Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Here and Now; or, Excitement, Irony, Tradition, Anticipation

First, some EXCITEMENT:
After several months, the Map of Lost Mail has another pin!
I still can't figure out why the mail sorting facility in Chicago thinks that 09593 is 09128, but it does make for an exciting trip for our mail (even while we are stuck here).

(Humor me, please. It's the little things that make me excited. . . )

And just like that, here's another pin for the Map of Lost Mail:
Mail travels in the past include Muscat, Oman; Madrid, Spain; Livorno, Italy; Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt;
Abu Nakhlah, Qatar; Sigonella, Sicily, Italy. 
And now we've added Stuttgart, Germany. My mail's been to three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), including two (Africa and Asia) I haven't been to---yet. 

At one point the envelope was soaking wet, as every bit of ink on it is smeared. It's a miracle it made it here at all. 

So that's the excitement. 

Here's the IRONY. 

I was shooting off my big mouth and venting about the overabundance of expensive items at our NEX (I'm a notorious tightwad, just ask my family) and mentioned a specific sort of purse last post

Unbeknownst to me, my hubby had made a kind gesture and picked me up a much-needed purse for Christmas. Want to guess what brand of purse? 

I love my new purse! Honest, I do! 
Of course, the hubby had bought it before my rant and he almost took it back---but thankfully didn't. I really do like it. 

Christmas is always a low-key affair. I've been feeling a little under the weather, so we didn't go to the beach for Christmas this year. We did, however, celebrate with lobster, our GTMO tradition. It was delicious and I have to say, fresh, Bay-caught lobster on the grill is a perfect way to spend a relaxing, low-key holiday. 
Local caught lobster---YUM
The last thing is ANTICIPATION.

I have to take some time off work (again---hopefully the last time this year) to take care of some medical issues. Unfortunately, that means I got to spend 6 hours today making lesson plans for the time I will miss when school returns (and I didn't come close to finishing). I just spent 6 frustrating hours trying to write lesson plans in a room with no air conditioning (it was HOT), 6 hours trying to get the internet and my CD burner and the Xerox machine and everything else to work, and finally gave up and decided to come home. This means more time with our notorious GTMO internet, which actually works much worse at home than at work.
Estimated time to upload a 3.1 MG file and convert it to a format I can use with my MacBook: 4 hours.
Estimated time to then download that file back to my computer: 3 hours.
SEVEN hours to do something that would literally take less than 5 minutes in the U.S.

I am in technology hell. With the lack of materials here (and no colleagues teaching the same five classes I teach to help out), I have no Plan B.

It's these frustrations that, quite frankly, have me hate living here. I cursed so much at work today (I was alone, thankfully) that I could make a sailor blush. Or a couple of thousand (I am, after all, living on a naval base). Living here is difficult at times and GTMO is truly a love-hate relationship for me most days. I love the students, I love my colleagues, I love my friends here, and I love the weather (most days),  but I don't love constantly beating my head against the wall with 1990s technology in a 2010s job, or the feeling of being professionally isolated.

So that leads to anticipation #2---hopefully an announcement in January of a transfer round that will give us some solid, non-rumor mill information. Hopefully I will have good news in a few weeks.

Send some good vibes this way if you can---I'm going in for surgery (again) tomorrow. Hopefully this will be the very last of it and I will finally feel well again. (And maybe a little less cantankerous and a little more Mary-Sunshine---you want to read more about the ocean and island life, and not how I may have actually punched a computer today, right?).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lists and More Lists; or, Archers Can't Complain

We are STILL waiting for any of the Christmas presents to make it here by Thursday.  Not a single thing I ordered (mostly in mid-November) for the kids or husband has made it yet. NOTHING. Seriously. . .

Instead of focusing on gifts, so far this holiday we've done that thing we always do, which is the "where do you want to go next" game. I honestly don't think it hurts at all to dream, and because I will probably have some say in where we go (or more precisely, where we don't want to go), we make mental lists and talk about all the overseas options.

We probably won't hear anything in January at the earliest, but in the meanwhile, Son 2 has decided against only Belgium, the mistaken land of Legos, for a more broad-based list of locations. Almost 2 years ago he created the "talk list," and now I present the "must have" list for any country:
Things we need for relocation
A) We need internet speed. That is anywhere else in the world but here, so that doesn't really narrow things down. I won't miss the shady phone/internet monopoly here in Cuba.

B) Then there's the NEX size. I say scratch the NEX off the list permanently. Honestly, if I never, ever set foot in another NEX after leaving here it will make me happy. I'm tired of $250 purses, $40 flip flops, and other top-shelf stuff that does not impress me, especially when I'm trying to shop on a budget. I'm no mathematician, but you can buy 10 purses at TJ Maxx for what one Michael Kors purse costs, just sayin'. I'm more than ready to live off the economy somewhere else. I will also be happy to shop somewhere where I don't have small children (neighbors, students) screaming my name as I'm carrying a box of tampons in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other. 

So that doesn't really narrow it down, either. 

C) There is "animation camp." I don't know where he got that idea, but he's been talking about really wanting to go to an animation camp. Is there really such thing? And is it something you can do online? Because if you can do it via internet, that means anywhere but here.

D) Toys. It's almost Christmas and the entire no-mail situation has been more stressful than it should be because somehow, inexplicably, we have less toys for Christmas in the NEX than before. As far as we can tell, there were no Christmas toy shipments. We don't get the same sales circulars that you get from the NEX in the US; in fact, since we've moved here, the amount of toys and children's books has dwindled drastically. You don't need toys to be happy, I know, but it is frustrating when you go to a birthday party (and most kids here have parties where all the classmates attend) and you have to chose from the same 5 Lego sets we've had for a year now, for example. So I can see how Boy 2 would like a little variety.  Make them German or Japanese, and that's even better. 

That's the thing. I'm ready for variety. I am hoping for good news in January or so that I will be eligible to transfer (and then the real fun of figuring out where we can go is next). 

Also----is it a little ridiculous that a kid wants to live somewhere with toys or functioning internet? These are things we took for granted in the US, but it's crazy, bizarre, and strange that we live in a place where those things are extras. I'm hoping they are a good trade for some of his freedom, because he definitely won't have free reign of the neighborhood in any other country where we can live. 

My birthday was this week and it was a nice, quiet night at-home event with friends and family. One of my friends and I started talking about horoscopes and she told me that Sagittariuses (or is that "Sagittarians?" ) are the most optimistic of all signs (I looked it up later just to make sure. She's right. And we are the most adventurous. Go figure). I should also point out that we are half archer, half horse's ass. I've never been accused of being the former, but I've been called the latter more than once.
Basically, Archers are "blindly optimistic," which means I shouldn't complain. So on that note, here are some positives from the last week or so: 

Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork paid off and I got 2/3 of my last summer's travel expenses reimbursed, finally. Trust me, it's a big deal and a happy occasion (and I'm still going to resubmit, resubmit, resubmit for the other 1/3). 

