Saturday, December 26, 2015

Santa's a Criminal and a Stalker; or, Traditions on This Rock

We started the holiday season as usual by dragging our feet before dragging the decorations out. Boy 2 complained about not wanting to put up a tree. However, a few boxes of ornaments came out of storage, and he got into the spirit. Heck, even Rodney got in on the holiday fun.

And doesn't he look handsome? I'm thinking about making hats for all holidays. Rodney in a green bowler for St. Patrick's Day, Rodney in a bonnet for Easter---the possibilities are endless.

We are celebrating our 4th Christmas here, so we've had experiences that have become traditions. We always go to the parade, which is small and quaint and always a hit. (Or in some cases, we get hit). Boy 2 wanted to sit this one out because he wanted candy. That's my boy, motivated by sugar! This was the best parade yet, with lots of groups on island represented. There were floats pulled by trucks, trucks decorated, and lots of improvising with what you get here (Remember: you get what you get, and you don't throw a fit). My favorite float was from IOM, or the International Organization for Migration, which was a float of Cuban migrants entitled "The Migrant Express." It definitely made me smile. Unfortunately, my camera battery died before the parade started, so you'll just have to trust me that it was very creative. The happy Cuban migrants waving and saying, "Merrrry Chrrriiiistmas, everybody!" in thick accents made it even that much better.

And how appropriate that our refugees get to participate in a holiday parade which celebrates the birth of a Son of refugees.

One thing that unfortunately hasn't changed is the mail service. It is still slow, unreliable, and packages often come in looking like they've been dragged behind a truck, run over a few times, and taped back together.

I was a little sad this summer when our then-9 year old blurted out, "Mom, there is no Santa, right?" Instead of confirming his info, I questioned him. "Exactly why do you think this?" He said, "I have 2 reasons, actually. First, he is supposedly a man who goes in your house to put toys under the tree. That's basically breaking and entering. Second, 'he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake'---that means he's a stalker, and that's just creepy." I couldn't help but laugh. And not believing in Santa does make our lives easier when we have to explain why the presents haven't shown up---the presents we ordered before Thanksgiving, BTW. It's just part of life for living overseas and using the military postal service. 

The packages are drifting in, and at this rate, we will get to celebrate Christmas through Epiphany. 

We told Boy 2 last year that if we were here another year, we would put up a special GTMO tree. Honestly, I never dreamed we'd be here for yet ANOTHER GTMO Christmas, but it's Year 4 and here we are. A GTMO tree has to match the location, and our new one does perfectly. 

Confession: It is really difficult to get into the holiday spirit when it's hotter than seven Hells outside. I am weary of eternal summer. I'm tired of sweat, I'm tired of muggy heat, and I'm really, really tired of the never-ending hordes of mosquitoes and no-seeums.  I dream of a white Christmas, and if not a white one, one that requires coats and hats and gloves and best of all, scarves. I will one day have these things again, but in the land of eternal summer, we get shorts, flip-flops, and lots and lots of DEET. 

But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I spent 3 nights non-stop with friends. It was lovely. Whether it's a poker game, a night-before-Christmas meal, or a Christmas day feast, celebrating GTMO-style means you are never short of friends who make you feel a little less homesick and a whole lot more loved.  They helped make our GTMO house our (temporary) home, and we are eternally grateful for the wonderful friendships we've made here. 

With that---Merry Day-After-Christmas from Fantasy Island/Hotel California/Gilligan's Island/La Isla Bonita!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Here and Now; or, Magic Trees and Other Oddities

November is what I like to call "no-school November." Between Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, parent conferences, and report card prep day (yes, we get one of those), there is only one 5-day week the entire month. The constant interruptions and lack of continuity make it difficult to complete anything at work. It appears that writing the blog is one of those difficult things, too.

So here I am, December and I haven't written anything in weeks. Oops.

Dreams of transfers dance in my head this holiday season. Transfer season is upon us, and I am still dreaming large, and after last year's fiasco, facing the reality that I cannot do anything else to make a transfer happen. There is a limited number of moves in the budget, and if I am lucky enough to get one, great. However, it is not a given. I'm trying to make peace with the fact that we don't have an end date here, and I need to focus on the present instead of constantly planning for the future.

This has always been one of my biggest faults; at 14, instead of thinking about high school, I was planning out my college path. At 19, instead of focusing on college life, I was planning out a career, marriage, kids, a house, etc. (I know, I know. What was I thinking!!!) If it is responsible and mature to plan ahead when you are a teen, it is not so much at the cost of missing out on most of your teen years because you are too busy trying to grow up.

So now, at almost 46 years old, I am trying to live more in the present and enjoy La Isla Bonita instead of planning for The Next Big Thing.

With that, here are some pictures to show the here-and-now in GTMO.

(Warning: it's a little ridiculous. And strange. And awesome). 

I can't grow plants in my front yard because the banana rats eat them.
However, the banyan tree they live in is growing plants---and they won't eat them.
Look closely. . . 
There's a cactus growing in a knot of the tree. 
The ground cover that the banana rats mowed through
when I planted it on the front walkway
is now growing in the tree where said banana rats live. . . 

After a five-week closure, McDonalds is open.
The Bad: The signs say, "Sold Out." They are out of all beef products. Seriously.
The Good: McDonalds is bad for you anyway. . .

Cell phone, GTMO style. The Good: it's free, and the reception never drops.
The Bad: Won't fit in your GTMO special (but they are everywhere).

Coming soon: Christmas #4, GTMO style! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sh*t my GTMO says; or, Happy 3 Year GTMO-versary

Things only heard or said in GTMO:

You don't want to go to Ferry Landing Beach yet. They still haven't brought back the sand the storm blew away. 

I'm sorry I'm late. There was a traffic jam on Sherman because 2 male iguanas were fighting and wouldn't budge. 
Can't sit down yet. That's the iguana that likes to beg for food. 
We had a scorpion in our light fixture/tarantula in our garage/cane toad in our plants/banana rat in our engine block/feral cat on our patio/boa in our backyard/crab in our toilet.

You live in Nob Hill? That's like living the in country. It takes at least 10 minutes to get to your house from the NEX. That's got to be rough. 

Don't tell anyone, but the Commissary has plain yogurt/sour cream/eggs/butter/bacon/fresh vegetables. And if you hoard what's left, I won't tell anyone. Just let me borrow something if I need it. 
Can't leave yet. An iguana is in my fin bag. 
Amazon Prime is amazing! It only took 2 weeks for my package to get here! 

