seen it in its overdrawn, too-long, but lusciously shot glory at least 5 other times, my heart breaks EVERY TIME that (*spoiler alert*) I realize that Yuri and Lara are never going to connect again, and he is never going to find out about his daughter.

I was ruminating on White Russians and Bolsheviks and the fate of the star-crossed lovers when the phone rang. It was my husband.

After a few questions ("How are you feeling? Have you taken your medicine") and asking if our son would like a playdate, I found myself speaking to someone with a Russian accent.

Talk about surreal---I went from watching Dr. Zhivago about Russia to talking to a real-life Russian in just a few minutes time.

My soccer friend had stopped by my husband's work, and upon hearing about my maladies, she took it upon herself to take my youngest off my hands to give me some time to rest. Once and again, I am blown away by people's generosity here, and her offer was flattering and one I ultimately could not resist. Her last words on the phone were, "I am coming by to get him. Get some vodka ready."

Huh? I do have an ear infection, so maybe I'm not hearing correctly.

But no. This is how I came to finding myself an hour later reclining on the couch with someone carefully pouring vodka in my ear. Russians take vodka seriously and look at it much like some Americans view rubbing alcohol (or Windex and duct tape). It's a cure-all. And what could it hurt?

Many, many years ago, I spent a weekend with my great-grandmother's sister Myrtle, my great-great aunt who was a bundle of energy in her own right. I couldn't have been older than 10. I had the beginnings of bronchitis, and she mixed up a concoction in a mason jar, insisted that I drink it, and I was CURED in the morning.

The medicine? Honey, peppermint, lemon, and whisky. To this day I don't like whisky, but if you throw some honey, peppermint, and lemon in it, I could drink it all day (or until I pass out).

I'm not adverse to trying some home remedies and you know what? My ear quit crackling and popping for the rest of the day, and I was able to hear a little better. I woke up stone deaf in that ear again this morning, so I'm going to try it again.

And I may take a shot or two, as well, just to see how that comes out.  It's past 5 o'clock in Russia, so why not?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Harder Better Faster Stronger; or, Once again, with feeling

Today's weather in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 88º and partly cloudy. 

Year two here means experiencing the same things over and over again. However, this year's going to be harder, better, faster, stronger (with all apologies to Daft Punk).

First (better, stronger): diving

I have managed to finally log over 50 lifetime dives now, and I only have two more dives to get my advanced open water certification. I've been taking classes to finish that cert so I can go to a wider range of dive sites on island.

Twenty one years after my first dive, I finally faced my fears and experienced a night dive last weekend. It wasn't nearly as terrifying as I thought. (I blame reading too many Peter Benchley novels in my early teens for my irrational fear of night diving).

We saw: a huge urchin stretching out from its exoskeleton to feed; a parrotfish sleeping in its nighttime cocoon; a freaky arrow crab; a baby lobster; my first Gitmo starfish sighting; half-burrowed, sleeping rays; and a graceful, fluid octopus that was clinging to the bottom of a colorful coral ledge.  Puffer fish don't puff out in their sleep, and their spines don't show---so when we came down on a sleeping puffer, it was amazing to come nose-to-nose with the little guy, hovering like a hummingbird, suspended completely still while we got much closer than we can during the day.

I also went on a wreck dive (okay, it's a "wreck" dive, as it was a barge intentionally sunk for an artificial reef). Lots of damsels and wrasses and two of the biggest angelfish I've even seen were gliding in and out of colorful sponges and corals and through crevices in the old barge. It was so nice to see something different from the same places we've been before. We definitely will be back there (and hopefully with a camera next time).

All dives were at Girl Scout Beach, which I love because it's great for finding sea glass, has more sand for laying out and reading a book in the sun than most other beaches, and it's relatively easy to get to.

I don't love the steps that go from the bottom of Girl Scout to the area where you park. It's especially rough when you are hauling tanks and gear (and going up is always much more difficult than going down). It also doesn't have tables, restrooms, or water, so you are really roughing it.

I'm happy to get more dives in (and more "difficult" speciality ones, at that), and I'm looking forward to a second year of diving, with many more locations available once I finally finish my certification.  I've become a stronger diver because of the classes and I'm making great memories every time I go out with my son or husband.

Second (better, faster): This year's parade was also bigger and better for us, because our youngest got to be on a float. He was so excited when he found out he was going to be in the parade, he exclaimed, "It's my wildest dreams come true!" Um, okay. Then again, I managed to be in the Christmas parade every year I lived in our little town and loved the experience. Granted, I was never a beauty queen doing my beauty queen wave from the back of a convertible (that would be my sister), but I was a band geek and therefore got to march the little route for years. As a little kid, I was always on a float with Brownies or a church group. I do remember one year helping decorate a float made of chicken wire with tissue paper down at the National Guard Armory. No chicken wire and tissue here, but several nautical themed floats that were quite cute:

The experience this year was different for me, too, because instead of getting pelted with candy, I waited for my son at the end of the route (where most floats had run out of candy). Maybe it was a larger parade, or many I just had a better view from a different vantage point, or just maybe I've been here so long that everything is starting to look bigger than normal, but I thought this year's parade was larger, with better floats and more of them.

And third (harder): sickness.

This one isn't good.