Ticked off more items from my not-bucket list and went to the Cuban home to visit the special category residents (basically, those who stayed when the gate closed). They sang "happy birthday" to me in Spanish (2-3 versions, all at one time!) and it was the BEST rendition I've heard ever. I'll never forget that. 

Also: checked off that I went back to Ft. Conde.  A boat ride across the Bay and a trek through the jungle (okay, it's really not a jungle) and we were at an abandoned early 1900s fort.  I'll post more about that (with pics) later. 

Son 2 got to be in a second Christmas parade---this time, a boat parade. How fun! Another GTMO first! 

I am taking better care of my health. I had surgery last week and I'm having more before break ends. Not a great way to spend vacation, but if it's what it takes to make you feel better, it's worth it.

I am almost finished with what I hope is my last grad class for a while.  I was up to 1 am trying to get technology to work this morning and it verified my suspicions--- I would be an absolute sadist to ever assign any technology-based project to my students here. 

So far, vacation's been relaxing (and it really doesn't officially start until Monday). Here's to two weeks of adventuring and relaxing, celebrating and chilling out. Happy Winter Solstice to you! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Very GTMO Christmas Parade, again; or, Santa in the Tropics

A typical GTMO float decoration, and the moon rising in GTMO, with parade revelers waiting for floats
It's really hard to get into the Christmas mood when you live on a Caribbean island.

(And no, I'm not asking for sympathy, especially from my friends and family members living in the snowy, icy areas of the US right now).

It's just hard to get into the Christmas holiday season when it's hot outside. Decorations look a little odd against palm trees and blue skies.

The youngest got to participate in the GTMO parade for the second year in a row. He wasn't quite as excited as last year, but he had a great time. I guess once you've done something, the new has worn off and it's just not the same ever again.
Loving the full Cuban moon

But there was more of the same that I loved about our first Christmas parade here---kids pelting the revelers with candy as hard as they could throw, people ducking and dodging, and so many cute little faces. The best part is that after 2 years here, I knew most of those cute little faces, and I loved hearing them call my name (as I was moving like a ninja out of the way of flying Jolly Ranchers and mini Hershey's bars).

I was really bothered my first year (and second) that slow and unreliable mail service meant presents didn't get here on time. However, with our sights set at paring down what we have, and the selected variety of what we have here at our one and only store, we may have one of our smallest Christmas's yet, gift-wise. (And to our family in the US, so sorry but I am STILL mailing the Christmas/Hanukkah gifts. Happy New Year's, maybe?)

Less shopping choices means less impulse buying of junk the kids won't use six months from now. Depending on online shopping with painfully slow mail service means less buying online.

(I'm trying to be calm. In reality, not a SINGLE THING I have ordered online has made it, and some things were ordered over a month ago).

And beautiful, summer-like weather in the dead of winter means I find myself in early December going, "Oops, I did it again!" and forgot to order those presents back in October.

Instead of worrying about presents, I'm exciting thinking about our new Cuban Christmas traditions: local caught lobster and a day at the beach.

And what's a better present than that?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Buddhist Fortune; or, Wealth and Health

Ten years ago this month, my sister and I met in NYC for my 35th birthday. It was fun, with trips to museums and theatres, shopping and eating, and the kind of sister-time you enjoy once you are adults and really like each other. I loved New York City in winter and with the very cold weather (it was -10º a couple of days), found myself huddled up next to total strangers, waiting for the newly refurbished MoMA to open. So much for New Yorkers being completely standoffish. . .

A few places stood out over others. One was the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, important to the Mike Nichols' film version of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, the beautiful and powerful play about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. I love the final scene where the characters speak of the symbolism of this angel, and to see her in real life was, well, a happy and moving experience.

The second place with a big emotional impact was the former site of the World Trade Center. It was, of course, heart-wrenching. What I did find surrounding that gigantic scar were little glimpses of hope. Only a block or so away, we found a little surprise, a tiny Buddhist temple. Inside from the cold we encountered hundreds of little shrines for those who perished during 9/11, covering every surface in the space. We both gave a donation and got a "fortune." 

Mine said: "Probability of Success: Excellent.  Ne'er worry about your wealth, But take good care of your health. In time you will be matured, And have your future secured." 

When I found the tiny scroll hidden away in a jewelry box, I honestly had no recollection of what my "fortune" said. The tiny shrines with faces of 9/11 victims always have been what I remembered about that place. Today it was the words that affected me. 

I am not very superstitious and not a big believer in fortunes or horoscopes. But to look at it as a solid piece of advice, it really is something that today means more to me than 10 years ago. 

In ten years, our monetary wealth has changed and been at times on various ends of two extremes. With moving here, we have given up many of our material possessions, and every day I wake up with the goal of downsizing just a little bit more. We still have so much "stuff," so much more than we need to live a comfortable life, but I feel that in ten years, I have learned to care less about the things that surround me (and concern myself more with the people who surround me). 

I do worry less about our economic situation today than 10 years ago, when we were considering having another child (we would have #2 a little less than a year after that NYC trip). As we are aging, health is, of course, a great concern. 

There are innumerable reasons that we moved here, and honestly, we can look back 2+ years later and figure out that subconsciously, there were probably more reasons than we realized at the time. Since August, I have taken on a new role at school (not necessarily my choice), and with that has come a lot more stress, many more hours away from my family, and much less free time to do stress-relieving activities such as exercising and art. To get away from a life like that was probably the number one reason I considered moving here, yet I am finding myself back in the 60 hour work week grind. It's frustrating as hell, and I find it affects my health, as well. 

I have decided to work on what I can control. I can't control that I work in a death-by-meeting setting (thus the need to spend 8-10 hours at work on the weekends), but I can work on improving my health. I am trying to eat better, and I am making a vow to not work 10 hour days, three or four days in a row, ever again. I haven't been to an exercise class since I sprained my ankle in April, and I need to gradually get back into a more active life. (I've tried easing back into running again twice, but I think I am out of running indefinitely). I am taking care of some health issues that have nagged me since I moved here. If that means I have to take time off of work, so be it---I can only be more productive and happier once I am healthier. 

So the tiny little scroll that served as a souvenir to a very moving, very rewarding birthday trip now serves as a reminder that I need to stop, slow down, and take better care of myself. 

After all, what good is wealth if your health is so poor, you can't enjoy it? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks; or, Love the Ones You're With

I was driving through my neighborhood to school this week, and what did I see? I couldn't believe it---there is another bottle tree here in GTMO!!!  And only a few doors down from my house!