I'm so tired of explaining to people how we can't leave the base/can't drive to Havana/can't eat Cuban food/can't buy Cuban cigars or rum/still have to abide by the embargo/don't speak Spanish here. 

Wha g-wan, mon/ma brudda/ma sista! 
Every ting crisp? 
Can't mow the yard yet. Got to wait for the iguana to move along.
Just walk to my house and I've got wine. I NEVER run out of wine. 

We don't have cabs. We have safe ride. It's free. 
We don't have cell phones. We use pay phones. They're free. 
We don't have a movie complex. We have an outdoor movie theater. It's free. 
Can't leave yet. There's an iguana in my fin bag. Again. 
Today is Surf -n- Turf. I'll save you a place in line. Make sure you bring your $5.55. 

Subway is out of bread. 
Taco Bell is out of meat. 
Pizza Hut is out of cheese. 
Can't drive yet. Got to wait for the iguana to cross the road. 
Do you think you can die from inhaling too much DEET over a period of a few years? 

I lost my kid. I think he's in a tree with your kid. 
Your kid's not with my kid? Well, I'm sure they'll be home by dark. 

I saw a manatee/shark/octopus/ray on my last dive! 

What's the best way to cook fresh conch/lion fish/snook/lobster? 
Can't park there. There's an iguana in the way. 
I'm pretty sure you won't die if you eat expired eggs/yogurt/milk/meat. 

Kids in the States are boring. They sit on their cell phones all day. 

Be home by Colors!!
Can't speed here. Iguana crossing!
Happy 3 Year GTMO-versary to us!! And THANKS to all of you who have kept up with our crazy adventures along the way and for all of your support. XOXO

Saturday, October 17, 2015

It's Complicated; or, Slow and Steady

Picture of Son 2 taken by Son 1. Great capture of his cowlick!

I'm sitting here in bed, sick with what docs here call "the GTMO crud." Or probably that's what it is. To make a long, complicated story short, the hospital no longer accepts civilian insurance and we have to file our own claims. We have thousands of dollars (not exaggerating) of claims that were either never submitted or were coded incorrectly from the last 3 years, so I am terrified of going to the hospital for an appointment because there is no telling how that bill will turn out. Instead, I'm treating myself with every OTC pill or cough syrup for a cold, and hoping that rest will heal what ails me.

Sometimes what is considered normal in the real world---like going to a doctor when you are sick---is just difficult here.  Things are just unnecessarily complicated.  And yes, I'm aware that I've used the word "complicated" in two paragraphs in a row---because that's how I feel about my relationship with GTMO. It's complicated.

When I start to bitch, complain, rinse and repeat, my husband says, "Do you regret coming here? Do you want to go back?" 

And the answer is always, "No." 


Life has slowed down since we moved from Texas. A lot. No more hour-long commutes. No more hundreds of dollars in tollroad bills. No more weeks where my husband and I were lucky to sit down to dinner 2 times together. We celebrated our 20th anniversary nine months after moving here, and this is honestly the first place we've been able to spend so much time together. 

And we still like each other. 

With kids, it's a mixed bag. I have been disappointed in times at the number of online classes my oldest has had to take (at any other post with decent internet, this wouldn't be an issue). But there are little things, too, that make up for it. Last year he got to travel to DC in the middle of a snow storm for a Model UN conference. He represented Cuba (oh, the irony) and had a great time, and was recognized at the conference for his hard work. In our larger school in Texas, he would not have had that opportunity. This week, a music group called The Plain White Ts came to GTMO. (They sing "Hey There, Delilah" and "Rhythm of Love.") They came to school to play with the current and former guitar students. About 15 kids, including Son 1, got to play with professional musicians. He was nervous but absolutely loved it. Again, you don't get an experience like that in a large Texas school.

I love not having a house payment or a car payment. I love being homeless. I love my short commute, and I'm learning to not hate shopping at our one and only store. It's a battle, and some weeks I hate it more than others, but it is what it is and you get what you get (and you don't throw a fit). 

Today I got candy corn for the second time in 4 Halloween seasons here in GTMO. I felt like a rockstar at the checkout. Later on, as I was sitting in bed, typing away and trying not to hack up a lung, Son 2 was speaking to me in Spanglish and showing me funny Pokemon videos. We just chilled out together most of the morning. In eight short years, I will helplessly watch him grow up and move away, much like I am going through with my senior this year. I'm going to be selfish and say that as a mom, this place has been good for me. I have been lucky to work at both of my kids' schools these last 3 years. I'm thankful for the days my high schooler stops by my room and says, "Hey, Mom, you want to go to lunch together?" I don't have to take off a half day of work and drive 30-40 minutes to make it to my kids' assemblies anymore. I've gotten to see them interact with their classmates and teachers. I know the minute they've done something wrong, but being a teacher's kid myself, I try not to overreact until I hear their side of the story (Okay, that one's still hard for me---"the teacher's always right" is how I was raised).

Once you've lived a crazy, fast-paced life, and then step away to a slow-paced life, you realize that you've missed out on a lot of your kids' lives. I feel fortunate to have time with them, which is something worth the hassles and complications. I need to learn to breathe and deal with unreliable mail and shortages of fresh food, and realize I can live without those things---one day, hopefully sooner than later, we'll move to where we get all of those things and more, but we won't always have our 2 boys around for sharing candy corn or lunch dates. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Blustery Days of Our Lives; or, Sands Through an Hourglass

In the words of Pooh, it was a "rather blustery day." Make that two or three of them.

For a few days, we were at what's known as "COR III" for hurricane readiness. COR III this time around meant we were not in the direct line of the projected hurricane, but we got a tremendous amount of wind and rain. 

Watching hurricanes is always in the back of our minds since we got here; after all, Hurricane Sandy hit a few days after I arrived. 

According to Weather Underground, in September we got 0.41 inches of rain. August we got 0.8 inches, and July, 0.26". And on and on. You get the picture. For the last year, the forecast has been: arid, dusty, with a rather miserable amount of humidity. Two days before the storms hit, the heat index was 104º.

Then we got our first measurable rainfall in over a year. It was exciting. The kids at school literally jumped out of their seats and to the door before I could say anything. One student pointed and kept stammering, "Whhhhaaaat is thaaat?" I am serious. That stuff falling from the sky is rain, y'all! Everyone driving Jeeps, the unofficial vehicle of GTMO, realized that they were going to have a very wet ride home. Roads and sidewalks were temporarily flooded, the ceiling in my classroom started leaking, and sandbags were out. I'm happy about the change in temperature, but I can do without the howling wind and sideways rain.

