Friday, June 28, 2013

Bring on the funk; or, That time we saved a bird

It is so hard sometimes not to wallow in self-pity, you know?

Earlier this week, my sister sent me a care package that contained, amongst other things, several canned chipotles in adobo paste. I know it's a silly thing, but it made me so happy. It is really hard trying to adapt recipes sometimes when we have such a limited supply and variety of food here. I have been looking forward to making carnitas for a long time, and for the first time in a while, I excitedly went to the grocery store (okay, that's an exaggeration---I HATE shopping, especially grocery shopping) and went to buy the meat we needed.

We asked the butcher for a boneless butt roast. He said, "We only have it with the bone-in." Okay, I thought, I really don't care this moment because I HAVE CHIPOTLES IN FREAKIN' ADOBO SAUCE. Bring it on, butcher man.

Then he said, "Oh, and we don't have any right now. Maybe they'll be on the next barge over. "

Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

My favorite Mexican cookbook with my yet unused Chipotles. 

I was so mad, I just wanted PB&J. I guess I should be thankful that the commissary finally got the bread problem under control and we can buy bread almost every day now.

So I went home and concentrated instead on our summer vacation plans. I am feeling a little claustrophobic, and just the thought of getting somewhere with more than one store, where I see more than the same people everywhere, kind of excites me.

Here's the catch about leaving: because of my SCD, I don't get RAT, but instead can use an EML to Space A.

In real world language, because this summer occurs less than a calendar year from my hire date, we don't get tickets home for summer at my work's expense. Our options are buy tickets (very expensive), or try to get a space available flight.  To fly Space-A, you have to be on leave, send your paperwork to the air terminal, and hope that there is space on one of the nine flights a month off the island.

Problem is anyone with a paid ticket or anyone PCSing (permanent change of station---in other words, they are leaving and they ain't coming back) can bump you down the list. And evidently, this summer full of people moving from the island. We're talking entire military units leaving.

Which leaves us looking at fewer and fewer options to leave. There have not been seats available thus far, and the next few flights are almost entirely booked, as well.

We can pack and sit at the terminal and hope we win the lottery to leave the island, and if not, come back the next time there are flights. This also means we can't make any advance reservations for hotels, rental cars, etc. We have a few options of where we can land (Jacksonville, Norfolk, DC), but without making reservations ahead of time, we risk driving around (granted we can get a car at the terminal) and finding somewhere to stay that isn't too expensive (or in the 'hood).

Yes, I am complaining. Considering that I got a job offer and was here in a few weeks time, you'd think I actually like flying by the seat of my pants.

Well, I don't.

So the whole situation has had me in a sort of funk.

The island is rather deserted---virtually everyone from work has already left, most of the kids' friends are gone, and it's sort of a ghost town around here.  The base pool is closed for repairs, the sequestration means the bowling alley is closed during the day, and you'd think we'd be all excited about going to the beach every day, but the wind has the water stirred up and it's not the best conditions for swimming.

So what is there to do?

I'm trying to keep the kids' momentum up--they've done a great job of getting out of the house and from in front of a computer or television, so this is frustrating.

And then, this morning, a visitor came and made me see things in a different perspective. Sometimes in life the right person at the right time makes you see things just aren't that bad.  A worker came over to repair a few things around the house. That is the beauty of living in base housing---you have a water leak or a broken door or a loose tile, and someone is there to fix it within 24 hours, usually. The workers are mostly Filipinos, working for low wages in US terms, but a solid wage in their own country. I talked while a gentleman did a few repairs, and his story was the same of many others: he has a wife and children back home, and he sends most of his salary here directly to them. He gets a paid return ticket once every 2 years. He misses his family very much. Like many of the workers, he does other side jobs so he can be an even better supporter of his family.

Just talking to someone about how much he misses his children, but how thankful he was that he got to see them at Christmas, made me realize that I really have so little to worry about.

I am here with my family. Even for the year my husband was away in S Korea, we knew we'd be reunited in a year and that he wouldn't have to turn around in a few weeks and go back for a long period of time.