This time last year, I ended up with a bad respiratory infection and my first case of asthma in years and years. I guess the December funk has hit again. I finally gave in and went to the doctor today---it's really not a bad experience here, since you are in and out in less than 30 minutes, tops---but I hate being sick because, really, who likes being sick? Plus I am allergic to almost every antibiotic, so getting sick is frustrating, to say the least. I can't just pop a pill like a normal person and be okay in a few days. I have an inner ear infection, so goodbye, diving, until that is over. I'm on a nice cocktail of cold medication and antibiotics and a little something for the pain, so I missed a party at the youngest's school tonight and used a sick day today (or half a day) for the first time since I've been here. To make matters more complicated, there are no albuterol inhalers on the island---the one and only pharmacy is out and may get some next week. Not a good time to be asthmatic! I am even loopier and crabbier than usual (who knew that was possible?), and to me, things like ear infections seem to get harder to deal with the older you are. You know how life is as an adult---you are too busy with kids and work to be sick. Hoping a weekend in bed will cure everything---although I would much rather be hanging out with little kids at a Christmas party, or diving, or last minute shopping, or wrapping the presents that (hopefully) are sitting at school because I wasn't there for mail call today.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Muchas Gracias; or, Giving Thanks

Today's weather in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: 83º and cloudy

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and in the season of giving and thanking, I am thankful for many little things here in Gitmo.

There are the obvious things: friends, family, health.

I am thankful that in such a relatively small time frame, we've met people here who I know we will keep in touch with for years to come.

There are stresses of living somewhere so isolated and limited in resources and entertainment, but recently I realized that overall, there is a core set of really amazing people who live here. I'm sure that exists in every community, but being in this small place, you can't help but notice how many people stand out.

Heard everywhere lately: "How is your family?" "How is your home?" When was the last time you went up to a total stranger and asked him or her one of those questions?

For Gitmo, however, it's been the norm the last few weeks since the catastrophic typhoon killed over 5000 (and counting) in the Philippines.

There are over 1500 foreign national Filipinos working at Gitmo---most are male, with contracts stipulating they cannot return home until they have been here at least 2 years, and most with a wife and child(ren) back home.

This entire base has been profoundly affected by the welfare of a group of people who we depend on for so much. They are hard working, friendly, and if you haven't lived somewhere where you have lumpia and pancit at every single social function, I really feel sorry for you.

Like most of our neighbors, I have found myself asking the Filipinos who bag my groceries, both school secretaries, the ladies and men who work at various MWR locations, the Bremcor construction workers who come into the schools almost every day, and the people standing next to me in line at the grocery store about how their lives have been affected by the recent tragedy.

I am thankful that I live amongst people who care for people who aren't quite strangers, but for the most part, not friends, either. Various groups and individuals have worked to get money wired to family members back home. They are still making sure that their families are taken care of for the upcoming holidays. There has been an outpouring of love and support for the Filipinos here, because they are a major part of our community, and we are thankful that they are here to make this place run a little more efficiently.

I am thankful for soccer.

Oh, how I love soccer. I love watching it on television or in person, I love playing it, I love watching my kids as they are getting better and better every game.

The women's league finally winded down a couple of weeks ago, and I really do miss it. Our league consisted of all sorts of women---Jamaican foreign nationals; people associated with NCIS, JTF, the Red Cross; civilian contractors; members of the Army, Marines, and Navy; military spouses; several moms. We had engineers and mechanics, MWR employees and women deployed without their families, and I am so happy to say I was the ONLY school employee in the entire league, because, like most teachers, I really tire of talking about anything work related l when I am away from school.

The season is winding down for the kids, as well.  I am thankful that Boy 1 is laughing and enjoying himself (and he's really good) with a sport he hasn't played since he was 8 years old. I'm am thankful that Boy 2 has ways to run off some of that 8 year old energy that his mama can't keep up with.

I am also thankful for the following:

  • my kids' teachers: I am so thankful for smart, caring teachers for both of our sons. When my oldest had a difficult time adjusting when we first got here, they didn't give up---they went beyond any teachers he has ever had in order to make sure his academic and emotional needs were met. This is not an easy place to teach---most high school teachers have 5 preps and most of the time, they are the only person who teaches a specific class---but they manage to not only leave that stress at home, but make sure my son transitioned to life on this crazy rock. 

  • the author John Green: Thanks to him, my oldest has found his love of reading again. Now, if he could just hurry up and publish another book. . . 
  • friends and family who say, "Tell me what you want, and I will send it"---and they MEAN IT:  I have received several wonderful care packages while living here, with everything from Halloween decorations to Zero bars to borracho beans to bacon. 
  • work people: I have coworkers who, despite some changes that have brought on many anxieties, still find ways for us to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously. And I am grateful for every one of them.
  • BEACHES: I have never lived anywhere where you can go to the beach every single day of the year. Whether it's diving or hunting for sea glass, the sound of the waves and the smell of salt air can make the most jaded person love life a little more.
Yes, that is Boy 1 in action.
  • slow traffic and only two main roads: This is the perfect way for a 15 1/2 year old to learn to drive a car. Not so sure how he'll fare---or the rest of us, for that matter---when we are back in the states next summer and the land of crazy Texas drivers. 
And finally, Friday really stood out as a truly Gitmo (early) Thanksgiving. We had a mini Thanksgiving celebration at the Youth Center for parents and kids in the after school program, and there was good food: fried chicken, pancit, callaloo, and festivals. If you don't know what pancit is, make friends with a Filipino and beg them to take you home to their mama. Pancit is at almost every catered and potluck event here. Callaloo is a wonderful salad from Jamaica made from the amaranth plant, and festivals are pieces of fried bread, much like beignets. Good stuff all around. I sat there at the end of a short (but somewhat stressful) work week and thought, this is crazy. I'm in Cuba, surrounded by Jamaican ladies serving Jamaican and Filipino food, and I got invited to celebrate Thanksgiving by two Russian ladies who have decided to celebrate the most American of holidays with their families here.  We chose to stay at home, just the four of us, and eschewed all tradition for pulled pork sandwiches and potato salad (why not?). We didn't stand in line at 6 am for Black Friday sales or put up a Christmas tree, but we did manage to have a very relaxing weekend at home and at the beach, soaking up the sun and counting our blessings for the things we have here in Gitmo. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's November; or, Chan Chan (Changes)

Today's high in Guantánamo Bay Naval Station: 85º F
Tonight: 75º F ("feels like 77")

Ah, nothing like autumn. In the States, changes are everywhere. Crisp, cool air. Leaves to rake. In Colorado, if we were lucky we'd have a thin powdering of snow by now. In Washington, the days would begin that change to becoming, in my opinion, unbearably short. In Texas, the shutters were opened, the cicadas would quiet down, the chiminea was set ablaze, and the quilts came out at night. 