Sirens go off and we get base-wide announcements on a PA system, or as most people here call it, "The Big Voice." The problem is you can't understand it. At neither work nor home can I actually hear it for the pouring rain. It's like Charlie Brown's teacher: Wuh Wah Wah wuh wuh wah.  Like so much here, you depend on word of mouth. People are very dependable about letting everyone know what's going on. 

Preparations included moving potted plants and anything else that can fly around the backyard onto the back porch and taking the bottles off of the bottle tree. My sweet little trees I transplanted from our Nob Hill house, including 2 that were from a cutting of the Truffula Tree, are now blown almost completely down. I'm going to wait until the rain passes to stake them back down again. 

Now for the aftermath---I'll put the bottles back out and stake up the tree when it's a little drier out.
The Commissary has been out of any edible produce for four days now. Supposedly we'll get some tomorrow. My son's SAT test this weekend has been put on indefinite hold; he couldn't take it Saturday because they couldn't unpack the barge container that housed the tests due to rain; Saturday they didn't unpack it due to wind, so he couldn't take it on Sunday, either. Now he is at the mercy of College Board as to if he can take it at all in October, or just scratch that and take it for November's test day (hopefully). Life is complicated when you are isolated and have freaky weather.

We did go for a ride around base, and stopped at Ferry Landing. Here is is, April 2013:
The sidewalk above has at regular intervals three stairs that go to the sand.

Or at least it did have sand. Here is one of the staircases this morning:

And here is Ferry Landing. Lots of big rocks, but no beach whatsoever:

They will bring sand back in, just like they did with Hurricane Sandy, and all will be normal (or as "normal" as you can be in a place where the beach washes away).

Today marks 3 years that we announced to everyone that we were moving to Cuba. It's been a crazy, wild ride. I didn't dream I'd live somewhere where keeping a hurricane kit is normal, or running out of basic food items is normal. I didn't think I'd be chasing iguanas or tarantulas at work, or dodging huge rodents in the road at night. It's been in many ways a new life, one of frustrations and joys, disappointments and life-long friendships. The one thing it's never been is boring. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Crabby Days; or, Let's Pretend This is Normal

And now the latest addition of Let's Pretend This is Normal.

Exhibit A: I've got crabs. Lots of crabs.

They like to do things like tip my tacky yard art over. See my "gazing ball?" I don't even know what the point of these things is. I have a nice metal planter and I can't manage to keep a plant alive inside of it, so it's now home to this blue bowling ball-sized glass ball. It's quite heavy. And thanks to a blue land crab, it's always on my front door step (next to piles of banana rat poo).

I have to fight crabs sometimes to get in my classroom. They are small and feisty---they put up their little crabby claws and run towards me, like they are going to take me down. I pick them up, move them off the sidewalk (so nobody steps on them and squishes them---sadly, it does happen), and an hour or so later, do it again. And again. All day long, they keep sideways walking into the wall by my door, and I'm always moving them to the grass. It's like a crazy game, where a crab is getting the last laugh.

(Or maybe, just maybe, Island Fever has officially made me crazy).

Either way, this is the new normal.

Exhibit B:
We also have a major food crisis. McDonald's, one of our eight fine eating establishments (we also have Windjammer/Pizza Hut, O'Kelly's, Bayview, Jerk House, Taco Bell, Triple B, Subway), will be closed for six weeks. The high school kids can no longer eat at the Galley, our mess hall (and best eating establishment here, in my opinion) for a discount price. The buses no longer take kids to the Galley or anywhere else off campus for lunch. So we now have even less options.

Am I sad? Not really. It is unhealthy junk food, after all (as are about half of our food choices here). But their chicken wings and sticky rice are my FAVORITE go-to meal/comfort food. We are small and isolated, but our McDonald's secret menu item is the BEST I've had anywhere else we've lived.

Of course, I've eaten at McDonald's here more in 3 years than in the 40+ years of my life combined pre-GTMO, so who knows what super-secret items are really out there. All I know is we have even less places to go for a quick meal. The fact that I would even consider fast food a "meal" is a new normal, too. 

Also Exhibit C: I recently berated a childhood friend on facebook for killing a huge tarantula he encountered while working in Equatorial Guinea. Did I mention it was huge? I wouldn't have blinked an eye if this had happened 3 years ago, but my new normal is loving tarantulas and making sure they aren't unnecessarily killed.

There's D: 

I feed iguanas hibiscus flowers for fun. Just letting that sentence percolate in my head blows my mind.

I call her "Mama" because she has baby iguanas running all over school. I'm afraid a boa has eaten some of them; let's hope that the remaining ones can outrun it and grow up to be other cute iguanas. I am glad that a female has taken up at school instead of a male, since they are SO much friendlier. 

So feeding wildlife hibiscus blooms is my normal. I am not kidding when I say that even on the roughest, toughest, most exhausting of days, I feel 100 times better by just watching her walk around our school atrium. 

And finally, E: 
The Map of Lost Map has THREE new pins, thanks to our ever-exciting mail service. Sometimes we get it three times a week; sometimes, three times a month. It's always like Christmas up in here. I am still waiting for a package I mailed in July to get to GTMO (and it's September). It's been stuck in Customs in Chicago forever now. 
I still can't understand how 09588, the USS Truxtun; 09009, Ramstein, Germany; and 09357, Kuwait City, Kuwait, look anything like 09593, but whatever. My mail is well traveled and my map contains lots of pins of places I have never been (but would like to visit one day). 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

If You Give a Student GTMO Internet; or, Let the Circle of Hope Spin

9 am, Saturday morning:

If you give an online student GTMO internet, she is going to wait. And wait.

While waiting the 5 minutes to log into the computer, she will get up and make a cup of coffee.

While standing around waiting for the coffee to brew, she will get creamer. She will notice that the fridge needs cleaning, and will throw out 4-5 containers of leftovers. She has good intentions, but nobody ever actually eats the leftovers.

After cleaning the fridge, she will go back to the computer. Success! She will now log into the college Blackboard site. She will wait. And wait. And wait.

While sitting around waiting, she will sip her coffee, go to put the empty cup in the dishwasher, and realize the dishes are clean. She will unpack them and pack the cup along with the leftover containers that were in the sink.

She will notice that the "fresh" fruit she bought yesterday has attracted fruit flies. Those suckers are multiplying like crazy. Where the heck do they come from? Were they IN the fruit when she bought it???

She will take the leftovers and fruit and put them in the garbage. She tires of the buzzing, so walks four houses down to the closest dumpster.