Anytime after the end of October that I'm on leave, we can travel back to Texas and see friends and family. Hopefully we can take a quick hop back to the mainland/the real world for a week this summer, but if we don't, it will be disappointing but not without the knowledge that we only have a few more months to wait.

And then there is the bird. A little bird has my spirits up, as well.

The kids and I were playing in the yard two days ago and spotted a dead baby bird on the ground. We didn't see a nest anywhere nearby and figured one of the many crazy Gitmo feral cats had dragged it into the yard.

Then the next day, I spotted an adult bird on the ground. At closer inspection, we saw a nest and baby bird on the ground next to it.

The poor bird and nest had fallen out of the tree, probably during the windy rainstorm the night before.

A google search later said you can wear gloves and put a bird and nest in a tree (preferably the "crotch" of the tree---yes, it really said that) and there is a chance the mother will come back to the nest. Mother birds don't recognize their babies by scent, so the old wives tale about not touching a nest is untrue.

My superhero husband donned some gloves, stuffed the nest into the crotch of the tree, and gingerly picked up a spritely little baby Mourning Dove and placed it gently in the nest.

And guess what? The mama and the daddy (or maybe its other mama? We do love the book And Tango Makes Three) flew down and hung out with baby bird.

This morning they were all hanging out. The adult birds had taken some mud and straw to reinforce an even bigger nest, and the baby was moving a bit.

All is well. I don't know if birds truly have bird brains and just figure the wind carried the baby and nest back, or if they were confused as they watched the hubby do his work, but they are feeding it and it will hopefully grow up and remember us.

In other words, the bird better not poop on Pearl, my Gitmo Special.

So here's hoping the Bluebird of Happiness (or maybe dove) really lays one on all of you, especially if you are also finding yourself in a funk.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Take a walk on the wild side; or, Hidden treasures

There are many things I'm going to miss about work while I'm out for vacation.

There are the kids and my colleagues.

Then there is, well, nature all around the buildings. Between the different reptiles and insects, and the dozens of species of tropical plants, all I have to do when I'm having a stressful day is step outdoors (allergies aside), and I feel a million times better.

Zyrtec helps, too.

There's the courtyard at the high school with its canopy of trees:

And around the corner, a banana tree. Bananas! Right in the middle of a school campus!

My favorite tree on the elementary campus is the flame tree. It attracts hummingbirds, and I love the color: 

There are bougainvillea, plumeria, papaya trees, the list goes on. . .

But don't think all I did the last week of school was walk around the campuses, taking in the sights. Oh, no. I did some deep cleaning. In a storage room, I found this beauty:

Wouldn't it be awesome if this were a real Chagall in the library?  Alas, just someone's castoff hung careful in the most random spot---the back of the locked storage room, hidden behind some shelves. Why? Who put it there? How long has it been there? 

It's just one of the many mysteries encased in the walls of our old school. I have books that are from now-closed schools in Panamá, others from a time when the library was a branch of the community library, and I'm not too sure on the timeline or details of each set and how they fit into the collection. There are mystery technology items---as in, technology from the 70s and 80s. Librarians tend to be the keepers of everything---it's the nature of our work, to be archivists---but I'm not even sure what a few things are. 

Then there is this item---not an actual picture of a beauty I found recently, but one of an identical item found online that some of you will recognize. 

(Check out the website under the photo---great site if you're feeling nostalgic).

It is an old school 70s Dymo Label Maker WITH TAPE in the storage cabinets of my office. I was brought back to my childhood of quad skates, 8 tracks, and tube socks when I whipped it out and started labeling everything in the office. 

It's been a challenge trying to figure out a new system and new staff and new (but very old) facility, especially coming from a job where I was one of the founding faculty in a brand, spanking-new building, with kids I had known for 5-6 years. Many days I feel like it's, "out with the new, in with the old!" compared to what I had. But I also have so much to be thankful for, and when I'm a little overwhelmed, I need to do nothing more than step out of the building for a short nature walk to clear my head and focus on what needs to be done. 