At least that's how I used to do it. Not so much in the land of eternal summer. 

Every time I get in the car I take the opportunity to listen to one of the local Cuban stations. I really try catch everything said on call-in shows, sports shows (baseball, of course), and my favorite, the morning propaganda shows. I'm going to be dropping all final consonants and all my Ss if I'm in another Spanish speaking country again---Cuban Spanish has infiltrated my brain. After listening every morning, I'm getting better at listening in Cuban (even if I'm not doing much speaking in Cuban).  

But what I really love is the music. Some times you get Latin pop or rap, but I'm talking Cuban music---mambo and salsa and rumba. I'd recognize Celia Cruz's voice anywhere, but there are many, many others I don't know. I just enjoy my drives across base as I'm imagining that I'm going through the historical streets of Havana (instead of Cuban Mayberry).

Occasionally there are surprises. A few weeks ago, REM's "Losing My Religion" came on in the middle of an otherwise authentically Cuban set. 

Huh? Was it Communist propaganda against organized religion? Did someone hit a wrong button? Or are there REM fans scattered across that land right over the fence?

Also heard this week: "Y ahorrrra, Guns y Roses con 'November Rain." 

So in the land of eternal summer, how do you know November has arrived? 

When both the Cuban DJ and Axl Rose tell you, that's when. 

(Even if there is very little actual rain involved).

"Chan Chan" from the movie The Buena Vista Social Club. 
Little did I know when I saw this documentary with my friend in Washington,  
I'd be living in Cuba one day (and she'd be living in Germany). 
The four towns mentioned in this song---
Alto Cerdo, Marcané, Cueto, and Mayarí--are in the province right above our own

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mail, Shopping, and the Star Spangled Banner; or, You've Been Gitmoed!!

Today's weather at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba: partly cloudy and 88 degrees ("feels like 95")

"This is So Gitmo."

"We've been Gitmoed."

Once you've been here a while, you hear these phrases referring to the place we all call home.

It's finding out that the cooler on the weekly food barge broke and there is a shortage of dairy and deli products. Or it's the dairy container full of yogurt and eggs that are all out of date. It's Pizza Hut not having pizza for a week because they ran out of cheese. (Last year, they ran out of dough). People swear this story is true: a few years back, McDonald's ran out of meat and buns, so they sold PB& J sandwiches. It's the Subway Sandwich Artist saying, "Sorry, but we are out of bread. And lettuce. And tomatoes. What would you like on your sandwich?" It's no candy corn for Halloween. What kind of place doesn't sell the National Candy of Halloween?!?!?

It's the movie being cancelled---because it is raining. It is work internet going out every week because of some issue---in Georgia.

It's the stampede of residents going into full-out hoarder mode and buying out the commissary when the barge dumped several containers (only to find out that food wasn't part of the catastrophe). It's paying $18 for a pair of cheater glasses, $45 for a pair of flip flops, or $130 for a pair of running shoes because you have no other shopping option here. It's the fact that, after a year, you don't even look at the prices of things you need---you just throw the items in your cart and brace yourself for a surprise at the checkout.

It's living in base housing, and thus having to take time off work to meet workers when they come to change the lightbulb in your fridge, which also belongs to the base. Seriously. You can't buy them here and you aren't supposed to change them yourself; you have to take off work to have someone CHANGE A LIGHTBULB.

Apocryphal, outrageous, and darkly humorous, stories of being Gitmoed have a life of their own around here, and with reason.

I went to a birthday party a few weeks ago and played on the theme of being Gitmoed. The decorations were from Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, leftover odds and ends from kids' parties (Scooby Doo, anyone?). The balloons included retirement balloons. It was very Gitmo. If you go to the party section of the NEX, it's about two feet wide, two shelves high. You get two choices of invitations. You get two choices of plates. You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit. If you try to get all fancy and order decorations and invitations online that, heaven forbid,  fit together in a thematic fashion, you better hope your mail doesn't get Gitmoed.

My mail has been Gitmoed again, and my Map of Lost Mail has yet another pin:

Abu Nakhlah, Qatar, has been added to places in Oman, Italy, Spain, and Egypt.

Something being So Gitmo isn't necessarily a bad thing, either.

On the day you turn exactly 15 1/2, you qualify for a Gitmo driver's permit. After passing a written test, your permit allows you to drive with an adult in the car, and once you turn 16, you can take the driving test and get a Gitmo driver's license.

Guess who spent 4 hours yesterday riding from one end of this base to another (and again) in Pearl with her 15 1/2 year old Gitmo permit holder son driving??

Nevermind that it's not recognized in the US; your Gitmo permit or license will allow you to have the Gitmoed driving experience.

Driving that is So Gitmo means 25 mph speed limits on the main road (Sherman Ave.), 35 on a small stretch to Cable Beach, and frequent stops for stubborn iguanas, stupid hutias, suicidal guineas, colorful chickens, Gitmo feral kitties or dogs, occasional deer, crazed land crabs, or the elusive and huge Cuban boa. Sometimes you see most or all in one day.

I was exhausted and cranky, making my way home in my super intense 5 minute commute last Friday, when not one but TWO families of guinea fowl, complete with little baby guineas, jumped out in the road. Luckily I saw them ahead of time and they didn't end up as road kill (or dinner). My commute that is So Gitmo has lots of pleasant surprises, and watching little guineas frenetically following their mama made me literally LOL.

It's the gang of feral neighbor kids who don't even knock anymore---they just walk in the front or back door, and use our yard as the cut-through. They open our fridge and help themselves.

