Monday, June 23, 2014

The *not bucket* List; or, It ain't over 'til it's over

Two years here, and there's still much to do.

I'm working on finding ways to keep on keeping on with fun in the sun in our little exclusive gated community. I'm calling it the Things I Must Do Before I Escape GTMO list (I refuse to say it's my GTMO bucket-list, because I hate that over-used phrase, and honestly, I associate either fish bait or vomit when I think of a bucket).

The Things I Must Do Before I Escape GTMO List:
1. Get a boating license
2. Do some sea kayaking
3. Get back into doing pottery
5. (okay, play less Candy Crush)
Isn't this the most disturbing this you've seen all day???
My mutant foot, thanks to a severely sprained ankle.

6. Run again. It's been a long, slow journey to recovery from a sprained ankle. Who knew?
7. Soccer, again (the ankle. . . )
8. Dive again (damn ankle!!)

9. Catch a lobster
10. Gathers some conchs
11. Visit Ft. Conde again
12. Paint: 
Recent painting of my favorite GTMO banyan tree 
13. Spend less time at school (no more staying until 6 pm)
14. Spend more time at the beach
15. Master the homemade loaf of bread (nothing but abysmal failures thus far)

16. Go sailing
Sailboat for rent
23. Figure out something creative to do
with the 500# of sea glass I've collected (thus far)

17. Grow some peppers
18. Get off this rock more than 1 time a year
19. Ride my mountain bike on the trails
20. Teach son 1 how to drive a stick shift (life skill!)
21. Finish my ESOL (or Reading?) certification (or both?)
22. Save, save, save money

28. Go to the lighthouse museum
24. Clean out the hall closet
25. Clean out the garage
26. Have a killer garage sale
27. Take more photographs with my amazing new camera

29. Eat more Jerk

30. Learn to play "Blitzkrieg Bop" on the ukelele
31. Whittle down my shoe collection to a reasonable size 
32. Finish the Diana Gabaldon "Outlander" series
33. Do a craft fair at least once with son 2 (he has some creative ideas)
34. Invite people over more often
35. Go to Leeward for a day, this time with the entire family

36. Spend more time visiting our nice little community library
37. Continue my back porch wine sessions with my awesome neighbor
37. Figure out how to get grass to grow in our yard that looks like the moon
38. Photograph a deer and a boa (not necessarily at the same time. . .)
39. Spend more time at the plant nursery
40. Walk JPJ hill
41. Spend less time talking about work or thinking about it
42. Spend more time talking with my family and planning new adventures
43.Clean out Pearl to restore her to her former somewhat pristine glory
44. Fly a kite
45. Go to an astronomy event
46. Get prints of some of our better GTMO photographs
47. Not sweat the small stuff
48. Remember it's all small stuff
49. Give away more seedlings/plants
50. Downsize, downsize, downsize (got to tread lightly)
51. Yo-ga, yo-ga!
52. Continue working through viewing a large list of amazing 80s movies with Son 1
53. Enjoy 100s of more hours with my board game loving Son 2:
Ticket to Ride. . . 

or Life? 
54. Finish at least 1/2 the books stacked up on my bed side table
55. Hablo mas español, aunque nadie habla español en US-Cuba. (No estoy en Cuba-Cuba).

Also, last week we cooked what we thought was a cut up pork roast in the crock pot, only to find out that it had skin. And maybe hooves. I don't know. It was crazy-scary.

Add to that list that I'm working on finding ways to cook with what we have here (and no more surprises, please).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Little surprises; or, Found: body parts

Our little slice of Caribbean paradise has been anything but the last couple of weeks. It's been very dreary, overcast, with scattered rain showers (and a violent thunderstorm thrown in for good measure). The heavy clouds keep it nice and oppressively sticky-humid. The dampness keeps the swarms of biting gnats happy. Not the most auspicious start to a summer vacation break, but with this weather, it does force one to resort to indoor diversions.
Clouds near my house. Also a guard tower near my house (that's a US one).

And that is how I have already started that manic cleaning spree that always accompanies summer break. Teachers are the worst about putting off all year what we can accomplish in a summer. For me, this means cleaning out closets, drawers, the car, and much, much more.

So far, I've cleaned out Son 2's room (The junk toys---dear god, do I really feed my child this many Happy Meals?? Why do we own 1,000,001 Legos?) and my fridge is so clean, you could eat right off the shelves. Not that you'd want to. . .