While walking back through the yard, she will notice that plants need watering. She will turn on the hose, and mid-watering, realize she has a cloud of bugs surrounding her. They are now in her nose, ears, and eyes. They are multiplying 10 times faster than the fruit flies. She will go inside to get bug spray to kill the mosquitoes and no-seeums.

While in the laundry room getting the bug spray, she will notice that the laundry needs to be changed. She will put the wash in the dryer and the clean clothes on the couch.

On the way to finish watering the plants, she will check the computer. Nope, the spinning Circle of Hope is still doing its thing. Not yet!
It's the Circle of Hope!! Let it spin!
She will water the plants, come inside, and change her sweat-soaked shirt. Did you know that you can sweat a gallon in less than 10 minutes? If you live in GTMO, of course you know that. She will check the computer again---we have connection! Now she will log into the page for the assignment. She will wait, and wait, and wait, so she decides to fold the clothes on the couch.

While putting up the clean clothes from the couch (okay, just the towels---the rest of the clothes will sit on the couch all day), she will notice that the bathroom mirror needs to be cleaned. She will go get the Windex from under the kitchen sink.

While in the kitchen, she will unpack the second load of now-clean dishes. She will get the Windex and go back to the bathroom.

While cleaning the mirror, she will think about brushing her teeth but then realize, damn, I'm hungry! She forgot to make breakfast and now it's lunchtime. She goes to the kitchen to make a smoothie and checks the internet. Not yet!!

While making a smoothie, she realizes that she is out of yogurt. The grocery store is out of yogurt. Oh well, who needs yogurt in a smoothie?

The smoothie becomes a margarita. She now checks the internet with drink in hand. We have connection! Again! And now she goes to attach the assignment she worked on the night before, all while off-line.

She finds the file, hits "attach," and waits. And waits. And waits. And drinks. And forgets to make lunch. Who needs a sandwich when you have a margarita?

And decides to go outside to wait with her margarita. The Commissary never, ever runs out of tequila or triple sec, although it's hit-or-miss with the limes. Or yogurt. Or onions, and most fresh produce, Coke Zero, and many dairy products. Wow, it's hot in the hammock! Maybe it's time for another margarita.

After another margarita, she will go back to the hammock and. . . ZZZZzzzzz. Wow, it's a magical hammock. Within a few minutes of sitting in it, she has mysteriously fallen asleep.

In an hour, she will wake from her nap. She had dreams of fast internet. She goes inside and checks the internet.

Not yet!!! Dreams don't come true!!! And now she has weird diamond-shapes from the hammock all over her legs. This is as good an excuse as any to not go to the Commissary to get something to cook for dinner.

She decides to switch the laundry again. She takes clothes to the kids' rooms and realizes they need to be vacuumed. She tries to find child 2 to beg him to come home and vacuum. He is in a tree. A BIG tree. She will water more plants, talk a 9 year old out of a huge tree, do ANOTHER load of laundry, clean the remains of the margarita carnage (okay, drink the rest), and think about what she would have cooked, had she not sat in the hammock or had 3 margaritas for lunch. She will come back and check on her assignment.

We have confirmation!!

(Is it really 5 pm already?)

And just like that, that's how you spend 6-8 hours doing a 5 paragraph assignment online.

This semester marks the 8th and 9th online classes I'm taking here in GTMO.

Of course, I am crazy. I am also notoriously cheap and refuse to pay $300 a month for about 1/10 of the speed we got in the States. We are on the even worse plan. Think Dial-Up from the 90s. Now think even worse than that.

Why am I torturing myself? I'm taking various education/technology classes so I can add more teaching certifications. You can either complain about not getting a transfer, or you can do something for if/when it ever comes again. . .

With all apologies to Laura Numeroff, that's basically how I roll most Saturdays and Sundays here in La Isla Bonita.

Part of my survival plan for 2015-16---I'm teaching 7th, 9th, 11th, and 12th English AND Yearbook, to give you an idea of the insanity that is my job---is to go to the beach at least once a week. I went once last week, so I need to go again this week. I can slip out to the beach, come back, and my weekly essay assignment is still loading.

When not going to the beach, I also do yoga, watch the news, sometimes read a book, and on weekends when the internet is even slower than I thought humanly possible, I can do all three. The world's a little slower here sometimes, but the paradox of GTMO life is when you slow down, you will be amazed how much you can accomplish.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Cows Attack!, or, Vacation, Part Two

I love animals; I really do. We've had dogs that were more like our children, and as a child, I grew up in a family that loved several dogs and cats. I even endured life with a crazy, cursing parrot in the house (Shit, bird!). But I have no love for livestock. Really.

As a small child, a petting zoo goat ate part of my ponytail. I looked the creature in the eyes, and it terrified me. I really think this was what started my irrational phobia of goats. (Goataphobia?) I can't even look at pictures of them. I HATE goats.

I fell off a horse as a teenager, and even worse, was almost killed by cows.

Okay, maybe they were not actually going to kill me. But tell that to eleven year-old me, because at the time, I was going to be killed by a herd of cows.

The cows belonged to my friend Susan, who lived out in the country. In elementary school, we would jump on the trampoline and taunt the cows. When I was seven, we were jumping and her grandmother suddenly rushed out of the house crying. We thought someone in her family had died. No, not a family member; instead, it was Elvis.

We graduated from mocking and taunting cows to chasing them with a go-cart. It was all fun until we ran out of gas, a far, far way from her house (and too far away for anyone to hear us screaming).

The point of the story is this: if you ever find yourself in a position to chase cows with a small, recreational vehicle, DON'T DO IT. A herd of cows does NOT like to be chased by a go cart. Who would've thunk, right? It was a terrifying hour or so before they stopped surrounding us and we could run back to her house.

Maybe it's a fear of bovine karma; maybe it's just that they are another big, smelly farm animal; either way, I just don't get close to them any more. Once you've had a herd of stinky, large, loud cows mooing at you and giving you the stink eye, you really don't want to be near them ever again.

So if I told you that to get to this:

I had to go dozens and dozens of these:

You will understand why finding my ancestors' graves was such an adventure.

Summer vacation, part two---After we had visited Texas and Mexico, we ventured to my hometown in Mississippi (2013 population: 1576. Salute!). My cousin came down to visit and we somehow came up with the brilliant idea to chase down our great-great-great-great grandparents' graves in rural Shivers, MS.

Equipped with a GPS, a phone number from our cousin in Pascagoula who has visited the grave sites, and a general direction of where the heck Shivers, Mississippi, is, my older (and braver) cousin called a total stranger and asked him if we could get on his property to view the cemetery.