They also snap at attention the second the Star Spangled Banner plays every morning (or before every movie) and when Colors are played at sundown. It doesn't matter if kids are mid soccer game, bike race, or climbing the big tree in the park behind our house---they automatically stand stone-still, chests puffed out, arms straight, and facing the nearest flag the second they hear the speakers.

The kids have been Gitmoed. It's charming and a little disconcerting, all at the same time. And so is this place that, for now, we call home.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween, Gitmo style; or, Pillowcases, Bed Sheets, and Boba Fett

Today in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: 83 degrees and cloudy ("feels like 90," according to the Weather Channel)

Got to dig in the dirt and I'm now sitting on the nice, cool screened in backporch under a ceiling fan, typing and looking at my filthy fingernails---it felt good to get out and burn off some of that Halloween candy.

And what a Halloween it was! First, there was Trunk or Treat at the Lyceum. I've never been to one before. Lots of units and offices and contractor groups and even families had fun entries. The Bremcor group---a construction company made up of mostly Filipino workers---built an amazing pirate ship on the back of a truck that you could climb into. My favorite was was truck called "Ice Screams"---an old ambulance with a zombie crew, complete with a big ice cream freezer. I loved seeing all the kids and adults dressed up (and streaked with popsicle and ice cream down the front of their costumes).

There were probably 5 costumes to choose from at the NEX the one time I looked at them, so most kids either get them online, or their parents make them. I love that---you use what you have here (and with no fabric or craft supplies here, you get really creative). Part of the fun of the holiday is guessing what kids and grown ups are supposed to be. Next year, my goal is to make costumes (instead of sweating it out that our mail won't get here in time).

Then there was trick or treating. Last year, the guys got here on Halloween. The youngest got dressed up and we walked his new neighborhood. I had only been here 10 days, so we both were getting our bearings. The best moment was when we had hiked a quarter of the way around the block, and he said, "Awwwww. I'm so sad we're done." Then I realized---hello, base housing!---all the houses look alike and he really thought he was back at home. He was thrilled to realize his mistake, and unlike our older neighborhood, where we were lucky to have 10 houses with lights on for the holiday, almost every family participates here.

This year we went to a neighbor's house and combined four families' treats. There are slim pickings at our little NEX, so I was glad I had ordered a ton of candy online (and hid it until the 31st). There were grown up treats (wine and German cookies) and we all took turns visiting with neighbors and handing out the goods. It reminded me a lot of being back in the little town where I grew up---kids here get in big groups without adults, the older ones looking out for the younger ones. We went through tons of candy (and wine---did I mention wine?) and the grownups shared lots of laughs long after the kids went to bed.

Today I hit the NEX and couldn't believe the amount of Christmas decorations that were already out. That really annoys me in the US, and maybe I was so busy trying to settle in with the family that I didn't notice everything was out so early last year. Or maybe it wasn't. Or maybe I was so used to living in the US, where some stores start putting items out after Labor Day, that it didn't phase me. But living where you only have one store for everything makes it much more noticeable.

We didn't have but a small handful of Halloween costumes and only a few types of candy to choose from here this year. We don't have a bakery department, so there weren't rows of garishly decorated orange and black cookies and cupcakes for the holiday. There were a few decorations and lights for the house (but I honestly don't think anyone in our neighborhood bought any). You live in towns with Targets and Walmarts and large grocery chains that sell you items you don't even know you need, and when you make the switch to living where you don't have items you really do want and need and can't get, it makes you realize that you can really live without so much. I'm sure lots of kids who have lived stateside or on larger bases want the all-American Halloween with a large selection of brand new costumes and hundreds of varieties of candy and treats, but I found the experience of seeing a little ghost tripping on a cut up sheet, a few kids with bits and pieces of several past costumes that obviously didn't go together, or having a kid pull out his Pokemon pillowcase to fill,  a much more rewarding holiday experience.

Boba Fett with a Nerf gun---why not? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Year of the Blog; or, Reflections

One year ago I started this goofy blog as a means to keep up with family and friends. I hoped to post a few pictures, tell a few stories, and let everyone know that we are absolutely okay, despite living in a place most people don't know much about.

In the process, I've gotten back in touch with people from my childhood, former students, and former colleagues. We have received sweet notes of encouragement and amazing care packages from all over. I've even gotten a few suggestions for grammar and spelling corrections. :) We are blessed to have such a strong support system of friends and family to help us along the way.

In this crazy journey I've also found other people who are living and working in schools overseas, including a former student who is teaching art in Croatia. I would love to be able to visit with him and meet his wife, also a teacher, if we ever get to that part of Europe. I have been been helped tremendously along the way by some amazing friends who have both taught in Germany. They have moved from one end of the country to another, and their observations about life and culture overseas always keep me laughing (and inspire me to get my family to somewhere where we can experience more of the local culture). As I was leaving Texas, another colleague accepted a job to Morocco and is now teaching there. I should mention that one of the places I most want to visit is Marrakech (blame it on Indiana Jones), so I am in total awe of her experiences. When I complain about hardships here, I have to really shut up because I could be in Uganda like one of my former teacher/librarian colleagues who is doing amazing work with Libraries of Love (look it up!). And now, I am really looking forward to hearing from a Cuba colleague who sadly left us, but will be moving to Zambia in a few weeks to teach.

The point is this: the world is there for the taking. There are opportunities out there if you want to serve the military as a DoDDS teacher, or if you want to work for charitable educational organizations, or if you want to work for a private international school. All give you opportunities to travel and see the world (although, ironically, I am at the one place where you really can't do that). I have hope that we will one day move on, and I am going to enjoy every minute while we are here.

One of the big catch phrases of education the last few years has been "digging data." All apologies to my teacher friends---that phrase probably makes you want to gag and/or puke. Sorry. But here are some numbers from the year of the blog:

Blog views, as of this very minute: 8,601

Followers: 13

Visitors are most often from: US (duh), Germany (yes, we know people there), and Russia. Russia? Would someone from Russia message me so I know you really exist?