I told my teenager that this is a sign.  You can't have more than one bottle tree in such a small place. Are signs pointing to us moving somewhere else come summer?

And as crazy as that seems, I do very much believe in signs and omens. I don't consider myself a superstitious person, but sometimes things just seem like that are meant to be.

The morning after I had my phone interview for a job here in Cuba, one of my favorite Austin radio stations played some Cuban music. I just felt like maybe it was a sign that things were going to fall into place. I was straightforward/honest and several months prior to my interview had told my then-principal that I was interested in DoDDS---and he told me the story of how he had to turn down a job offer in DoDDS Panamá because he was expecting his first child and didn't want to leave the U.S. He totally got how I would leave a seemingly plum-position in the district to go to the unknown. There have been people upon this journey who have surprised me with their connections to people we know and places we have been, and who have made us feel like this is where we are supposed to be.

So for omens and signs. . . maybe, just maybe, the new bottle tree means someone else can take up the torch of weird and strange yard art and eventually we will get out of here and on to somewhere else.
See my bottle tree in the background? Since this picture was taken, it is now covered with blue bottles.
It's a Southern thing, and maybe a sign that I'm superstitious after all.  
On a more serious note, I often post a link to this blog on my facebook page, and the last couple of times I have posted, I've had people comment about how happy I seem to be here and how wonderful I make things sound in GTMO.

I do want to focus on the positive. Do you want to hear about how hard it is to feel geographically and professionally isolated from the rest of the world? Or how difficult just the most simple life tasks sometime feel here? I go through a process of editing and re-editing, deleting snide and snarky and sarcastic and generally negative comments because I don't want to dwell on that part of our lives. We live in a hardship location, and most will agree, the hardest of hardship locations for all of DoDDs. And I will leave it at that.

The good, the bad, and the ugly aside, life goes on. Thanksgiving is here, even if at 87 degrees outside, it doesn't feel like it. As a fellow DoD teacher says about Thanksgiving overseas, "If you can't be with the one(s) you love, love the one(s) you're with." It is funny but oh-so-true. We are lucky to have met a group of people here that we can depend on for many things. Some of that group has shifted and moved on, and a few more are moving very soon---that's the nature of living on a military base, the transitive nature of people and friends. You find people you can count on in thick-and-thin, and hope that you will run into each other again when you inevitably move to other bases, or you'll find a way to visit when you are on return travel in the summer. This is your surrogate family for Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthdays and other life celebrations.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for our GTMO family, including those I shared a meal with for the holiday. I am thankful for a job that allows me to live in parts of the world most Americans never get to visit. I am thankful that I understand that Naval Base Guantánamo Bay is something completely different than the ignorant 24 hour news stations in the US report. I am thankful that our family has lived in a hardship area, and hope the lessons will stick with our children far into the future. I am thankful for the many prayers, blessings, and well wishes of friends and family during our 2+ years here. I am thankful for the amazing group of kids I have met while here---no matter what the circumstances, the bottom line is the business of teaching is not about the district, the principals, or colleagues---it's about the kids, and I absolutely love the group of kids I work with this year. For my friends who are feeling burned out by teaching---try a year with military dependents, and see what a difference your attitude makes. They are the most open-minded, well-traveled, and overall accepting group of kids you will meet anywhere. The fact that our two sons have become part of that community of learners is just another thing I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends and family. Love the ones you're with, and remember that somewhere out there is someone who is thinking about you from far away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Holding Patterns; or, White Walls

For most people, Easter and the Spring season represent a time for renewal.

For our family, it's Halloween. 

Halloween 2014 marked 2 years that the family has been here. In that time, we've accomplished quite a bit.  Our lives have changed in a myriad of ways. Year 2 brought new goals, and going into Year 3, there are even more. 

Despite changes, my biggest goal is to do nothing. I have put myself in a self-imposed holding pattern. I'm holding off on buying more clothes (despite shoe blow outs and my 2 favorite pairs of shorts recently falling completely apart). I am trying to use up all the toiletries without buying new ones. How many bottles of hair products or lotions does a person need? Same with canned goods---I try to challenge myself to buy only what we really, really need at the grocery store.

I have, in essence, tried to prepare myself for the best---that is, we get a transfer and will move to another part of the world next summer.

I want to take more classes online---I have taken 15 hours of grad hours (seriously) since being here, almost all online (yes, seriously), all in hopes of adding more certifications. More certifications open more doors---doors to more locations world-wide. However, I have put off taking more classes until I know a timeline. Why start something now I can't finish until May if it won't help me in March (and will just cause more stress in my hectic life)?

We've considered buying our son a car, but what if we move? Do we want to sell three cars instead of two? How many GTMO Specials does one family need? Will we have to sell them all? It depends on if/where we go.

I am not doing anything drastic, but  I am being cautiously optimistic. (On the other hand, as I recently told a friend, I am keeping my expectations low so I am pleasantly surprised if/when we move next summer).

There is so much uncertainty. Veiled language: the director would like a transfer, he supports a transfer. . . but he has made no official announcement about a transfer program or what it will look like. Supporting an idea and putting it into action are two completely different things.

I feel like I did as a young military wife. We were in our mid-20s and managed to scrap enough money together to buy a house at our first duty station. I was dying to paint every room a different color, but my husband kept reminding me that it was just temporary. Staying somewhere for 4 years is almost unheard of, and with our financial situation at the time, hiring someone to paint a house interior white in order to quickly sell it was not an option. So. . . I lived with white walls, and sure enough, he was deployed to S. Korea within 6 months, and then sent to WA instead of back to CO, and we moved to another house with white walls 18 months later while we did the wait-and-see life of a military family.

The first thing I did when we moved to our first (non-military) house in Texas was paint, paint, paint. Every single wall in that house was painted anything but white.

Our stairwell from the den to bedrooms. 
SO. MUCH. WHITE. And Rodney. And Nikki McClure prints. 

Unlike military personnel, I don't have an end date here. It's very uncertain. Living a life of uncertainty doesn't set well with many people. I've had tons of people ask when and where we are moving, and I think it blows their minds when I tell them that we honestly have no idea.

For now, we are living with a white wall mentality. This is temporary, but it will be home while it lasts. We will plan for the future, but not obsess on it. I am being cautiously optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. I have settled into the community, but I haven't put down roots---unlike any other military location, you can't put down roots here. With the exception of a handful of Cuban exiles who have lived here since the gate closed, everyone eventually has to leave GTMO.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Universe Hates My Shoes; or, It's De-lovely to De-clutter

I've been plugging along, trying to keep afloat.