The guy said he would happily show us the small family plot on his farm, but he would have to meet us at the gate so we didn't let the cows out.

Once we got on the farm I realized that yet again, I was surrounded by a loud herd of cows. I couldn't do it; I got out of the driver's seat and let Al take the wheel. They looked harmless, but I'm sure they would have attacked, had we turned our backs.

Okay, maybe not. Yes, I'm exaggerating (obviously). But do you know what the cows did do? They did something very, very bad.

For the several decades now that my family hasn't owned the property, it has remained a working farm. Even though the farmers did their best to protect our little family plot, which sits in a little grove of trees, cows somehow got to it and knocked every single one of the gravestones over, breaking several in the process.

Stupid, stupid cows. Herds of cows are dangerous. If they aren't surrounding the living with ominous moos, they are stumbling stupidly through graveyards, doing major damage.

My cousin and I had three of our four kids with us, gingerly brushing off graves (and looking for ticks, or worse, snakes, in the process). We excitedly said, "Look, it's Isham's Civil War marker!" "It's Elizabeth! And Eli!"

I've never seen a picture of any of these folks, and I don't know much about them other than what's in records, such as their birthdates, death dates, and from census records, their occupations. They were small time farmers in Choctaw territory. They lost children in childbirth, they went off to war, some died very young, and others lived to ripe old ages. Being in that small cemetery made me wonder, how did people feel during each of these funerals? Were they relieved that someone was no longer suffering from pain or disease? What about the young widows, left with hungry mouths to feed? How did they make ends meet? Did they have closure? I can't imagine the pain of losing a child; some of these families lost multiple. How do you ever get over that loss? And who was the last person alive to know any of these people? How long ago was that? My ancestors probably held hands, sang hymns, and comforted each other at grave sites that, almost 200 years later, their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren would be traipsing around.

I hope one day, my sons will sit down as old men and tell their grandkids a story. It will go something like this: Long time ago, your wacky great-grandmother, Granny L, and her first cousin Al took us down a country road to a dirt road. Then we drove down a long, gravel driveway, that ended at a gate. We entered a farm and continued until we came to a little stand of trees. There, in deep brush, we saw Eli and Elizabeth. Hanson and Missourie. Isham and Rebecca. Who are these people? We aren't really sure. It's written down in the family genealogy folder she kept. What we do know is that they are part of our DNA, and maybe the reason we like music, or we like to tell stories. Or maybe why we like to fish or work in the yard. Maybe they are why we are good at math or science or English. Or maybe why we aren't. They were most certainly strong willed and probably quite stubborn to live such hard lives and survive. 

Or maybe their story will go something like this: Your crazy great-grandmother, Granny L, spent a sweltering, miserably hot afternoon screaming and cursing at cows while her cousin drove us to a graveyard in the middle of nowhere. She had a real thing about farm animals. Did we mention the cursing? Anyway, we don't know who these people were. All we know is she was shrieking with excitement and talking to their graves like they were RIGHT THERE. Did we mention she was crazy? That woman was cra-zy. She talked to cows AND gravestones. Certifiably CRAZY. 

Either way, as long as they remember our graveyard adventure and tell their own children (and grandchildren) about how very,very happy it made me to finally see the graves of people I have only read about, I will die a happy woman. (If they do it while eating hamburgers, even better. Stupid cows).

And maybe they, too, will take a winding trip in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, to find the Myers of Simpson and Lawrence County who have shaped who we are today and in the future.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Slug Bug Fail; or, Las Vacaciones, Parte Uno

What do you get when you combine 11 flights on four airlines through eight airports? You get summer vacation. It's RAT time, and in case you haven't noticed, I've been on a hiatus of sorts while we've been enjoying a relaxing break from school and work the last five weeks.

Five weeks of togetherness. . . and believe it or not, we are all still talking to each other.

What did we do during that time? We visited family in Texas and Mississippi. We ate out. A lot. We got our fill of lots of food we simply can't buy in a restaurant here (and don't have the ingredients to cook).

We had teeth cleaned and hair cut. We bought books. It was so nice to be back where there are book stores---I can't stand having to buy a book online without the opportunity to flip through the pages first.

We shopped for items that are limited or hard to find here: cheap school supplies, kids' shoes that don't cost $50, OTC medicines we don't get here for some reason, and school clothes that were on sale. Every time I go back, however, I find that I end up buying less and less things.

It's funny how much you realize, with the passing of time, that you can do without almost anything. Case in point: donuts. I have always been a die-hard donut addict. Living here, where we get donuts but they are previously frozen and taste horrible, has been a great way to break me from that bad habit. I ate donuts once in five weeks. It had been 6 months since the last time I had them. With many things you wean yourself off of, they just aren't as amazing as I as remembered; I can't believe I'm saying this, but I can now live without them. Those of you who have known me a long time are probably thinking, Wow. Yeah, me, too.

We also went to a country I adore: Mexico. Mexico is the first country I visited outside of the US and my desire to travel the world and live overseas started there. I had never been on an airplane until I was 16 years old and traveled with a school group to Mexico City and Teotihuacan, Villahermosa and Palenque, and Cancun. Twenty five years ago this summer, I got my wish of living overseas while studying Spanish in Cuernavaca and living with a local family. Oh, and I also met the guy who would eventually become my husband on that same trip. So the birth of my wanderlust and the beginning of what would be a lifetime relationship all took place in Mexico. I've been all over and enthusiastically recommend visiting there if you haven't. We've been back three times now, always during our anniversary, once with our oldest child, and this time with both kids.

It's crazy that a family who lives in the Caribbean would chose another Caribbean location for a vacation, but that's exactly what we did. We stayed near Akumal this time. Why Mexico? For one, you can't beat the food. If anyone reading this is willing to cook me chilaquiles every morning for breakfast, I'll put you up for free. (I'll also make the mimosas). We ate nopales and tamales, dozens of types of salsas, fresh fruit, and ceviche. Those were just my favorites. My somewhat-picky kids managed to eat traditional Mexican food for almost every meal, three times a day, for almost two weeks. I was proud of them.
nice, small sand (unlike my nice, big sand) in the Yucatan
In addition, I love mariachi music, handcrafts and folkart, and in the Yucatan, the Mayan culture. The highlight was probably visiting Chichen Itza. I totally got my geek on at the Mayan ruins. The kids enjoyed it, too.  We also ventured into a Chedraui supermarket (clothes, food, and major appliances) and swam in a cenote. We visited a Mayan village and walked around Playa del Carmen. But mostly, we just relaxed and read, took naps, swam, and relaxed some more.
Hammocks make you sleepy. True story. 
We were in an area that doesn't have as many American tourists as other parts of the Yucatan, and thus, less English speakers---and it felt great remembering how to carry a conversation in Spanish. We all got to speak Spanish, including our 2 boys who have each been in Spanish classes for 3 years (elementary language classes is one of many advantages DoDDS kids get over the majority of American kids). As son 2 said to me, "We aren't in Cuba anymore, mom! We have to speak Spanish now!" Oh, the irony. My GTMO friends will totally understand the lack of Spanish in Cuba (at least in US-Cuba).