My favorite post so far? It would be the very bittersweet story of my childhood neighbor Todd, who died suddenly this past year. It was by far the easiest one to write---what you read is pretty much the first and only draft. I woke up my husband pounding away on the laptop keyboard after midnight---blogging is a good cure for insomnia (as I'm sure reading some of these entries are, as well). As a result of this post, I've gotten back in touch with his mom and sisters and met his fiancé--yes, more bittersweetness. ("Goodbye; or, For Todd")

My other favorite entry also has nothing to do with Gitmo, but it about my thoughts on being a wanderer instead of a nester ("The question I hate; or, (d) none of the above").

The two Cuba entries I like most are the story about my son having "drive by friends" ("Drive-bys in Gitmo; or, How a Gang Took My Youngest and Brought Back Pigpen") and the story about the crazy Christmas parade where we left a little beaten up ("Merry Christmas Parade! or, How I Survived a Drive-by Assault").  Is it a coincidence that both entries have the word "drive-by" in the title? What does that say about me???

Anywho,here's a quick rundown of the last year, in 59 blog posts. Excuse the overuse of "I" and "me," and please accept that I don't use my family members' names/faces on here because they would have their own blogs if they wanted everyone in their business. (If you do want to see more of my dashingly handsome guys, you can always check out my facebook page).

October 2012:
1. I arrived in Cuba in one piece
2. I got ready for a hurricane
3. I survived Hurricane Sandy
4. Travel complications and delays with my family
November 2012:
5. Kids arrive, just in time for Halloween, Gitmo style
6. Our family takes our first trip to the beach
7. I list the good, the bad, and decide we're entered a time warp
8. We have our first hutia encounter, and we buy a car
9. My son's merman moves finally pay off
10. I dig up trees out of a stranger's yard
December 2012:
11. We go to one of the weirdest Christmas parades ever
12. There is no crack at Gitmo, but there is Whitney Houston in Cuba
13. Our mail goes to Oman---lost mail story, take 1
14. Gitmo is not Cuba
15. 15K lbs of our fine quality junk finally make it to Cuba
January 2013
16. The unpacking and purging begins
17. More unpacking and the bread shortage begins
18. My youngest child joins a gang
19. I contemplate "home" 
20. Some things never change, but the few surprises are sweet
21. I finally find Rodney, our squirrel 
February 2013
22. There are more things to love here to add to the list
23. Our school is different than your school
24. I am doing lots of running (and thinking)
25. We go to a Mardi Gras celebration
March 2013
26. The banana rats start to grow on me
27. I am still unpacking, and we do a crazy fun run
28. I take a fun trip to Leeward on the ferry 
29. More new experiences, including a 5K, and we get a new car
30. I try my hand at more gardening
April 2013
31. I get all crafty
32. More lessons learned and my parents visit
33. We celebrate our 6 month Gitmo anniversary
May 2013
34. Analogy time! This one is my dream destination = large supermarket
35. I actually talk about books and my job
36. I'm becoming my mom, and that's not a bad thing.
37. I go on some very unique and fun field trips
June 2013
38. More arts and crafts! 
39. Pictures and stories about some wildlife we've encountered
40. I find hidden treasure in strange places
41. We save a baby bird! 
July 2013
42. I lament the lack of groceries
43. Lost mail story, take 2 and 3 (Spain, Italy)
44. First trip back to the U.S. in 9 months (aka culture shock)
45. Reflections on a whirlwind trip to the US and back
August 2013
46. Goodbye to a childhood friend
47. More frustrations with---you guessed it---groceries and mail
48. First time visits to a new (for us) beach and my first fenceline tour
49. What I didn't do on vacation
50. I consider killing a wild chicken
September 2013
51. Anniversary of a job offer, and some reflections
52. A crazy first few weeks back on the job
53. Lost mail story, take four (Egypt) 
54. Scuba diving mishaps
55. Fun terrorism training
October 2013
56. The government shutdown comes to Gitmo
57. We sell our house
58. Fun R & R times
59. Happy 1 year GTMOversary to us! (including a video)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Yo Viviré; or, Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday, the 19th, was my one year GTMOversary!

Time has flown.

Enjoy the video, and crank up your speakers for the Queen of Salsa.

(If you can't get the embedded video to open, click on the link underneath the video box).

Yo Viviré from LuLu Lock on Vimeo.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Covering lots of ground; or, Feet, feet, and more feet

Been covering lots of ground this week (warning, many feet pictures involved)

With much giddiness (and a little nervousness) I made my return to soccer after exactly a year away from the game. I've been hesitant to play here for fear that I would be playing much younger, faster, and tougher women, and many of them are all of the above. But so what?  I have missed the camaraderie that comes with playing on a women's sports team. I never played organized soccer until I was in my early 30s, and I'm thankful for my soccer-fanatic husband who pushed me into taking up the sport way back when and has been very supportive all along.  We tied our first game last Thursday night, and I'm looking forward to more games with the women's recreational soccer league here.

There was today's holiday. I'm not going to get into the Columbus Day holiday (the good, the bad, and the ugly of CC himself), even though he did, in fact, land here in Guantánamo Bay for a brief day or so before moving on to bigger and better things; or that the entire base was without electricity from 4 am until 4 pm today and it was hotter than 7 hells. Yes, you read that right. Happy holiday to us! After a nice early dive with my oldest, the day just got hotter, as the youngest, my husband, and I joined some of my work people for a photography scavenger hunt.  For a few hours this morning I got to finally get a good look at a few landmarks I pass every day.

There is this shrine: 

There are no markers at this little shrine that I pass at least once a week, but I think she may be a copy of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. I didn't get a picture of the offerings and candles on the ground underneath, which are as intriguing to me as the statue. Maybe it was seeing the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, D.F. as a teenager (and my first trip inside a cathedral) that hooked me, or perhaps it was the images of Mary all over Mexico when I lived in Cuernavaca in the early 90s, but I'm intrigued and drawn to any shrines of Mary and always want to stop for a look. Although I am not Catholic, I've spent enough time in Latin American countries that I really do love the reverence for Mary (sometimes mixed with native religions) that I haven't seen as often in the United States. 