Some weeks, I've had everything mapped out and the stars were perfectly aligned for work. I haven't had to stay until 6 pm. I haven't had to go in at 5:30 am. I haven't spent late nights figuring out lesson plans.

Unfortunately, next week marks the 2nd week of a new marking period and the beginning of new teaching units for all four English classes (I know, what was I thinking??). So here we go again, more sleep deprivation (and freaky dreams) and more daydreams of escape (or vacation). . .

Daydreaming of escape brings me to the reality of here and now---I still have to get rid of more of our fine quality junk. The ultimate goal is to downsize, downsize, downsize. Tread lightly, leave more than we take, etc.

So I have made a fourth pass through closets. I've gone through files and shredded enough to make Ollie North proud. I've thrown out a ton of garbage---I do fill bad about that, since most is burned in a landfill here (and---lucky us!---our neighborhood is closest to it, so we do get to smell our very own garbage burning. Awesome).

For many people, one of the best things about living in GTMO is having eternal summer. (I will admit, though---I am totally ready for living somewhere with four seasons again. Heck, I'll even take two).

Eternal summer for me means I got rid of almost all of my spring, fall, and winter clothes. We managed to keep one large container of all of our good winter coats, scarves, sweaters, etc., but I have been ruthless in my attempts to pare down.

My tiny closet is still out of control. Shoes spill onto my floor. These are mostly shoes I brought with me; I have never bought nicer work/dress shoes since I got here, since they really don't carry any at our one and only store (or any I would wear).

I keep meaning to get rid of more shoes. The sad truth is, since I sprained my ankle badly last February, I can't wear heels because the pain is unbearable.  I don't want to face the fact that I may never wear heels again, so they sit, collecting dust, hanging out with my (seldom worn) fuzzy slippers; my completely worn out French Sole flats (holes and all--still my favorite shoes); my Doc Marten boots from the 90s (I'm bringing them back! I promise); seldom worn Chucks I can't part with; and a few single shoes that I SWEAR I will be reunited with their lost mates before we move.

I have decided that if I haven't worn something in 3 months, I'm getting rid of it. Therefore, I'm putting on clothes and shoes I haven't worn since I got here, and THIS happened last week:

Once or twice I blew out a flip flop ("stepped on a pop top"), but dang, my shoes just disintegrated within an hour of wearing them.

It's the second time it's happened since we've moved here---a pair of shoes that were perfectly fine in Texas fell completely apart when I put them on here. The soles just crumbled. It was bizarre. Is it the humidity? Is it because they probably endured extreme heat on the trip to GTMO? Or is the universe telling me that I don't need this many shoes in my life? Whatever the reason, as a result of the crumbling shoes, I ended up walking around barefooted for a large portion of the work day, until my lovely husband was able to kindly bring me a pair of (non blown-out) flip flops.

And what's yet another perk of island life, other than being able to wear flip-flops to your place of employment?

Nobody blinks an eye when you walk around barefooted (even if it's at work).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mirages at GTMO; or, The Great Pumpkin and Golf

Spotted this week in GTMO: mirages.

First there was the GTMO Pumpkin Patch. We got a flyer several weeks ago about the three-day event. I'll admit that although it's our third Halloween in GTMO---the kids and husband arrived on Halloween 2012---we haven't done the Pumpkin Patch until this year. (Living in a very small community, you have to leave some things until the next year just to keep up the level of excitement. And that's how we roll---we're all about the excitement).

With much anticipation, the youngest and I trekked out to the Youth Center for the Pumpkin Patch. We discussed in detail our pumpkin carving ideas for this year, and then pulled up to the field.

The Pumpkin Patch officially opened at 5:00. We arrived at 5:20. I thought I saw a pumpkin patch, but alas, it was just a mirage.

H says, "Look, Mom, it's the Magnificent Seven!" because yes, there were only seven pumpkins left. At 5:30, this was the GTMO Pumpkin Patch:
Can you find the Great Pumpkin??
In less than 30 minutes,  the three day long Pumpkin Patch event ran out of pumpkins.

I was certain that those few pumpkins were just for the first of three days, but I found out when I got home that those few were it.

I can't say I'm surprised. Going on year 3 here, I know better than expect things to be like back in the US. I expect to be Gitmoed---I guess you can say I like to be cautiously optimistic and then keep my expectations low, just so I'm pleasantly surprised now and then. 

I know it sounds harsh, but you get what you get---and then you watch the newbies throw a fit. 

I really did feel sorry for the year-one GTMO families who had the bad luck of showing up at 5:30 or later. The look of dismay and disappointment on their faces said it all. Those of us who have been here just chuckled, because, really, what else can you do? (I do know of families that are carving watermelons for Halloween because we don't have a shortage of those----yet. Let the word get out that it's a viable alternative, and we'll be out of them, too, within a few hours). 

So that was mirage #1---the GTMO Pumpkin Patch. 

Then there was other excitement a couple of weeks ago on Marine Hill. 

At the end of summer, the base opened a beautiful new fitness facility and started tearing down the old, hideously ugly one at Marine Hill. I once had the misfortune of going in it just to use the restroom, one of the worst I've walked into in my entire life---imagine a truck stop bathroom that smells like a locker room, and you get the picture. 

For a couple of months, the building was in various states of disassembly with a makeshift fence of plywood sheets and bright orange plastic barriers around it. Then the building came down, the concrete pulled up, dirt brought in, grass planted and watered, and---voila---we have a nice patch of green grass.

I know it doesn't seem exciting, but the building was a bit of an eyesore, so it's a vast improvement.

As the youngest and I drove up to the Marine Hill Mini Mart of couple of weeks ago, I immediately noticed the barriers were down and marveled at the improvement (plus an even better view of the Bay from the parking lot).

I said, "H, look at that!"

New green grass patch, looking towards the Marine Hill pool, a base bus stop, and one of our fire stations.
He said, "Whooooooooa. They built a golf course!!"

Considering that with our droughts here, the base golf course tends to be so dry that you need to bring your own patch of artificial turf to tee off of, I understand the confusion.
Notice the flag to the left of the cone? 
And there you have GTMO mirage #2: our new golf course. 

I did get the Brach's Autumn Mix this year at the NEX---a first for us, although my neighbor went back and they were already out of it. 

I'm at the bare bottom of the bag---my secret stash---and I can definitely attest they were not a mirage.  Although if anyone in the family asks, I will neither deny nor affirm that I hoarded a bag just for myself. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Looking Backward & Forward; or, Happy 2 Year GTMOversary

Almost exactly two years ago today, I was driving around our new home, Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, for the first time.

I was excited. 

I was terrified. 

Would my kids hate it here? Would they fit in? Would my husband think I'm crazy for leaving the relative comfort of the US for such a strange and unique place? How would I like my new job?  