Chichen Itza

One more thing: if you take kids to Mexico, whatever you do, don't get suckered into playing "slug bug." Seriously. If you have ever traveled or lived in Mexico, you'll understand why. OUCH.

photo source:

More on vacation, including going through a cow pasture down a dirt road off a gravel road that was off a country road, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, all in search of my great-great-great-great grandparents, next time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beaches; or, My sand is bigger than your sand

While we are waiting to go home on our RAT for summer, we are enjoying the perks of island life that elude us during the school year.

This past week, I went to the ocean more than I did in August through June. In fact, I only visited the beach once. Pitiful, I know. A combination of health issues in the fall and a crazy, crazy work schedule all year round had me staying in on weekends, instead of taking advantage of the beautiful, eternal summer that is GTMO.

One way to find much-needed balance in life is to get off my butt and get out of the house. What better way to relax than to smell the salt air, feel the ocean breeze, listen to the waves, and soak up the sun?  Everyone has his or her personal preference to the many beaches here. I've posted pictures from Chapman, Windmill, and Cable beaches, and each spot has its advantages and disadvantages. When it is just myself and my youngest, I don't like the isolation of Chapman beach (even though it is really gorgeous), and Cable has a great wading pool (and a smaller beach to the side I love called Pebble Beach), but not much in the way of sea glass and it's in the middle of a much-needed cabana renovation, so that's a no-go. Some people love Ferry Landing, but I can't deal with not being able to see my feet, and the water tends to be cloudier there than other spots. It does have nice sand and I've found some great sea glass there, but it is not my favorite swimming spot.

Instead, I love Girl Scout beach. It is a total pain in so many ways. For starters, there are the stairs. If you have lived here, you know what I'm talking 'bout---they are a bear. Going down isn't so bad, but after a couple of hours of swimming or SCUBA diving, they make you re-think how in shape you really are. Every time I think, "Dang, I thought I was in good shape" (and then wheeze like the 45 year-old asthmatic that I am). But it is so worth it, because it has everything that we like in a beach.
It has sand. I know this sounds crazy, but we don't have sand at all of our beaches. We have rocks. If you want to get technical, we have really, really, REALLY large sand, because what is sand other than tiny rocks, right? So we have XXXXL sand at most beaches, which requires shoes at all time. We also have urchins and rock fish and other things you really don't want to step on, so you should wear swim shoes here, regardless. I just bought some Chacos online and they work great for the XXXXL sand, too.  
In addition to sand, it has sea glass. Tons of it. I have found some other interesting things at Girl Scout, too. I've found: forks and spoons, old military buttons, gun shells, copper wiring, pieces of pottery and china, an old watch (broken), shells, sea fans, coral, and a grouchy iguana.

Some recent treasures: a plastic bottle top that says, "Séjourné Depuis 1915." I know enough to know that's French and I've got mad Google skills, so I found out that it's a soda top from Haiti. We unfortunately get lots of garbage from Haiti. It's not the first time I've found things written in French on the beach, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Sadly, our neighbor Haiti seems to be a country that puts lots of garbage in the ocean.
Image from (where else?) their facebook page:
I also found a shard of china that says, "Buffalo China Mandalay." Google tells me that it's a pattern used in restaurants that was popular in the 1930s-50s. It's a nice pattern. I don't think I've ever found any pieces with the actual pattern on them, but I have found many other patterns of china in my beach combing.
Image found at
What makes Girl Scout fun to us is the waves and on most days, opportunities for great snorkeling. Son 2 and I love diving and jumping in the waves.  There are strong currents, so you have to be a strong swimmer (and cognizant of all times as to how rough the waves are and how strong the undertow is). Son 2 sees the sign below and says, "If they are in danger, Mom, why are they making the 'hang loose' sign?" Good question, kid!!

The only downside to Girl Scout (other than the stairs that seem to double in size on the way back up) is the sand isn't tiny, dusty white sand like in Florida or the Mayan Riviera.

Therefore, you get lots of tiny rocks (or XL sand, depending on how you look at it) in your nose, ears, and mouth, depending on how graceful (or not, in my case) you are while rolling around in the tide.

This also means that kids (and adults) end up with lots of pieces XL sand in their swim suits.

I don't know how to delicately put this, but here's the thing: you end up with lots of XL sand all on your lady and manly bits.

It's as painful as it sounds.

The first trip to the beach, Son 2 gets into the shower and we hear the spilling of what seemed like 10 lbs of rocks (okay, XL sand) all over the bathroom floor. We were sweeping it up for weeks. Because of water restrictions, no beaches have water right now, but Girl Scout never had cabanas or showers, so that's a mute point, anyway. You haven't lived until you have rocks stuck in the creases and crevices of your swimsuit and your body (not a pleasant thought, I know), and then have them tumble everywhere when you take off your suit.

My poor shower trap, washing machine, and dryer all get lots of abuse after a trip to the beach.

The rock (XL sand) issues aside, the beaches here are worth the extra effort. So many conveniences of life we took for granted in the US, but the beauty of living here is the beauty of this place. Florida may have beautiful sand (XXS rocks) and crystal clear water, but show me a beach that has giant iguanas begging for food, strange artifacts that are decades old, or literally thousands of pieces of sea glass that glitter like jewels, all free for the taking (except that iguana---you definitely don't want to feed or touch him!).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Leap of Faith; or, Jump (Go Ahead and Jump)

This summer has started with another set of goodbyes. After almost three years here, we are saying farewell to our 2nd round of friends whom we have known from the start to finish of their tours of duty here. I counted earlier this week, and when our youngest son starts 4th grade in the fall, he will have only one classmate he has known since we moved here in 2012.

Constant goodbyes are not easy for my kids, who had a very steady (and mostly uneventful) life until we moved here. It's also hard for those of us who are stuck here indefinitely. How many more sets of people will we meet and bid farewell while here? It never gets easier.