You know you are on a Naval base when. . . 

you see anchors every where you go. This was one of 10 or so we had to find. Not as easy as you'd think, considering there are so many of them in many styles at many locations. And yes, the shoe is intentional---we had to have something in the pic to prove we took it today, so I chose my shoe, since my big feet were there and nobody else really wanted to jump in and out of the Jeep 20+ times in the hot weather.  

We also have a few canons here. . .

and this marker I pass all the time when I'm running. I had heard stories about Marines being killed on the fenceline (including Marines killed while trying to deactivate the hundreds of land mines) and I'm sad to say that I never stopped to read the marker. I'm glad now that I did. 

He was only 29, and would have probably retired by now, had he lived and continued to serve in the Marines. 

We are coming up fast on our 1 year GTMO anniversary, and I was pleasantly surprised that we knew  all but a small handful of the 37 landmarks' locations. I think that running (okay, jogging) all over the base, combined with getting out and going to the beaches (and every where else we can go) has really made us feel like we are a part of this place now. Or maybe it's a part of us. All I know is I was surprised at the people who have lived here much longer than I who couldn't identify but a few landmarks. It goes back to getting out of your comfort zone and jumping in with two feet---I am glad my family is with me on this crazy adventure, sometimes leading the way, and other times following me. 

And at the end of the day----I am always happy to kick off my shoes and come back home. The grass is finally growing, the flower bed the hutias plowed through a couple of months back is slowly recovering, and I am always looking for an excuse to get outside, soak up the sun, and kick back in my flip flops.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Homeless; or, Treading lightly

As I told a friend this week, homelessness has never felt so good.

Let me back up---

Eleven years ago we took a huge leap of faith and without selling our house or getting jobs, we packed up all of our belongings and our one child and moved from WA to TX. It was scary, it was exciting, it was expensive, and in hindsight, it was a little crazy. We found a house in TX we liked and bought it, sold our WA house, and found work rather quickly. Things seemed to be going along swimmingly. 

We closed on our WA house and I started a new job the next week. My second day on the job,  I was rear-ended on the way to work. Two days later, my father-in-law died. I should mention, he was the main reason we moved to Texas. 

We were thrown for a loop but decided there was no going back, set down roots, a couple of years later upgraded to a larger house, and decided that we needed another child to make our little family complete. That house became our home for the next eight years, until we made another (crazy?) move to Cuba.

My parents have lived in the same house since 1975. It was the third home I had ever lived in, if you count an apartment we lived in for a few months while waiting to move into that house. It's gotten new carpet, new tile, new wooden floors; it's been added onto, expanded, gutted, and rebuilt; and it was my only house for all twelve years of school until I went to college. Most people can't say that. 

I still sleep in the same bedroom as when I was a first grader when I go back to visit. 

And my oldest son had a very similar experience with our last home in Texas. He moved there at the end of his first grade year (the week of his 7th birthday), and we lived in that same house until we moved here. 

I loved that house, with its amazing tile that the builders brought up from Mexico when it was being built in the 1960s. I loved the beamed ceilings and stucco fireplace. 

There was the nice front porch for watching kids as they played football, and a long driveway that curved around to a rear garage. Both of my kids learned to ride their bikes in that driveway.

My favorite thing about the house was the front yard---two large pecan trees and an oak tree that was huge. The acorns were the size of my thumb. 

School-house lilies---heritage bulbs leftover from the days that our lot was a farm, no doubt---would peek up every August and sometimes, again in May. I loved them, too. 

Selling a house is always a bittersweet experience for me. I have loved things in every single house we've lived in.

The Colorado Springs house? LOVED the kitchen. It was a small galley kitchen but everything was perfect. I also loved having a basement (even though the furnace scared me to death, I'm not going to lie).

The Washington house? I loved the back porch and deck my husband built. In typical hubby fashion, he had an idea, he drew it out quickly, he made ONE trip to the hardware store and in a day, it was done.  I also miss my huge bathtub---not great for conserving water, but damn, sometimes you just want a serious bubble bath.

The Texas house, version one? The 1950 bungalow was perfect---for a small family. The original wooden floors that had never been shellacked (only oiled) and the wood trim throughout were beautiful. I loved the funky 50s formica with the atomic design.

Then there was our last house---the longest we have lived in one place since we married over 20 years ago. We brought home a beautiful, big, joyful baby boy there in 2005.  We had bouncy houses and piñatas under the large oak for 2 boys' birthday parties. I never mastered backing the boat out of the long driveway, but I never hit the telephone at the end of the drive, either---a plus.

We lost a dog living in that house and gained a child. I celebrated holidays in that house with my grandfather, who I think about and miss every single day. I pulled many late nighters finishing up grad classes so I could change careers and become a librarian while living there.

We shared many noisy, happy, and child-filled celebrations with our Texas family there, and I was the happiest when we had everyone around our dining room table.

Texas is our home of record, and is our last US home. After ten years there, I still don't feel like a Texan---but I did give birth to one, and perhaps he'll feel the pull for Texas as I do for Mississippi (and, to some extent, our oldest feels for Washington State). I left many people I love there, and I have many reasons to go back to visit. We just knew that keeping a house there was impractical and not financially prudent, so selling it was ultimately the best decision we could make for our family.

It was a good house, and it was a great home. Here's to the next family filling it with laughter and love.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Adventures in Shutdown Land; or, No MARC for you!!!

Hello, I am your host for tonight's episode of, "What has the Government Shutdown done for me?"

Are you excited yet?

Exhibit one: my television.

I know you are thinking, "So. Freakin'. What. It's just television."

