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).