I am also cleaning through old purses to eventually give away and found the following: lots of HEBuddy Bucks (you Texas people know what I'm talking 'bout), several dollars in loose change and some real dollars; a change purse full of Euros; and in the bottom of my now clean closet, I found my favorite hat from Mexico I haven't seen in over a year (nope, it's not a sombrero).

I also found here and there a total of three baby teeth. I'm assuming they belong to Boy 2 since he's lost several while we've lived here. During preparations for the Cuba move, I found a plastic Easter egg that rattled when I picked it up. Inside were lots of baby teeth---my dog's baby teeth.

Those would be Lacey's baby teeth. She was the dog I got in grad school, because working 3 part time jobs, taking a full course load, dealing with a big breakup, and worrying about paying bills weren't stressful enough events, I decided to get a puppy and housebreak it. (As my former colleague Len used to always say, "Go Big or Go Home"). I loved that crazy, neurotic dog (and yesterday, I found her dog collar while cleaning out a closet).

I have no idea where Boy 1's baby teeth are. What kind of mother keeps her puppy dog's baby teeth, but can't find her human child's baby teeth?

And that's my biggest downfall as a mom, probably---I'm horrible at keeping up with those baby mementos.

HOWEVER, in another cleaning frenzy (this time, finally getting through those last few unpacked boxes in the garage), I did find an envelope containing evidence of Boy 1's first haircut. I don't remember when or where (and of course, didn't write it down), but I was happy to find the only definitive proof that yes, he was once a blonde.

During The Great Summer Cleaning Extravaganza, I also found something priceless: a thumb drive with photos of Son 2's first 3 years.

We had a computer crash with most of his baby pictures---sadly, the only copy of several---and again, since I'm not the best at keeping baby mementos, I haven't bothered to get prints of most of his digital photos. He is the typical second child----not many professional baby portraits, no huge baby albums, and I really can't tell you when he started crawling or much else about that first year blur of his life.

But I am not apologizing for my lack of fancy scrapbooks (because, seriously, as grown men they could care less about such), lost baby teeth, or lack of professional baby photographs. I didn't finish either baby book, and I have no idea when they accomplished the big baby milestones. Please don't think I feel much Mama Guilt for my lack of sentimentality. I do look back on their baby years with great fondness; I just don't see a point of keeping tons of baby clothes, baby toys, and parts of their bodies (like hair and teeth) sitting around the house. I don't think it really matters anymore when they first sat up or turned over (that would be Boy 2's first day at home) or walked or talked. What I do remember is the excitement and sadness that came when we realized that each precious little baby was growing up---and much too quickly.

I went through the motions twice in my life to be a stay-at-home mom, but it never worked out. The first time, I didn't even miss a paycheck. I quit teaching in June and kind of fell into another job unexpectedly on Sept 11 (yes, THAT Sept 11). The second time, I quit in June, took off a summer and most of a fall to go to library school full time, and ended up working by December. I couldn't turn down what was presented to me as what may be my only chance to get a job in a district I really liked, so there it is. I did technically go four months without a paycheck, so I guess that does count. But for most of my life, I guess I've been destined to be a working mom. The fact I've been lucky enough to work around my kids the last 2 years has been a blessing---I had a few reservations about it before I got here, but honestly, I love seeing the kids during the day. And you can't do that unless you are working where you kids are going to school.

I doubt that several years from now, once the boys have started adulthood and (hopefully) moved out, I will miss the little school projects and toys and other things I have managed to get rid of this last week. I saw so many things today I had no recollection of ever seeing, I am certain I will forget almost all that made it to the garbage today. For right now, I am happy hanging on to the little bit I have stored away. And in case you think I lack the right amount of sentimentality---I did get the best feeling today when I found an at least 20 year- old birthday card that was simply signed, "I love you, Granny."

Some things I will never throw out.

Rain, rain, go away. . . 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Having their say; or, Pomp and Circumstance

Graduation season is upon us (or in most cases, has come and gone).

Here's what I remember about mine from many moons ago:

Graduation took place during the afternoon in our stifling hot, unairconditioned gym. My grandparents, aunt, and cousin drove down for the event. I don't necessarily remember this; I just have photographic proof. What I mostly remember was what was on everyone in my little town's minds: my neighbors. It was a more somber day than usual, as during the early hours of that very morning,  two guys who grew up in my neighborhood, including my former across the street neighbor, were in a fatal car accident. Additionally, my class was the last graduating class of Monticello High School. Our school consolidated that next year, and we knew that we were the end of an era (or at least the end of the Red Devils). I do remember what I perceived to be a gross injustice of my teenage human rights when---the indignity!--- we girls were required to wear white pantyhose and white heels. Did I mention that it was hotter than seven hells, as it usually is in May, and in unairconditioned Mississippi?  There is no good reason for white hose ever, temperature and humidity aside. My little rebellion against The Man was wearing nothing but a slip under my heavy graduation gown. Of course, nobody who actually made the rules knew this. . . so much for my being a rebel.