Two years later, we aren't worse for the wear. 

In fact, in many ways, we are much better. 

I wake up in the morning and can see the fenceline with Cuba outside my front window. I also see mountains and the Bay. On a clear day, I can see the buildings of Caimanera, Cuba (but can never, ever actually go there). I hear the National Anthem broadcast daily over a base-wide public announcement system and listen to Cuban radio to and from work. My "local" news is from Miami (and after watching that for 2 years, I wonder why anyone would want to raise a family there). I work with people who have worked on several continents. Many of my students are nomads, "third culture" kids. I dream of joining some of my former colleagues in several Europe or Asia locations. 

I still am amazed that we are living in a place that isn't quite a foreign country, but definitely not the US. My kids have dealt with challenges we never even considered---they constantly say goodbye to good friends, the oldest has to deal with balancing online, correspondence, and in-seat classes in a tiny high school. This is considered a "hardship tour" for DoD employees with good reason---expensive and almost-impossible travel on and off island for civilians, waiting constantly for things that are "on the barge," and technology that harkens back to days of the early 1990s. 

And in our exclusive little gated community in the Caribbean, surrounded by fences and Communists (and Marines with guns), my children have more freedom that they could have dreamt of in the US. A few miles from the prison (yes, that one), and they are safer than anywhere else we've ever lived. We live in a fishbowl---not just everyone in this small place knowing all your business, but our community is scrutinized and criticized daily in the media by people who have no idea what it is really like to live in GTMO. 

(My favorite conversation the last 2 years was with a friend who, after several minutes, realized that yes, Guantánamo Bay is "Gitmo." She truly freaked out. It is Gitmo, but really, it isn't. If you live here, you know what I mean). 

Our life is full of sunshine and iguanas and slow traffic.  Hurricane kits and large rodents that will eat your car. Feral children and free outdoor movies. Impossible mail system and an infuriating monopoly on substandard phone and internet service. Cheap and easy SCUBA diving. Shortages of groceries and very, very few restaurants. The most amazing sunsets on a weekly basis. Neighbors that look after each other. Kids who experience the wide berth of freedom on a base that is geographically small and where everyone makes sure you are home by sundown. 

Here's to our first 2 years of Cuba-not Cuba life, and with much excitement we look forward to what the future brings.  
Looking forward while living in the present---life in GTMO

Saturday, October 18, 2014

No News is Good News; or, Anything But Ebola

The US, it seems, has gone Ebola crazy.
I don't want to sound callous or disrespectful to those who have actually contracted the disease (three actual victims and three million + scared to death).

But from the stories on the internet and the reports on television, I'm really happy that I'm in what my friend in Germany calls "the bubble."

Living overseas means you are as isolated as you want to be from American news. I'll be honest: when you turn on the news on Sunday, and the headline is the same story, same interviewees, same footage, same rhetoric 5 days later, it's nice to be able to shut it off and not turn it on again for five more days. And if the same news is still the headline story? You just wait another five days and something else will come around.

With no newspapers available here, we don't have to see the news unless we choose to turn it on. And many times, we simply choose not to turn it on.

In the meanwhile, my major worries the last 2 weeks have not been Ebola, but when the heck is the Commissary going to get tofu again? Seriously, folks, the little shelf space for tofu has been empty for at least 2 weeks and counting, and I really want to make a soup that needs tofu.

Instead of Googling "Ebola," I spend my days looking up things like the following:

(upon finding mystery eggs in our kayak stored in the backyard) snake eggs, Cuban boa eggs (they give live birth---who knew?), Cuban racer eggs

Also: tarantula eggs, hummingbird eggs

Most probably they are lizard eggs.  I'm going to see if the Biology teacher will let me use a microscope so I can open and check them out next week.

Other things I've Googled (instead of Ebola) include:
how to propagate hibiscus,  plumeria, and coral trees
how to harvest almonds (the mystery tree in our backyard)
how to grow coconuts
how to grow pineapples
Coral tree flower and seed pod. Each pod grows 2 trees!
What to do for iguana bites, shark bites (always must be prepared!)
The Cuban Rock Iguana---our base's favorite vegetarians
More Googling:
U.S. mail shipping laws for fragrances, batteries, and anything with chemicals

Recipes that use local foods such as mangos, lionfish, and ginips

Google Maps for locations of our lost mail and when I want to dream, the list of other DoDDS locations

And instead of Ebola, those of us living on tropical Caribbean islands have to worry about these things most Americans have never heard about, which I have most definitely Googled:
reef rash
stinging hydroids
fire coral
mango rash (sent my youngest to the ER---he got it in his eyes)
REEF RASH: This is what happens when you swim into coral. Don't ask.
One year later and I have a nasty scar. 
Also, I do read about Cuba. Often. I read blogs of people who are, quite frankly, living on the edge there. Most would be considered dissidents (and speak often of propaganda and how the news of recent deadly cholera outbreaks or the latest rounds of arrests for speaking out against the government is all blocked). I sometimes read about what's going on here on the base. I'm not talking about the military side, but the Commissions.

In respect to both matters, I think of the saying, "There are three sides to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth."

You could probably say the same about anything I write here, as well. I don't tend to write about my biggest frustrations and issues here because, really, who wants to read that? I refuse to talk about "that place" because it has nothing to do with why I'm here. As far as the fences and guard towers near my house, I'm not really going to talk about how I feel about that, either (or the fact that the US is here). It's complicated.

There are three sides to the story. The beauty is that I can choose what I want to believe and write about, and you, dear reader, can interpret it any way you like.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Parenting Fails; or, Story Time for the Win


The hardest job in the world. The best job in the world. The most rewarding. . . the most frustrating. . . 

You get the gist. 

You work 18 or so years to garner independence and have kids move out, and hopefully they will take some of the life lessons you've taught and modeled, and will build on them. 

But dang, sometimes it's hard. 
The beauty of living in GTMO is children here have infinitesimally more freedom than almost anywhere else they could live in the U.S. 

There's the base bus to cart them to and from the free outdoor movie theater; there is a bowling alley that's very inexpensive; there are huge play areas and large playground sets everywhere (and even better---huge banyans with tire swings). 

But even with freedom, kids push buttons. 

My youngest can sometimes be a hardhead (he comes by it real honestly, a gift from both of his parents).  He doesn't always want to go to bed at his bedtime or in his own bed and he has figured out how to manipulate this mom so he gets his way. 

I love how he uses my love of reading to get extra cuddle time and an extended bedtime. 

I know he is manipulating me----"Just one more story! Just read five more pages! You haven't listened to me read today---please let me read to you!"---and I fall for it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

It's the one thing I can't say "no" to---seriously, you want to read? And it's past 9 o'clock on a school night? And I know that I'm going to have to haul 76 pounds of dead weight back to his bedroom? 