Jumping off the pier at Ferry Landing---all part of our goodbye rituals here. 
Yet this is the life of a military child, and as the child of a parent who serves the military, this is now my children's lives, too.

I occasionally have a hard time explaining to people that we are stuck here indefinitely. When you accept a job here as a DoD civilian, you generally have to go by the "five year rule." You can only work five years overseas, and then you have to go back to the States for two years before you can take another overseas job.

If you are military, you are typically here for two years. JTF people are almost always here for 9 months on an unaccompanied tour.

There are always exceptions to the rules, of course.

But teachers? We don't fit in any of these categories.

info from:

The info above is from the DoDEA website and it is pitiful in its outdatedness and uselessness. There hasn't been a post in Iceland since 2008. Not only that, but you would think that Cuba is a one-year tour from this info. This is what many of us have to go by when we get here. The info above just means that after one year, we get a free ticket back to our Home of Record (HOR). I'm not well-versed in government talk, but I definitely didn't get that from the above when I read it the first, second, or tenth time. 

Bottom line: come to Cuba as a teacher and  you have to prepare to stay indefinitely. 

The entire DoDDS system is built on uncertainty. It can either build patience or breed impatience, depending your disposition. I would love to say that I have become more patient, more introspective in the last almost-three years, but there are days that I would give anything to be the one on that ferry leaving and waving goodbye, instead of the one standing on the dock. 

Our GTMO tradition is to jump off the pier for friends departing. As the ferry turns in front of the pier and picks up speed towards the airport, friends, coworkers, and neighbors jump and swim out towards the ferry. The first time I saw this, I was surprised that I teared up---it is a rather moving experience. Sometimes people decide last minute to jump and leap in the Bay wearing their work clothes. Other times, people wear funny outfits. I've jumped, waved, and even worn funny hats and sang songs in Spanish. Every goodbye is a little different. 

Once the plane schedule was changed this past year from Saturday to Friday flights, that sadly left us with fewer opportunities to say goodbye (thanks to my J-O-B, I can't just walk out of the building and take 30 minutes to go to Ferry Landing) and even less opportunities to jump. Just making it to Ferry Landing to wave is now a big event for me. 

Another part of the GTMO tradition is that if you jump off the pier, you will be the next one to leave. 

In that time-honored tradition and in hopes that that legend has some element of truth, I'm encouraging my youngest to jump until his heart is content this summer. I have the flight schedule in hand and we will become part of the (un)official goodbye committee, jumping for EVERY SINGLE FLIGHT, if that is what it takes to bring us some good juju. I'm resolved that we are here indefinitely, but I'm not one for turning down good juju. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hotel Caimanera (not California); or, Peace, Love, and Understanding

(What's so funny 'bout) peace, love, and understanding?-Elvis Costello

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.-Mark Twain

One of my former colleagues from Austin just got back from a trip to Havana. I have to admit, I am a lot intrigued and a little jealous.

Meanwhile, in GTMO. . . This weekend was Filipino Independence Day. There was a huge celebration at Phillips Dive Park with speeches, cultural presentations (dancing), and food---FREE food. Pancit, lumpia, adobo chicken, and more. It was a delicious meal and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with our Filipino community, without whom this base would not run.

There are way more Filipinos and Jamaicans than Cubans in GTMO, which means there is really a lot more Filipino and Jamaican culture here than Cuban. In fact, there is very, very little actual Cuban culture in GTMO. You can listen to Cuban radio, watch Cuban television (if you have an antennae), and go to one of the two centers on base to talk to the Special Category Residents, or SCRs, also known as the "real" Cubans who have been here since the fence closed its gates in 1959.

With the news that Cuba is now off the state-sponsored terrorism list, people here are excited at the prospects of things like a SOFA (status of forces agreement) and maybe even the gates opening again for travel between GTMO (US-Cuba) and the rest of Cuba-Cuba.

I'm not holding my breath that any of that will happen while we are here. And there is always the chance that no, instead of that happening, GTMO will close forever. Although I don't think that will happen while we are here, either.

Instead, we will be in US-Cuba limbo, not really in a foreign country, although we are most definitely residing on foreign soil. And with dreams of escaping through that fence to peek at what's on the other side, come possibilities.

One is tourism.

One night when I fell down the Cuba/GTMO internet rabbit hole, I found information about Hotel Caimanera.

Hotel picture courtesy of the Hotel Caimanera website. Check it out

According to Wikipedia (Wiki-pedia:from the Greek "don't trust the internet"), Caimanera is a fishing village that is the closest town to GTMO. It is considered a "forbidden town," meaning you have to have a special permit from the Cuban government to visit it. Some enterprising Cubans have taken it upon themselves to make this the selling point of the Hotel Caimanera, which according to its website, is "located to less than a mile of a distance from the cactus curtain on an almost barren hilltop" and "is like a Room with a Priceless War Border Zone view, since from their residence balconies you can observe the Guantanamo Bay US Naval base very clearly."

Awesome, right! We are not only isolated here, but we are being observed, much like zoo animals, from Cuban tourists who have gone through the trouble to get a special permit to visit Caimanera. And we are living in a "war border zone," which is exciting new development in my otherwise somewhat-mundane GTMO life.

In case you are wondering, the cactus curtain is what you call the miles and miles of thick cactus vegetation on the Cuban side of the fence, planted there by Castro's military to discourage Cubans from coming into GTMO once the gate closed (or this is at least the version of the story we are told on this side of the gate).

Also: "offering excellent service and a historically unique location, Hotel Caimanera is the prefect [sic] setting for a memorable vacation in a truly warm Cuban carefree atmosphere, all made the better by the sheer irony of being so close to a culture so absurdly opposite." Um, I think that was meant to be a jab at those of us living in US-Cuba. Ouch.

Seriously, this whole thing is not just "absurd"---it is totally, completely, 100% ridiculous.

How the US got GTMO is ridiculous. Having a certain prison here (which I only refer to as "that place") is ridiculous. How we view Cuba is ridiculous, and evidently, how they view us is, as well.

A little travel from both sides may cure some of our stereotypes and misconceptions about each other, although (again, it's ridiculous) the only way right now to visit Caimanera is to fly from GTMO to either Jacksonville, Norfolk, or Ft. Lauderdale (those are our 3 choices), then to Miami, then to Havana  (but only with a special visa), then travel the 935 km (580 miles) to Caimanera by car.