(My own Granny, who was born in 1911 and in many ways, kept the archaic language of the first part of the century until she died 88 years later, liked to call a slip a "petticoat." An umbrella was a "parasol." This is one of the charming things I so miss about her today).
My high school mascot, replaced the next year by. . . a cougar.
Are there even cougars in Mississippi?
And I'm not talking the middle aged woman variety.

What I don't remember were the speeches or anything else personal about the ceremony. I'm reasonably sure our valedictorian and salutatorian spoke (again, there's photographic proof), but I don't remember any specific messages, warnings, admonitions, or well wishes. I just remember wanting to get out of that sauna ASAP and on with my life.

Flash forward to my many years as a teacher. I've sat through and participated in more graduations than the average person. Last week's graduation at WT Sampson high school was definitely a first.

My own graduating class was rather small---only 89 or so of us----but this graduating class had less than 20 kids. That's normal for our school. Most of the ceremony, which took place in the Chapel, was traditional, save this: every kid got to stand up and say something during the ceremony.

Can you imagine if your 18 year old self had gotten to speak at graduation? Or as a teacher, if all your seniors got up to speak? It's a leap of faith that all will go well, but I absolutely loved it. It's these types of little surprises and traditions that make this crazy place so wonderful at times.

Some of the kids were nervous and kept to what was written on their index cards. Others just decided to wing it or went off-script. The majority had the same message, thanking those who supported them and made them feel loved. They thanked family members who made the trip---everyone here knows what an ordeal it is just to come from the US for a week-long visit---and some wistfully wished family members could have made it. Some staff got shout-outs, too, whether by students joking about something funny that happened in their classes, or by students who fought back tears to express their gratitude to those teachers who inspired them to work harder. A couple of kids even went as far as thanking the entire GTMO community.

And it did feel like a community-wide effort---so many people in the audience didn't have children participating and weren't connected to the school in any way, but they came out to support the kids. Everyone on island was proud of our kids who go through so many more hardships than your average high school students, thanks to living in the most remote and isolated of all DoDDS high schools.

What I liked most is each little speech truly reflected the kids I've gotten to know over a short two year span. Quiet, gracious, reserved, or boisterous, rowdy, outspoken, for a few minutes, individual kids' personalities were on display for the community to view and enjoy. I laughed and cried and felt so honored to be able to share the event. My hope is twenty-something years from now, their memories of graduation are more than just a blur, and they can reflect on the joy of a very intimate and unique ceremony.

Godspeed to the WTS Class of 2014! Wishing them much happiness and success.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Just Accept it; or, The Five Stages of GTMO

Almost 50% of our staff is leaving this summer to go on to other DoDDS locations. I've felt a combination of happiness and sadness since I heard the news; it's been a constant up and down of emotions.

This also means we will get a new crop of teachers and people in our small community. Many may find that they are experiencing what I like to call "The Five Stages of GTMO."

Let me explain.
The one and only GTMO gas station
Gas is currently $3.99/gallon

You will find yourself asking these sorts of questions:
HOW MUCH is that (gas, groceries, internet, phone calls, flight) going to cost??!
HOW LONG is that (next flight, next available dental appointment, mail delivery, household goods arrival) going to take??
WHAT have I gotten my kids into?? (poor technology at home/school, no sports or other extracurricular opportunities involving competition at all, very limited course offerings)
It's taking HOW MANY days to download that (one album, one television show, one YouTube video, etc)?

You will also find yourself saying, "Um, SERIOUSLY?" and "No, you're kidding, right?" quite a bit.

Moving along, you come to Step Two.

Once you have passed through what can only be called "shock," you find yourself extremely perturbed by all of those cutsie "it's on the barge!" jokes. As in, you want to stab the next person who says that in the eye.

Signs you are stuck in the middle of Step Two include finding yourself making these statements (in an indignant tone of voice):

Explain to me again why I have to pay this much for this service (internet, phone, etc).

I really have to spend $$$$ just to get ______ medical treatment back in the states (mammogram, teeth cleaning, MRI)? And nobody told me I can't get any of these services here?