Alrighty then, let's start another book! 

My very best parenting fail doesn't involve books but what I thought was tough love. It involves a puppy, rain, and a very temperamental four year old. 

When we first moved to Texas, we were mourning the loss of our two fur babies, a greyhound named Gizmo we rescued from a track in Colorado, and a mutt named Lacey I got while a grad student in MS. They died within a year of each other, with the greyhound dying less than 6 months before we moved across the country. We swore we were never going to open our hearts to another pet---if you haven't been through the death of a pet, it's one of the most heart-wrenching experiences ever. 

Yet the words, "Mommy, can we have another dog? Please??" was all it took and we were off to the pound, soon enchanted by a goofy chocolate Lab we adopted and named Katie. 

Katie was a sweet, patient dog, which made watching our four year old having a temper tantrum, refusing to get in the car and standing in the rain while kicking at the dog in the middle of the backyard even more infuriating. 

My husband begged, cajoled, and raised his voice, all with no luck. 

I suddenly had a brilliant idea, motivated by the one time my mom made my sister and me, who were bickering non-stop during the long, three hour trip to my grandparents' house, get out of the car and run around it several times while she sat in air conditioned comfort, radio cranked up and ignoring our pleas of, "Can we please come back in the car! We'll quit fighting!" I should also mention this was beside a cotton field in the Mississippi Delta. It was hotter than seven hells and a very effective way to make bad kids behave. Out-of-the-box discipline sometimes is the best discipline.
I thought my out-of-the-box idea of taking off while he had his tantrum and driving around the block once---the house was in the middle of a block and we could see the backyard the entire time due to the chain-link fence---was an absolutely brilliant idea. 

Before I continue, if you are sitting there horrified that I would actually leave my child, you either a) have no children; b) have the world's only perfect kid and/or never experienced your own child having a world-class meltdown; or c) have no faith that I am really not that bad a mom.    
It does have a happy ending. Well, sort of. . . .  

What I didn't bank on was our little genius going to our new neighbor's house and telling her, "My parents drove off and left me." 

Oops. Oh boy. 

We got a good cursing from the neighbor and walked on eggshells around her for months. We were terrified to raise our voices at him for fear that she had CPS on speed-dial, waiting to drop the dime on the negligent neighbors. 

Boy, did we really show him who was boss. 


Just like number 2 really shows me who is in charge of bed time. 

So as I'm sitting here looking at Stuart Little on one side of me and a child I'm going to have to hoist like a 76 lb bag of potatoes over my shoulder to get to his own bed on the other side, I'm thinking that it was just 10 short years ago that our oldest (who thankfully never had another temper tantrum in the rain while kicking at the dog again) was pulling the same bed-time stunt. 

Even in slow-paced GTMO, I'm reminded daily through my two boys how life is still zooming by. 

And we read four chapters tonight instead of two, just in case you are wondering. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Own Private Hell; or, Tedium and Minutiae

Last spring I set to filling out the paperwork for my our first paid tickets back to visit family, a perk and reward of fulfilling the first full year of my contract.

Many weeks of swapping emails with people in the States, many hours of phone calls on hold (paying 10 cents a minute), many hand-wringing moments later, I had our orders and tickets to go back home. The actual email confirmation came less than 48 hours before we were set to travel. Talk about nerve wracking!

And now I am paying the price for those lovely tickets back home in the form of The Travel Voucher, also known as My Own Private Hell.
In all fairness, it's not just my private hell. Oh no, it's the hell all civilians navigating the World's Largest Bureaucracy get the pleasure to go through.

As a military wife and dependent, I had no idea what goes into travel. And most military people don't have to go through the craziness us civilians go through, either. When you are in the military, you make an appointment and someone types up your orders for you. Your travel arrangements are made through a travel office. You don't have to worry about keeping up with a stack of receipts and exact records in order to get reimbursed for portions of the travel.

And there are the forms---dear God, the forms are killing me. Codes for everything, lots of scary blanks, and a very vague set of directions to guide you.

Remember that obnoxious commercial for a credit card that went something like this:

    •           4 round trip tickets =  $1000 
    •           1 rental car for 3 weeks = $600
    •           Seeing your family for the first time in over a year? Priceless
Oh, if it were just that easy. . . 
Know what else is priceless? Knowing "your" from "you're." Seriously. . . 

There is a definite cost to travel back, with so much that is not reimbursable. That which is requires you to fill out the form EXACTLY how they want. It's almost a joke because you know it's going to get kicked back to you at least twice before you get any of your expenses reimbursed. 

I'm not usually a conspiracy junkie, but I really do think the whole purpose of this experience is so you give up, thus letting the government keep those nickels and dimes for themselves. 

The travel voucher is technically supposed to be filled out within five days of our return, but like most of my coworkers, I've put it off because I know I have five years to fill it out. I've started and stopped the process several times since I returned in early August, and although I'd love to have that money in my pocket, the thought of filling out this form three times (once for every leg of the trip---an extra bonus for traveling separately for parts of the trip) makes me put off today what I can do tomorrow. In fact, I'm still trying to get reimbursed for portions of our Oct. 2012 move here. 

I complained to a coworker last year that we don't have anyone guiding us through the process like our military personnel have. 

He chuckled and unsympathetically said, "Um, we all have degrees, and most of us have at least one master's degree. I think they figure we can fill out a form without assistance." 

Maybe so, but I disagree. I don't have a Master in Tedium and Minutiae Degree, and although I like to think I'm a details person (I love writing library catalog records, filling out accounting forms, and working formulas in spreadsheets), I can't for the life of me figure out how to get these forms right the first time. 

After three hours tonight, I think the government won this round. However, I'm up for another fight, another round of filling out forms from hell, and hopefully I won't be two years getting my nickels and dimes this time around. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hurry Up and Wait; or, The Dirty Laundry Perspective

Several years ago when I was still working in Austin, I had a friend who invited a few of us teacher colleagues to her house for lunch and laughs. We had a great time, and one of the funniest exchanges went something like this:

Hostess: My husband's great, I just wish he'd turn his clothes right side out before he sorts them into the color or white laundry bins. 

Rest of us, picking our jaws up off the floor: Um, your husband actually puts his laundry in the dirty clothes bin??? 

***please note, my own laundry currently sits on the floor next to the bin. I'm not throwing stones or anything***

It just goes to show, sometimes you need a little perspective in life. To one person, dirty clothes not turned right side out is a big deal; to others, just getting the clothes in the bin is a major victory.

Life's like that here, too.

