Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lego Secret; or, Where Next?

We play a game at home here called, "Where do you want to go next?"
Where next? Maybe Germany. That's me in 2012.
One of the perks of my job is ONE DAY (maybe summer 2015, maybe later) we will possibly get a chance to live somewhere else in the world. 

The choices are vast and rather exciting:  Germany, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal (Azores), Bahrain, South Korea, Okinawa, and Japan.

On days that things aren't going so great---grocery shortages, mail that seems to lost somewhere on the Map of Lost Mail forever, and the problems that come with going completely stir crazy from living where you can only travel 10 or so miles and only have one store for everything---we get out the atlas and dream a little. 

The kids are quite opinionated, of course. Son 1 just wants somewhere with better internet. Let's see. . . that leaves Germany, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal (Azores), Bahrain, South Korea, Okinawa, or Japan

The husband would like to be somewhere where he can dive, although the prospect of living anywhere where you can get local groceries, stretch your legs and travel, enjoy the culture of another country, including food, sets well with him. You know, anywhere like. . .  Germany, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal (Azores), Bahrain, South Korea, Okinawa, or Japan

But Son 2? For a kid in elementary school who has only traveled to seven states and one country (Cuba---and that's US-Cuba, not Cuba-Cuba), he is VERY opinionated. 

He wants functional internet, of course. (Oh, the things you take for granted when you live in the US!). But he also is very specific---he wants to live where there is a Lego store. And not just ANY Lego store; he wants to live driving distance from the Lego store in Brussels. 

In 2012, I went to Europe and visited friends living in Germany, and while there, I got to visit France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Probably my favorite city was Brussels, for many reasons. including the amazing beer, the Mannekin Pis, signs in French that I could mostly understand, and the wonderful food. 
I knew this guy was little, but I DIDN'T
know that he wears costumes most days.
One of my lovely hosts during the whirlwind trip of four countries was a fan of Legos---seriously, who doesn't love Legos?---so I followed him more than willingly into the now infamous Lego store. Our kids have been lucky enough to have a huge collection we've added to over the years that started with Legos purchased--where else?---in Belgium and Germany, where my husband lived as a little boy in the 1970s. It doesn't matter that I took hundreds of pictures of the amazing and beautiful things I saw and did while in Europe---Son 2 was captivated with my picture and stories about the Lego store. 

THE Lego store 
Never mind that, after telling him that I visited a Lego store in Brussels, I realized that the store ACTUALLY was in Cologne, Germany. Oops. The trip was somewhat of a blur, so when I brought him his gift from the Lego store, I told him the wrong place because, well, I had Brussels on my mind.

As far as Son 2 goes, Belgium = Legos. 

So that's that. He wants to move to Belgium. 

(I still don't have the heart to tell him that where he actually wants is Germany). 

THIS would be Köln---inside the famous Dom
I guess that settles that---or not. I get to make a "wish list" if/when a transfer round comes up again, and I'm sure Belgium will fit somewhere on there, if for nothing else but a (nonexist?) Lego store. (Surely they have a Lego store somewhere in Belgium, right?).

I know by the time a transfer comes, we will be ready to move on to experience some actual foreign culture. It's nice living in a safe, tight knit community, and I see how so many people find it alluring and spend huge chunks of time here. It's a great place for young kids to live---especially with the neighborhood feral children who run in packs from house to house until well after dark, all with little supervision. It's like my own childhood. People here don't lock doors. You leave the keys in your car. I've seen kids leave their iPods on benches in the school courtyard while they were off campus for lunch--and they were there when they came back, of course.   

It's just we didn't come here to stay here forever. I miss the modern world---functioning internet, highways that take me to shopping centers and restaurants, and the relative anonymity that comes in living in a large community. If you work in education, you understand how anonymity can be alluring. I mostly yearn for experiences you get while living in another country---learning and using another language, finding your new favorite store where nobody speaks English, and the food you learn to love and become inspired to cook. These are the things that had me falling in love with Mexico as a college student abroad many, many years ago. 

After another year here, I won't mind having to lock doors and more closely monitor the kids' whereabouts, if that is the trade-off. I am ready to experience it all. 

And yes, that even includes trips to find Lego stores. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

In Bloom; or, Blame it on the Moon

Ah, spring.

It's that time for life, renewal, and birth. Spring cleaning. Nature walks. Afternoon showers, new flowers.

The revival of old allergens.

Despite not really having  discernible seasons here---remember: every day is Groundhog day in GTMO!---I have managed to find myself in the midst of a Zyrtec haze, thanks to SOMETHING out there that's blooming.

I do think the animals and plants know that, despite being 85 degrees almost every day the last 6 or so months, it's time to do those things that birds and bees and flowers and trees like to do.

Like make me sneeze.

"In Bloom," one of my favorite Nirvana songs, has a line that pretty much sums up how I feel about the season right now: "Nature is a whore."

So I'm taking my prescription eyedrops and prescription nose spray, my prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines, my inhaler, and using my neti pot.