Bank of phones at SCSI, the monopoly for phone service and internet.
You don't want to know what it costs for our poor internet.
Let's just say it's ridiculous.
There is really no bread/milk/cheese/peanut butter/diet coke/fresh vegetables of choice this week at the Commissary? AGAIN?

Then you eventually (hopefully) let go of some of that anger, and find yourself in Step Three.

I knew I was there when I decided that I would trade my youngest/oldest child for a block of real cheese.

(Okay, just kidding about that one).

THE NEX/Commissary: The one and only store for groceries and everything else.
Moving along again, you are now in Step Four.

Shock, anger, and outrage turn to tears.

Some possible statements in your inner (obviously depressed) dialogue may include the following:

I really miss ______________ (food item).
(You know you are at this stage when you find yourself crying in the middle of the aisle of the Commissary, you miss what you can't eat just that much).

I can't talk to my family or friends via Voice Over IP. I'd give anything to see _____'s face for just a few minutes.

I can't believe I'm this upset because my _____ didn't make it in today's mail. Again. *sob*

Then, hopefully, you get to the last step, Step Five.

Girl Scout Beach, one of several beautiful beaches
Some may say it's giving up.

Some may say, well hell, you lost the fight.

I'd like to think it's more like Making Peace with What You Can't Control.

There's a point where tangible objects become, well, just more clutter. I have saved mucho money living here. If you are saving for something big (college? a new car? a new house? a great vacation?) or paying off debt, it's easier to do here without the temptations of living in most US towns or cities.

I have learned that stuff is just stuff, and although I like my stuff, I can live without almost anything. When I went back to the US twice, I wasn't even tempted to go crazy shopping, because. . . it's just stuff.

My kids have missed out on so much while living here. It's been a sacrifice on their part. However, they have gained so, so much that they wouldn't have elsewhere.

There's freedom. My children have, within reason, full reign of the base.

The one and only movie theatre---under the stars,
first-run titles and FREE!
The oldest can drive himself to the (free) movies, bowling, the skate park, a friend's house (sometimes all in the same night) and not have to check in with a cell phone because, well, we don't have cell phones here. It took some getting used to, but it does build a different type of parent/kid trust than in a situation where you can check in on your kid (or track them) on a cell phone 24/7.

The youngest rides his bike or walks to friends' houses, or plays in the park---all without one of his parents shadowing him/accompanying everywhere he goes. We didn't live in a neighborhood where he could do that before now.

There's ingenuity that comes when you live without. You learn to adapt recipes, fabricate parts for almost anything, and find non-technology based ways to entertain yourself.

You spend a lot more time in the outdoors and less time in front of a computer screen or television.

There's community. You give up your privacy and you are always your job when you are in public, true. But you also have people here you really know and can depend on. They aren't superficial, nosey neighbors; they are friends. They watch your house when you are off island. They feed your pets, water your plants. They unexpectedly drop by with a plate of something homemade and delicious. When your car breaks down or hasn't arrived yet, they lend you theirs. When you can't buy something at the Commissary, they give you their last stick of butter or last two eggs. They stop you in the NEX to ask how your sick child is doing. They know when to not say anything and just give you a hug.

With community comes lasting friendships. Next year, my colleagues will be living in Japan, Okinawa, Belgium, Germany, S. Korea, Italy, and Spain. I will have connections I didn't have before. There is a good chance I will know at least one person in any country I move to in the future, which makes a big move a little less scary.

You may find yourself slipping into the first four Stages of GTMO now and again.

That's normal.

Just remember: this too, shall pass. With every crappy day at work, misplaced mail package, or failed attempt at a recipe because you can't get 3/4 of the ingredients, there are the happy days, as well.

It's the upcoming graduation where, chances are, you will know every single one of the graduating seniors (there are less than 20) and their parents. Even if you don't work at the school, you will attend and cheer them on. Because that's how we do things here. It's the next tearful goodbye at ferry landing and the next social invitation to (or from) someone coming in to replace their job. It will be the cheers when the grocery store gets in Brie to go with wine (because the one thing the Commissary never, ever runs out of is wine).

It's the knowledge that one day, you will look back and laugh about that mini-breakdown over a lack of Diet Coke, instead of worrying about your young son who was wandering alone all over the store.  Or when you were stressing over the traffic jam of 5 minutes caused by a stubborn iguana who had to poop right in the middle of the road. Or the fact you freaked out when you realized you hadn't seen your house key in months---when was the last time you locked the house, anyway?

photos from the Elementary Library "Where in GTMO is the Cat in the Hat?" contest.