As my second favorite Henry (H. David Thoreau) said, "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth." 

Being a full-time working mom is not easy for anyone (and if they make it look easy, they are just bluffing---it's really, really hard, and you spend a lot of time with guilt for what you've missed). For once in my lifetime, I've made all class parties, all assemblies, all programs that took place during the school year. I've been able to eat lunch with both kids, and have heart-to-heart talks on the commutes to school. My salary here is inconsequential (although better than Texas---not that that's really saying anything), because I feel like I've won the lottery by being able to spend more time with my family, and that's all that really matters. I still work some long days and occasionally choose to come in to work on Saturdays---but with less commute time and zero time in traffic, I am amazed at how much more I can get done without stressing about whether or not I'll make it to my kid's after-school program before it closes.  

We've spent a lot of time this summer reflecting and talking about our move, the hubby and I. He said, "This isn't a bad place to live if you aren't into material things." So true. We can't run down to get what we need when we need it, so instead you wait 2-3 weeks to get mail (unless it goes to Oman first). But you find lots of happiness in non-material things, like time with new friends and feeling that your kids are in a safe place. Ironic considering this base is known for That Place, yet it's very safe for children. 

And if you are wondering what will happen if That Place closes---it has nothing to do with what I'm doing here or with the mission of this base. There has been a Navy Base here since 1898. They will still work as a refueling station. Navy families will still come here to live. Cuba is still a dictatorship (human right abuses are still occurring here), so the Coast Guard will still be assisting refugees. We will survive and probably welcome the departure of the press and all the negativity that comes with That Place. 

In the meanwhile, I will just go gander at the mountains, watch the rain clouds roll in, and see if I can spot my wild animal children in hopes they come in before the deluge. If that's the worst that can happen to them. . . bring it on. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wild Animals; or, Nature Calls

I never seem to have my camera when I need it. That is, when I'm trying to catch pictures of wild animals.

No, I'm not talking about my children.

There have been a few Cuban racer snakes I've missed photographing. Both kids have had encounters with boas in the wild, but I'm yet to see one. I have seen Key deer twice, but I didn't have the camera. I didn't have it yesterday when a large, fuzzy tarantula was walking around on an eave above my head, or when a baby hummingbird finally decided to leave the tiny nest its mom built right in front of the entrance to the main office, or the day after the hurricane, when dozens of orange crabs crowded the door trying to get into the library.

But I imagine in our time here, there will be plenty of other photo ops with the wild things of Gitmo.

(Again, I don't just mean my kids).

Across from my house, we have a large field with trees, and in near distance, guard towers. In the far distance are the large hills of Cuba.

Sometimes at dusk, we see the hutias climbing down from the trees, where they rest during the day.

Here's another one at night: 

One day I'll get a decent shot. They are primarily nocturnal, and somewhat skittish of humans, but I have gotten up very close before and wished I had a camera at that moment. Maybe one day opportunity (or luck) will come my way. . . 

We have lots of birds all around. Some I know, some I'm not sure what they are. 

Hummingbirds everywhere! At the elementary school, there is another nest. 

There is the day I was on my lunch break and driving from the NEX to my work, when out of nowhere, THIS guy jumps on my windshield. I almost wrecked the car. 

And then there are the iguanas.  Dear Lord, the iguanas. 

This guy is camped out at the elementary campus and I almost stepped on him last week. Seriously. He just blends in with the landscape and was way too quiet for his own good. 

Then there is this guy I have to stop for almost every day now. I was at a birthday party at the park under the large blue canopy, and in a span of 10 short minutes who should cross the street not once, not twice, but FOUR times in a row, causing a small traffic jam? 

This guy: 

He would go from side to side, stopping in the middle and tossing his head up and down in a threatening posture. This is what they do.

It's like they know they are protected species here, so they feel the need to let you know it. I've read that the Cuban Rock Iguana is an endangered species every where in Cuba but Guantánamo Bay, where they are protected and revered and so plentiful, they sometimes are a nuisance. More than once, I've had to shoo them from under my car, stop for them at the one and only drive-thru (McDonald's) or on the road, or chase them off from my table at the Jamaican Jerk House, where they beg for food.