This past week my youngest came into the bedroom, took one look at me, and said, "OH MY GOD. WHAT is on your face???" I was fearing a scorpion or tarantula or big zit, but no, it was just an obnoxious nose strip. I really don't want to wake the neighbors with the cacophony of my allergy-induced snoring.

Also (although my husband probably isn't complaining): I have been really hoarse and for a few days recently and could barely talk. This is great until you realize that I have to talk to kids ALL DAY LONG.

Conversations with the elementary kids went something like this:

Me (sounding like Barry White with a frog in his throat): Okay, kids, it's story time!! 
Cute kid 1 (wide eyes): Your voice! Your voice! You are talking different! 
Gaggle of cute kids: It's different! It's different!
Cute kid 2 (even wider eyes) Is there something wrong with your voice???
Me (croaking): I'm just a little hoarse. 
Cute kid 3 (REALLY big eyes): You're a HORSE? 
Me (voice cracking now): Nope, I AM hoarse. My voice is almost gone. I'm hoarse. You know, I can't talk. 
Cute kid 3: Then why are you talking?? 
Me: *sigh*

Repeat that 2-3 times a day, and you have my past week.

Not only was I hoarse, but there was the Blood Moon this week.

I am not even sure what the heck the Blood Moon is, and I wasn't energetic enough to get up at 2 am to view it here, but I'm blaming the kids rather rambunctious behavior and crazy questions this past week on the Blood Moon.

Coming off from Spring Break didn't help things, either.

Kids quickly forget routines, even if it's only been a week, so I was croaking, "Criss-cross, Applesauce!" "Hands in your laps!" "Don't poke your friends!"  "One-two-three, eyes on me!" more than usual, and realized, dios mio, sometime in the last year I've transitioned from a high school librarian to an elementary librarian. I've always been a secondary librarian until last year, but I am finally feeling like I am equally elementary and secondary.  Watching the kids mesmerized and giggling over Tumblebooks (a cute online program that reads books aloud, while projecting pictures on the whiteboard), I was very thankful that for once, technology worked as it should. Hearing "One more, one more! We have time for one more! Just read that story again!" made me a happy, croaky, sneezy, sniffling mess.

And this afternoon---I haven't sneezed, not once. Bring Monday on!

Last week's greatest hits with the PK-2nd grade crowd

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vacation, all I ever wanted; or It's a small world after all

Spring Break has come and almost gone, and we are nearing the home stretch for the school year's end. When we return Monday, we only have nine more weeks of school!

Getting off the island was a nice, much needed break. Despite a few hiccups before departure (including realizing the day before travel that my leave paperwork---the paperwork I had submitted and received signed way back in February---did not have a return date, and was, in fact, the wrong form), we had a smooth departure. The plane left on time. The rental car was ready and no hassle. We managed to find our way to the vacation rental in the Orlando area without a GPS or cell phone. Living without both for almost 2 years makes it easier to not rely on technology to get us where we need to go. Common sense (and a map print out) led us to our Spring Break destination.

As with our last visit home, I felt like an outsider coming back to the US. I know it really isn't fair to call Disney a true representation of how people behave and dress and act "back home" in the States. But seeing so many people with the same questionable fashion sense (short shorts and cellulite NEVER mix), and hearing people scream at their distraught, overly-tired 3 year olds to "get it together" when it was hot and crowded was a little disconcerting. I realized that two years of freedom for my feral child does not prepare him well for visiting very crowded parks. He kept wandering off to explore everything on his own---I love that living here has fostered such a sense of adventure and independence, but that same sense of adventure doesn't bode well when we had to chase him down non-stop. He doesn't have a sense of "stranger danger," which I always thought was so overblown when living back in the US. However, he also doesn't see the need to stick to our sides, and this unfortunately is something we have to work on when visiting large, crowded places in the future.

We had a great time visiting and catching up with four generations of family. My parents rode the same rides with the kids that they rode with my sister and me in the 1970s. Seeing the expression on my eight year old's face after riding Space Mountain was, well, awesome. It was a combination of shock and excitement and wonder and surprise. He says it was his first time on a roller coaster---how is this possible? But back in Texas, we never made the 3 hour trip to Ft. Worth for the Texas State Fair, and we never went to Six Flags with him, so this is probably the truth. Space Mountain isn't bad for your first roller coaster---I rode it when I was eight, too, and I still remember the thrills and scares and excitement of it all.

We spent several hours visiting grocery stores (by choice, something I would have never done when I lived in the US), and we even found a mall in Jacksonville. Who knew that there are still malls around? I thought they had all died out. That same sense we had last summer of being overwhelmed and then resigning ourselves to the fact that we just don't need everything we want was strong this time, as well. I would love to haul back a cooler full of food we can't get here, but I think most of it would end up spoiled and uneaten once we got it back. Instead we settled on eating out---a lot. We gorged ourselves on sushi---the eight year old ate more than the adults---and our first meal in the states was, ironically, Cuban food. I ate my first donut in almost a year. It was heaven.