Island life has its perks. Beautiful weather occurs year-round---if you like sunshine, and I definitely do. It's not too humid and there's usually a light breeze. There are several beaches within a few miles of the house. Diving is relatively cheap here. There are no fresh fish at the one grocery store, but if you look hard enough, you'll find someone willing to take you fishing (or at least give you hints about the best fishing spots). Traffic is slow. Iguanas cause traffic jams, which never last more than 5 minutes. If you wear shorts and/or flip flops to work, nobody bats an eye. You keep sunscreen and bug spray in your car at all times because you'll need both.

It's not a total Jimmy Buffet relaxed lifestyle, however, because you are expected to work and produce in an island environment the same as you would on the mainland.

Yearly training modules---8 or 9  modules about everything from terrorism awareness to what we can do/say while on the job (especially about politics) to privacy training are unique to anyone working in a government job. We have a paid half day off work to get these trainings done, which would be generous in any other location, but when you have to do all these trainings online---and many are videos that take hours to load on our internet---my colleagues and I feel the stress of our "island life" when we are measured the same as anyone else with our jobs at any other worldwide location.

If my kids want to participate in Halloween, they have to decide by mid-September about costumes because they have to be ordered online (same with candy, unless you want the very limited selection available at our one store). Kids being kids (and fickle) get stressed out in early October when they realize that they can't change their minds.

I ordered Christmas gifts in mid November last year (forget about "black Friday" sales online), and some still didn't make it until after the holiday.

In light of "hurry up and wait," I try to keep things in perspective.

I was feeling down last week because I missed my grandmother's 90th birthday celebration. You're probably thinking I'm lucky that in my mid-40s, I still have a grandmother. She's sharp as a tack and very independent. I missed her birthday, but I've had her around to help guide me through my entire life. How many people can say that?

My youthful grandmother in Natchez, MS. 
My house, which is smaller than any other we've lived in (kids or no kids), is free. So are utilities. It's a perk of my job and something I have to remember when I wish I were living somewhere with larger rooms and located close to more shopping choices.

My job with its sometimes frustrating training requirements allows me to afford to travel and save money, something my fast-paced lifestyle (and Texas teacher salary) wouldn't allow. As a 20 year teacher veteran, I had maxed out the pay scale. Now I still have much more room to grow.

A completely untouched photo of yet another spectacular GTMO sunset---
a weekly occurrence. 
When the opportunity comes, I get a paid move to the next location. I don't know many educators who can afford to move all over the world on their own dime. It's a nice feeling.

And my friend who just wanted her beloved husband to turn his clothes right side out? Less than two years later, she lost him to a well-fought battle with cancer. She would give anything today to be able to tell him to put the clothes in the bin the "correct' way.

Some days a little perspective on life makes it sweeter and more bearable.

And those GTMO sunsets don't hurt, either.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Where is My Mind?; or, Black Holes (and Revelations)

One of the best concerts I've ever seen was not a musician, but George Carlin.

I saw him at my college (University of Southern Mississippi) way back in the 1980s. One of my all-time favorite Carlin skits is about the black hole that eats your socks.

If you've had infants, it's understandable how a dryer can eat a sock the size of your thumb.

However, I'm convinced that my house sits on a) an ancient burial ground; b) the site of a famous battle; or c)a mysterious supernatural force (that is probably connected to the mysterious Cayman Trench that sits next to Guantánamo Bay).

We don't have baby socks anymore (and my youngest had such huge feet as a newborn, he came into the world wearing 3 month booties). What we do have are other missing/lost items.  TONS of them.

I'm still trying to figure out how I can lose clothing, books, papers, and other items in such a small house. (I'm also convinced it's MUCH more difficult to keep a small house clean than a large house---I guess there's just less surface area to spread out your clutter).

I've dug and dug and still am looking for lost lesson plan binders. My husband recently found 2 more, so they have to be somewhere---I seriously doubt they were lost in the move---but after going through all the unpacked boxes twice, still no luck.

I can't find a shoe. Yes, one shoe. I know I packed it and I think I've worn it since we've been here, but damn, I can't find one of a pair of slip on leather sandals. (And when I spent the better part of 3 months in an air cast, the missing shoe was the one I needed. Naturally).

I've lost cookware. Linens. Books. I'm missing one earring from several pairs.

Single socks. A pair of jeans I bought this summer and wore twice. My favorite black Nike running shorts. A pair of Asics. My extra, unopened contact lens. My best hair brush. A hand mirror. A pair of gardening shears and a large set of loppers.

My house isn't very messy. It's just very small. Every single closet is packed. I took everything out of the hall closet this year---it is large enough we could actually put a desk in it and call it an office---but I found myself packing it to the roof again, even after weeding out unneeded items.

So what's crammed in that closet? Art supplies, a sewing machine (used twice since I got here), sewing supplies, family quilts, tons of board games, fly tying supplies, boxes of old photographs, pillows, wrapping paper, suitcases, nicer winter clothes we couldn't part with, and Christmas, Easter, and Halloween decorations. 

This would be after getting rid of at least 20 times that much stuff since we got here. And after of that cleaning, I was sure I'd find a few things we can't find. 

After all, we've done a pretty good job of organizing and marking everything. But still. . . 

Where's my voter registration card (needed for my absentee ballot)? My PIN to the debit card I never use?  A Walter Anderson print I know is somewhere in this house? 

There is either paranormal activity or a black hole that is sucking items one by one out of this house.  I can live without most of the stuff, but the fact I know what I want/need is somewhere nearby is driving me crazy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bring back Doc Martens; or, I'm not even supposed to be here today

My favorite saying is this: Mann traoch, Gott Lauch. It's Yiddish for "Man plans, God laughs." 

It's like some higher being has had a good laugh or two at me this past week.

There was the radio (it's always the radio lately). We have an advertisement heard daily on our two Armed Forces Network radio stations that says, "Stuck on an island with nowhere to go: AFN Radio GTMO."

I chuckle. It's true, but still funny.

I swear this really happened last week---I had just heard that ad while scanning through stations, and then immediately after, on one of my favorite Cuban radio stations, The Eagles' "Hotel California" was playing.


Also, I took my son to see this movie during Throw Back Thursday at our outdoor cinema:
1994 was a good year. Clerks. 
I know, I know, I'm Mother of the Year for that move. I did sort of forget how, well, raunchy it is. (Just the fact that I use the word "raunchy" means I'm perhaps old and semi-senile and may excuse my lack of parenting judgement).