You try living somewhere where you have limited cable television (we refuse to buy an obnoxious, 8 foot, 1980s style dish required for satellite here). No more network television. Just as well, since I really don't want my blood to boil any more than possible when the news turns to Congress.

Exhibit two: my work.

The backbone of what librarians do is write something called MARC (MAchine Readable Catalog) records. You have lots of fields you fill out using several different guidebooks for call numbers, subject headings, and rules of punctuation, capitalization, spacing, etc. Doesn't this look exciting?

MARC record for To Kill a Mockingbird---writing these makes me very happy. 

It's time consuming and I LOVE IT because I'm that much of a nerd. But I don't have a lot of time, so I use what most librarians use---Library of Congress.

Yes, your tax dollars for the Library of Congress are well-used. I access the records several times a week. It's the go-to guide for law librarians, school librarians, public librarians, archivists, and special collections librarians.

And this is what happened after the shut-down.

This sucks.

My parents have had a tripped planned for months to California and their first day at Yosemite, they were greeted with a CLOSED sign.

Oh, and the biggie:
I work, but I don't get paid. In theory, Congress will pass legislation to retroactively pay us for the work we are doing now (and not getting paid for doing).

Did you catch that? I get to work but I don't get paid until this mess is over. Who knows when that will be. (Nevermind that Congress gets paid now and doesn't really work). I am "excepted." Long ago, they used to use the terms "essential" and "non-essential" personnel, which hurt a lot of people's feelings because nobody wants to feel they are non-essential (and thus, not paid during a shutdown). So now instead of being essential, I am excepted. Ridiculous PC rewording, ridiculous that we are even talking about working and not getting paid for it.

We have students with both parents working as civilians on post and BOTH are furloughed. Furlough means you don't get to work AND you don't get paid.

So I will take a delayed paycheck over no paycheck any day. I say that in all sincerity. I am happy our military folks are not facing financial burdens right now---if you are military or have worked with military families, you know what a very stressful life it can be with frequent deployments and the like.  I am frustrated that this situation has occurred, but I am reminded daily by the worried faces of some of the kids at school that my life could be much worse.

Keep them in your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grenades v. Gun Shots; or, Serpentine! Serpentine!

With the advent of fall arrives special knowledge that only comes around once a year: I may survive a terrorist attack. I know all about PII and PHI. I passed the Cyber Aware challenge. I know about blood-borne pathogens. I won't do anything hinky on my school's internet. Sexual harassment is bad, mmmkay?

Yes, it's that fun required annual employee training that all DoD employees so look forward to! Here's the best part---most of this has to be done on our janky internet.

How janky? I guarantee it didn't take you 27 hours to upgrade to Apple iOS 7. Just sayin'.

I don't know if this information constitutes any deep, dark, classified secrets (maybe I should have paid better attention), so I won't reveal all.

What I can tell you is that if you are ever in the line of fire, duck down and pray like hell.

If you have a grenade thrown at you, lie flat and pray like hell.

Oddly enough, there is no mention of the "serpentine method" found in one of my favorite movies, "The In-Laws." Up until this training, that would have been my go-to method for any unforeseen sniper attacks.

Also, if you are at a hotel and room service knocks on the door offering cake, DON'T TAKE IT. It could be a ploy by some unnamed evil force. (Whether they are going to poison you or attack you is never made clear). You are supposed to instead call the front desk to see if it's a legit gift. ***

No worries. If room service ever knocks of my door, I know they have the wrong room and just ignore them. If I'm in an actual hotel with room service, I know I'm probably dreaming. Does Holiday Inn Express have room service??

Also, don't leave your private information sitting around. Shocking concept, right? Don't go around emailing people your social security number. That includes me. I don't want your social security number. That is, unless you can also give me your bank account number and any PINs you have at the same time.

Germs are bad. Wash your hands. Often. If you work with small kids, you may want to consider Lysol-ing yourself and stripping down before you walk through your house.

I came home from my first day of storytimes and library lessons at the elementary campus with a snot trail and dirty hand prints all over my nice, new skirt. I love the little kids. I just don't like them always being all up in my bubble. And when it comes to working with little kids, I have a ginormous bubble. Keep your distance, germ carriers!

I am not mocking my training (well, mostly not) and definitely not making light of serious situations. I am, however, a little punch drunk after a marathon session of listening to a robotic voice talk to me, all the while I'm waiting (and waiting, and waiting) on pages to load.

***Yes, the cake scenario is really in the training. I kid you not. I did the same training last year, and when that same slide came up, I got all excited. What's not to get giddy about when cake is involved?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Four-Minute Scuba Dives, or, We have a malfunction

Diving is not for the weak.

I don't mean that in an, "I'm so macho doing an extreme sport and you're a sissy" kind of way.

I mean, if you shore dive from Windmill Beach in GTMO, you have to have a strong back, shoulders, and arms to schlep equipment from your car to the picnic area, and then from the picnic area through dirt and sand to the water. Then you may have to swim out a hundred yards before you slip underneath the waves.

Son 1 and I went for some diving early Sunday morning. I will be the first to admit that I'm not a finite detail kind of person. It's a good thing my son is, because this is what you have to remember:
skin (or wetsuit)
BC (buoyancy compensator)
dive computer

also, towels are necessary, snacks are nice, mask de-fogger is preferable.

I'll just say I'm not the ONLY person in my family who has realized while in the process of dressing out to dive that I've left a crucial item at the house. With the exception of a snorkel, you have to have each of these items to make your dive.

We did a great job of getting everything packed (okay, my son did most of the packing except the towels and snacks), and we got to Windmill in plenty of time to pick a good spot to set up. The weather was great---not windy, low tide, sunny, not too hot. The water was warm---my son only wore his swim trunks and a tee shirt---and my ears cleared quickly for once (I sometimes take a few minutes to descend). The visibility was amazing. For only the second time since we've been here, I spotted sand dollars, and I got one for each of the boys.