Coming back to a slower, more simple life would be a lovely thing if it were not for the absolute disaster that is often traveling on and off GTMO. Coming back started early---we were told the airport opened at 430 for checkins, all checkins needed to be no later than 730, and we would have an early flight. I don't mind getting up early if the system works as it should. But this time, it didn't. The computers were down at NAS JAX so we checked in and had no boarding passes or luggage checks (just a big sticker with our last name stuck to the suitcases). When it came time to board, the few folks who did get boarding passes from the early morning connection were stuck with an airport full of people wandering aimlessly about, trying to figure out how we were going to be seated on the plane. Once two large groups of people were standing about on the tarmac to load---I always feel like the Beatles or someone flying Air Force One when traveling with the military, since you walk out on the tarmac and walk a huge staircase to enter the plane---the airport realized that there was not enough fuel in the plane. Everyone was driven like cattle back into the airport, more sitting around, more chaos, and finally, we boarded the plane, almost an hour late. THEN the airline realized that there were more people in the plane than on the manifest, so we had to raise our hands when our names were called and somehow they figured out who wasn't on the list. Seriously---we had to raise our hands one at a time while the beleaguered flight attendant mispronounced most of our names. Other than the time we flew SAHSA to Honduras for our honeymoon, when we didn't get a boarding pass and quite literally ran to the plane to get a seat, I've never experienced such confusion. We finally got home---almost four hours later than planned. We were exhausted. The husband went to the NEX to get much-needed staples to find out that the dairy and fresh produce sections were almost empty. It felt like a slap in the face to have to struggle so hard just to get back and find out that, again, the grocery store is sorely lacking what we could get less than 24 hours before back in the US.

But we aren't in the US. We're in US-Cuba, so it is what it is.

One more thing---traveling to the US had some nice surprises in seeing people we didn't expect to see. My oldest son ran into a schoolmate and they had a great time hanging out on rides. He is too kind to say so, but I know he liked hanging out with a teenager for a day instead of old folks and a much younger brother. One of my oldest, dearest friends was in Orlando for a work event and we met for a few hours at Epcot. Living all over the country and now overseas makes it difficult to keep up with childhood friends, but she has always managed to find a way to seek me out when I'm back in our hometown, and seeing her again, if only for a little while, was really exciting. We also saw other GTMO families on Spring Break in the parks. It seemed like there was a part of home---both my new home and my old home---in Disney.

I guess you can say that It's a Small World After All.

Checking out the Haunted Mansion from onboard the Riverboat. He loved both.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

That Time the Banana Rat Caused an Evacuation; or, I Always Miss the Fun

Sometimes I like to look to see who is actually reading my crazy, random observations and stories and I can see some interesting statistics, like how many people have accessed the blog (almost 13K---wow), the countries that access it most often (U.S., Germany, France, Russia), and---most curiously----the number of people who find it through search terms.

Who would have thought that the phrases "banana rats," "GTMO banana rat," or "hutia" would bring so many people here?

So with that, I have a recent story about a little drama caused by one of the cute, albeit destructive, little rodents.

Traveling between 2 campuses every other day means that I get to see and do a lot of fun things on each campus.

If I'm lucky, I'm at the elementary campus for field day. I'm at the secondary campus for fun events, like The Amazing Base.

Here's a depressing secret to you secondary folks: the elementary campus gets snacks and baked goods all the time from parents. I guess parents of teens are just too worn out to bake.

And to you elementary folks: the beauty of the secondary campus is you will DEFINITELY get a 40 minute lunch every single day. After 20 years of mostly eating lunch in 10-15 minutes while standing, I do enjoy a dedicated, campus-wide lunch period with no students on campus. (We have no secondary cafeteria, so they are bused to restaurants on base or can take their cars off campus).

Sometimes I'm lucky and get to experience and see the fun parts of each campus' week.

And then there are days that, well, I miss out on all the excitement.

Last Friday was VERY eventful at the elementary---or so I hear---as usual, I missed out on the fun. And who was responsible for the action-packed madness? It was one of these guys:

The Hutia

Yes, it's the hutia, also known as the banana rat.

They are nocturnal and vegetarian. They are mostly vegetarian. I say "mostly" because they have the amazing ability to eat everything under your car's hood in just one night.

My neighbors found hutias in their engine block. They had done the chicken wire treatment you are always warned to do when you move here, and yet, the little guys had eaten through the wire and were working on the engine.

At some point on Friday, a truck owned by the school went from one campus to the other. I'm not sure on the timeline of the actual events, but I know that at some point. hutias ate the fuel line of the truck. And shortly after school started on the elementary campus, staff starting smelling the unmistakable stench of gas. And it was strong.

So an evacuation and clean up and hour or so later, all was well with the world. I'm not sure if the hutia made it or not---maybe it looked down from the top of a tree close by, laughing at the debacle it caused. Maybe it was asleep, drunk on gas fumes. Or maybe it just lumbered away, being the big, dumb, and slow rodent that it is, and knew that its days were numbered anyway, so why not live a little and enjoy a tasty snack?

Either way, hutias make us realize who is REALLY in charge of this island.

More about the crazy wildlife that populates our base, which also acts as a nature preserve, from National Geographic National Geographic: Guantanamo's Wild Side: Huge Boas, "Banana Rats," More