If you had told me a year ago that I would have to tell people,  "I'm sorry I'm running late---I had to stop for a stubborn iguana?"---and that people would nod their heads and completely understand the situation, because they had been there, too---I would have thought you were crazy. Instead, it's just become so routine, I don't even think it's weird anymore.

Like the erratic mail, the occasional ordnance explosions, the base freezing in place at the national anthem every morning, the shortage of food staples, and guard towers around every corner, iguanas (and other wild critters) are so commonplace, we don't even blink an eye when we encounter them anymore.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting my crafty on; or Ninja tigers and dy-no-mite

"You wanted arts and crafts
How's this for arts and crafts? 
That's right!" 
---Weezer, "Troublemaker"

I am so about the arts and crafts right now.

In fact, this past weekend I took a painting class.

The last time I took an art class was with Mrs. Evelyn Benham, a talented watercolorist and sweet lady from my little hometown. I was in fourth grade and was lucky enough to be one of a handful of students she took as students for an after school art program that only lasted one year. My school district (and most of the state of Mississippi) didn't put much stock---or funding---into art programs for kids. I'm still amazed that my high school did not offer a single art class. Not one. I really hope times have changed since I graduated.

At the beginning of our first lesson, she introduced herself---although most of us knew her---by saying, "My name is Mrs. Benham, but you may call me Evelyn." She pronounced it "EVE-uh-lyn"---to which all of us nodded our head and said, "Okay, Mrs. Benham."

She was a long-time customer at my father's drugstore and one of his favorites. She had born in Nicaragua, and although I know she told my dad the story of how she got to Monticello via New Orleans, I don't remember. She and her husband are perfect examples of how you can find the most interesting and odd people in a small town---they were both college educated (and for people born probably 100 years ago, that was something), she an artist, he a farmer with a horticulture degree. My mom had a pencil cactus for years that came from a cutting from Mr. Benham.  They were both lovely people, very down-to-earth and loved living on their little farm out from town. And I loved her art class.

She had us make pottery out of clay from the banks of the Fair River and fired it in her kiln. I made a Siamese cat. It looked more like a bull. For years, it was in the den bookcase at my parent's house for all the world to see.

We had to draw portraits of another student, and I got paired up with a kid we all called Zot. I drew him as well as I could. He did the same. I had a mustache in his drawing. I was not happy.

I had a great time with Mrs. Benham and learned as much in those lessons as any kid would in a year of  proper art instruction. I was sad when they were over.

And now, over 30 years later, I am FINALLY taking art lessons again.

I have taken a slab and a wheel pottery class. It is the first time I've done any pottery since I was eight years old. Tonight I took a painting class. Never mind that I will probably tell everyone that my seven year old did the painting. (He is, in fact, taking art lessons on Sunday afternoons).

I have had a fun time getting artsy and dirty---nothing like coming home with clay in your hair or paint on your clothes.

It's about the company, as well. I have to say I love hanging out with a group of ladies, sitting around a table and painting pottery.  It's sort of the equivalent of the quilting bee from days long gone.

I have to finish up several pieces in the next few weeks before we go out of town for summer. I know I will really miss my Sunday afternoon sojourns to the arts and crafts building. Although I haven't really made anything yet that I absolutely love, it is a relaxing way to spend a day and some days I'm lucky enough to have my youngest tag along. Check out the awesome mug he painted with funny little creatures.

Cool little stars, tigers, and skulls (with dynamite, of course) amongst some of our other artistic endeavors. 

I'm hoping to get him to do a few more, because he's insisting on drinking out of it and I'm hoping to keep it forever. What's not to love about ninja tigers and skulls with dynamite sticking out of them?

In our last 8 months of purging ourselves of needless junk, I've accumulated quite a few things H has made. I guess I will have to reconsider life amongst 50 pairs of shoes and accept the fact that I only really wear flip flops and sandals here---and that way I can make room for more awesome ninja tigers.

Beastie Boys/She's Crafty