I still laughed, oh boy did I laugh, inappropriateness and all. Clerks is such a slice of the early 90s and reminds me of grad school (much of it spent hanging out with friends at a video store), driving around in my beloved 280z (I could write a book on how much I loved that car), living off snow-cones and Taco Bell, moving to Georgia and then Colorado in very quick succession, and often wearing my Doc Martens just like the protagonist (or anti-hero?) with my favorite movie line: "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"

And that's what I found myself saying while spending yet another weekend at school doing lesson planning. It came out of my mouth before I realized that, oh my god, I'm Dante Hicks, but without a hockey break (on the roof) or a significant other with a counting problem.  (The Doc Martens boots are still in the closet, ready for a much-overdue revival of flannel and mom jeans).  I'm spending every waking hour trying to catch up. Is it getting easier? Um, no. Am I getting used to it? Um. . . no. I am, however, headed to sleep at 9 pm because I'm going to work with my son, who gets dropped off for cross country by 6 am. It's amazing how much work you can get done when you are alone---just a pot of coffee, a stack of papers, and around 6:50, an exquisite sunrise that sort of makes it all worth it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Slaying Dragons and Monsters; or, Things That Go Bump in the Night

Today's weather at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 89º, partly cloudy, and swarms of gnats still a-buzzing

I've been having recurrent dreams (okay, nightmares) since school started.

It's not those "I forgot my pants!" or "I forgot all the students' names!" or any other typical teacher/anxiety dreams.

It's that I'm battling dragons.

Big, scary, dark scaled creatures with wings and claws.

Mother of dragons, I am not.

A quick Google search (okay, there is no such thing as a "quick" Google search) found the following possible dream interpretations:
I'm battling inner demons
I have struggles to overcome
I am carried away by my passion which may get me into trouble
I need to exercise self-control
I will have good luck and good fortune
I'm using my anger to get my way
I'm struggling against my instincts

But it's not just dragons I'm fighting. Oh no.

There are also monsters. And I'm beating them down with my bare hands.

More possible dream interpretations, via Google searches found:
I have problems spiraling out of control
I have exaggerated fears in my life
I have hidden anger
I need to face my worst fears and inner demons
I have a very stressful situation going on in my life

Sounds rather dire for the most part, right?

However, I have a better interpretation.

Guess what my seniors have been reading?

We've been reliving Anglo-Saxon times and delving into the world of Beowulf. You know, Ye Olde English tale starring the horrible Grendel, who greedily grabs drunken warriors from their mead hall, biting off their heads and letting their blood dribble down the front of his monster body in the process. Then *spoiler alert* once Beowulf, our fierce, boastful, strong hero rips the arm off of the monster Grendel, leaving him to bleed to death, Grendel's mama comes to battle with Beowulf (moral of the story: mess with her kid and mama will come and kick your a$$). She ends up headless, Beowulf becomes an old king, goes into one last battle with---here is it---a dragon, and all his men, save one, abandon him and he dies a valiant warrior's death (but the dragon dies, too).

That's the quick-and-dirty, but you get the general idea. (Read it if you haven't. Seriously. It's fun, gruesome, suspenseful, and overall entertaining).

I've also been reading Grendel on my own, and more monsters, blood, guts, glory, and that dragon (although he's a little more philosophical this time around).

I can choose to believe that I am ready to implode with tons of stress and fears and problems, or I can choose to believe that literature is taking over my dreams.

Also, I have this note on my computer left by a very thoughtful kid that reminds me to breathe and not sweat the small stuff (I hear his mom is AWE-SOME). It's all about making connections with kids and having a great time. I have struggled with little-to-no direction (I'm the only person teaching my preps in the entire district), a real lack of resources, and other teaching issues that are somewhat minor in the scheme of things. I have about 50 students and know as much about their skills and personalities in a few weeks as it would have taken me a semester to learn with 180 students in the States.

Smile, they're only teenagers. Teenagers never judge. 

I'd like to believe that sometimes, dragons are just dragons, monsters are just monsters, and my problems will work themselves out in their own time.

Hopefully I won't be hitting/kicking the husband or waking up with all the sheets twisted in a knot once The Canterbury Tales begins. He's battled dragons and monsters with me, but I'm not sure if he'll be "longin. . .to goon on pilgrimages."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All (Musical) Roads Lead to Cuba; or, Tom and John and me

Today's weather at Guantámo Bay Naval Station: 89º and cloudy (with swarms of gnats). 

"You may say I'm a dreamer/but I'm not the only one." --- John Lennon
"Why, why, whyyyyyy, Delilah?"----Tom Jones

This week, there was driving around listening to Cuban radio when this came on.

It's Tom Jones, y'all, singing about Delilah.And just like that, I, too, was singing about Delilah at the top of my lungs (Why, why, whyyyyyyy, Delilah???).

I thought it was weird that Cubans love Tom Jones (then again, who doesn't love him??), but I did find online that he performed in Havana this past spring. I also found a very Spanglish/ broken English story that includes pics of Tom and the cleaning ladies at the National Ballet School----"Smiling, funny and gentle, this Knight of the Crown had his picture taken even with the cleaning ladies, and although some did not know him, they sensed that he was huge. However, very few knew of its presence in the Habanos Festival, an event that annually attracts many celebrities that come and go incognito."

Hmmm, to be one of those people who everyone can "sense is huge," even if they don't know you. Must be nice. 

which I haven't heard in years and did make me smile, as it always does. And although it's definitely not the Communist Manifesto, you have to admit that the lyrics are, well, sort of in line with some of the Communist thought process. 

I remember seeing a report on tv a while back about the John Lennon Park in Havana, and you can find several stories and pictures of it on the internet

When the park was dedicated in 2000, Castro, who had previously banned Beatles' music in Cuba, said, ""What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas," he said. "I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality."

The best part of the story is not that Castro decided to have a park dedicated to Lennon once he realized that Lennon, the one-time war protester, was actually a rebel against the US Government, much like himself. The best part is about Lennon's glasses. 

Today, John Lennon's signature round glasses have been stolen from his face so many times, a 95 y/o man volunteers to keep watch over both the statue and the replica glasses. "He poses for pictures with fans from all over the world. When tourists come by to take pictures, Gonzalez places the glasses on John Lennon. And when the snapshots are done, he puts the glasses back in his pocket next to his cigars and sits back down" (PRI) Sr. Gonzalez had never heard of the Beatles before he moved to Havana to live with his daughter, but he decided that there was a need, and he stepped up for over 13 years now to make sure Lennon and his glasses are together again. 

Photos: Carlos Montoya and Gerry Zambonini

It's the strange and magical surprises about Cuban radio---and Cuban life---that make me smile. Even though I live so close to the fence, yet so, so far from Cuba, I love feeling connected to this place through the radio.

More here at these sites (where I got all the above info): 

All apologies to my friends with iPads---for some reason, when I write blog posts on my MacBook, embedded videos won't show on iPads (thus the weird spaces on your screen). I could probably fix it if I had patience to deal with the World's Slowest Internet, but that's not going to happen. Sorry.