Then, of course, disaster---I realized my dive computer would not turn on. The computer doesn't only tell me my depth and how many minutes I can safely stay at that depth, it keeps me from ascending too fast (one way to get "the bends") and most importantly, its pressure gauge tells me how much air I have left.

Important stuff, right?

So we aborted the dive and I had the shortest bottom time yet (the son said 4 minutes, but I wouldn't know, since a clock and timer are also part of the computer. Grrrr).

We did have a fabulous snorkel on the way back. I usually hate snorkeling, because I think you tend to look more like lunch to a predator when you are up on the surface than eye-to-eye or on the bottom. I don't want to find out either way.  We made good use of the heavy equipment we'd schlepped, with the BC doubling beautifully as a snorkel vest, and on rougher days, a regulator can be a good alternative to a snorkel when the waves get a little crazy. It's an expensive way to snorkel, no doubt, but it's not a bad way to do it.

The son turns to me and shouts, "Look, mom, a baby barracuda! Did you see it?"

I shout back, "Nope, but I HAVE SAND DOLLARS!"  Woot!

Then, "Mom! Four or five barracudas! Did you see them? And more babies!"

Me: "No, I didn't---but did you see my sand dollars??"

Then, "That was an awesome sea turtle! I think I got a picture of it!"

Me: "What sea turtle? Huh? But hey, I have sand dollars. . . "

My son says that 1)I need to do a better job de-fogging my mask---you can't argue with that when you see the pic of me above, and 2) I need to get a stronger contact lens prescription. He's right about that, too.

We have a waterproof case for a digital camera that is clunky and awkward to use, but once you've played with it a few minutes, it takes great photos. In the four minutes we were down, we unfortunately didn't get many pictures, and these are less than stellar. But still---that moment when you are ascending and are caught in the spectrum of white/brown sand and coral, rising out of the darker deep waters, seeing more and more sun's rays cutting through once you get closer to the surface---he did manage to get a picture of that. And whether it's 40 minutes or 4, I love that moment when you ascend through the bursts of colors that is the ocean.

Oh, and did I mention----I have sand dollars!!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rainy Days and Mondays; or, The Map of Lost Mail is here!!

After many months of a drought, and restrictions on all water usage resulting in a yard that is an oh-so-attractive shade of dirt brown (because that's all there is---dirt), I'm happy to see rain the last few days. In fact, it's sort of like our rainy season here (okay, it's actually called hurricane season, but that tends to freak people out).

Pedro the Yard Chicken stopped by to pose in the dirt. 

We do have our "hurricane kit" all ready to go---lots of gallons of water, flashlights and batteries, canned and boxed goods. I have to admit, though, that the most exciting offering for hurricane kits is this product, which I believe is essential to any household facing the uncertainty of the season that is upon us:
It's kind of beautiful, isn't it? 

You don't realize how sunny and beautiful it is living in eternal summer until you have a few rain soaked days thrown in. You also haven't lived until your internet goes out every time it rains. At least we have power this time.

It wasn't all bad today; I did manage to FINALLY get a long-awaited package.

Living on a military base overseas means that your mail is sent to either an APO (Army & Air Force Post Office) or, in the case of the Navy, an FPO (Fleet Post Office). Our mail first goes to a sorting facility---at one time it was in New York, but now it's Chicago---and then goes to our tiny local post office, which doesn't have any actual mail boxes for its customers. When you send mail to me, it goes to the post office, and then someone from work has to pick it up and deliver it to my office mail box. The entire base works this way. The mail is only flown in two days a week now, so mail delivery day is exciting business around here.  Sometimes we get packages, which is for many of us, our connection to life's many necessities you can't find here, and if the sender happens to be my mom, the package is packed with Zero candy bars.

I don't know if you are familiar with Zero bars, but you should be. Hershey describes them as a "unique combination of caramel, peanut and almond nougat covered with delicious white fudge." You may know them as the white candy bar in the ugly silver wrapper. Don't let the ugly wrapper fool you. The Zero bar is, along with purple speckled butterbeans, bacon, and red Skittles, one of life's perfect foods.

A long-awaited package makes even the most dreary, rainy Monday seem a little nicer.

While visiting Mississippi in July, the first thing we did was find some sporting goods stores so we could buy the kids baseball gloves that fit. Our oldest had outgrown his little league glove, which we could have passed down to the youngest, except Boy #1 is a leftie and Boy #2 isn't. So onward we went, hitting several stores in Hattiesburg until we found two nice gloves that will hopefully serve the kids well for softball and baseball season.

Somehow in the frenzy of packing, the gloves got left at my parents, but never fear---my mom went down to the local P.O. a couple of days later and sent them (along with some Zero bars) via Priority Mail to Cuba.

I should also mention that Priority Mail still takes 3-4 weeks to get here from the States. I can't really tell if it's worth paying more to send anything that method, because once the mail hits the sorting facility in Chicago, it can't be traced.

And that can be a problem.

Gloves left Mississippi on July 19. Gloves hit the sorting facility in Chicago on July 21.

Gloves got to Cuba on September 9.

Gloves took a detour along the way
to APO 09833.

Not FPO 09593.

This would be Sharm El Sheik, Egypt.


I have started a map to mark all the exotic and interesting places my mail has accidentally traveled while I'm stuck here in Hotel California land ("You can check any time you like, but you can never leave").

It's actually a positive thing that we've had such misfortune, since I managed to spend most of my high school World History classes doodling on my Trapper Keeper and daydreaming about Rick Springfield. Now I have motivation to break out a map and play Where In the World was My Lost Mail. If we've managed to have mail go to Muscat, Oman; Madrid, Spain;  Livorno, Italy; and Sharm El Sheik, Egypt in only 10 months, we'll have many, many more interesting locations for our Map of Lost Mail before we leave Cuba.

And in case you are wondering, Zero bars that have traveled through three countries and are a little melted still taste delicious.