When you try to calculate the distance from Caimanera to Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, you only get "that place" listed for directions and are told, "sorry, we cannot calculate directions between Caimera and [that place]." I know it is not an eleven + hour trip, that's for certain.

Dear god, please someone tell Google maps and the rest of the world that GTMO is NOT a prison

(Okay, it's really difficult to leave here and it's super isolated, so maybe the joke's on us). 

But ridiculousness aside, if that fence does open while we are here (highly unlikely), I will have my $41 in hand and be on the bus to Hotel Caimanera, so I can see US-Cuba from the other side of the fence. With travel comes a new understanding of Cuba-Cuba. It's all about peace, love, and understanding, folks. Y'all look for me! I'll be the one waving from my balcony with a Cuban cigar in one hand, binoculars pointed at GTMO in the other.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The (Not) Love Letters; or, Going Postal in GTMO

I'm an old-fashioned sort of girl who loves getting notes and letters. I haven't saved too many mementos from 22 years of marriage (and 11 moves), but I do have the few love letters I got along the way (from the husband, in case you are wondering).

Naturally, I love getting any sort of letter in the mail. Postcards will do, too.

Remember sending real letters? I used to love picking out the right stamp for letters to bunkmates at camp (usually written to once or twice, and then forgotten forever), friends who went off to college while I was still in high school, or cousins who lived several hours away.

Now we just do email and no more letters.

Unless you are in GTMO, that is.

In the last six months, I've gotten a lot of letters from the postal service.

I will call them my GTMO NOT love letters.

Much of the time, there's not a whole lotta love for the postal service in my casa.

Reason one is exhibit A:

A package covered in what appears to be (or smells to be) chili sauce.

I'm not 100% sure because the package contains no condiments, only Valentine's Day candy (that thankfully was not destroyed).

Exhibit B: I did get a nice note taped to the outside of the stinky, plastic bag covered package about just how much the post office cares, which did seem to soften the blow. But I'm not going to lie; if the candy had been ruined, I would have been irate.

I love Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap---you know the stuff that comes in the bottle with LOTS! of EXPLANATION! MARKS!!! and strange messages about love, soap, and Rudyard Kipling (please tell me you know what I'm talking about). My kids love Dr. Bronner's and I love it, and instead of buying it the few weeks I'm in the States a year and hoarding it all year long, I try to order it online.  I also love Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Laundry soap---it's the only thing that gets the kids' nasty soccer clothes smelling great again.

So a couple of weeks ago, I got another plastic-covered package. Instead of a package covered in chili sauce, I got a package that was actually dripping. We're talking serious haz-mat time here. Goodbye to my much anticipated package of Dr. Bronner and Mrs. Meyer products and hello to filling out forms for refunds. This is the third time we've received an exploded and dripping package in 3 years (albeit a good smelling one this time around).

I'm not sure if there was a note inside of that package because I just chunked it in the garbage. I didn't even bother to open it up.

Exploded packages and notes from the P.O., such is my exciting life.

Also, I've recently received a mystery note.
Exhibit C:

The "damage" happened, according to the Chicago International Military Center, because of their "highly sophisticated mechanized and automated equipment utilized to expedite delivery." I should point out that the package was actually in better condition that 99% of what we get here; the only "damage" was it had been opened and some of the contents had been pilfered. 
Um, whatever. 

This letter was inside my package. It's like opening your suitcase a few days after a trip to find that weird piece of paper in the middle of your mass of twisted, dirty clothes from the TSA that says that they have randomly inspected your suitcase.  (Am I the only person who gets those, too?)

What was missing? Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day hand soap. I kid you not. It's like I'm doomed to get anything from Mrs. Meyer sent here. :(

I seem to have bad luck with mail here, as attested by my Map of Lost Mail. In fact, as I am typing this, there is a package from Banana Republic that is floating around aimlessly in the FPO system. My clothes ordered in May that should have gone to FPO 09593 somehow were sent to APO 09053---Garmisch, Germany. Another pin for the Map of Lost Mail! (That is, if the package ever actually shows up).

Again, my mail is better traveled than I am. And it is still not here. I'm watching it go 'round and round. The most amazing part of this to me is that a package can leave Columbus, OH, on a Wednesday and end up in Germany on the following Monday, but it takes a minimum of 2 weeks to get anything to GTMO from the states.

Anywho, I do have one question: How damn difficult is it to read a zip code? I still don't understand why so much of our mail ends up in Europe (and why we were stuck here). 

I don't think it's that we have lousy mail service here in GTMO (or in the FPO system) as much as it is we rely on mail WAY more than the rest of the developed world.  In a place that is isolated and with very limited services and products, we really do depend on the mail (dammit!) to get the things we need.

Weird notes, exploded packages, and misdirected/lost mail happens all the time, I'm sure, but the chance of it happening to the average person in the US is slim, because most Americans (unless you are a QVC addict or a hermit, or maybe---bonus!---both) don't get the majority of their clothes, a large percentage of their toiletries, and several food items delivered on a near-weekly basis via mail. Instead, people use UPS or Fed-Ex if they are actually getting something important delivered (we have neither option here) and get it in a day instead of 3-4 weeks. Or they go to a real store to buy said items. Both of those options seem so exotic and exiting once you've spent a few years in GTMO. . .

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Problem Solving 101; or, Slaying Snark, One Skate at a Time

We have this big emphasis on doing problem solving with our students. And quite honestly, I do think it's an underrated life skill.

Think of all the stupid questions people ask you on a weekly basis. Or inane/uninformed/ignorant comments people post on facebook on an hourly basis. Most of these questions and comments would be eradicated if people would just stop and think things out. You know, problem solving.

I decided to put my own problem solving to the test and man, am I glad I a) cleaned out my garage and b) have been running recently.

The printer in my room isn't working and hasn't been for over a week. This isn't usually a big deal except 3/4 of my students are turning in research type projects for their finals, and since I'm having them put them in their writing portfolios, I need a print copy. This means I have to have students either email projects to me, share their Google Docs with me, or put their Word docs in a file on the shared drive. Then I have to walk down to the teacher's lounge to the closest working printer---the xerox machine.

The problem is there are usually jams or the person who printed before I sent my printing didn't replenish the now-empty paper drawer.

So more trips back and forth to my room to get paper to then go back and print. I'm making 20-30 trips a day, minimum, and it's exhausting.

What can a tired girl do?

Thanks to a recent discovery while cleaning the garage, I now have some old school quad skates and I've been going back and forth in style. AND I'm getting a workout. AND it takes about 1/4 of the time.

Our classrooms open to the outdoors, so my hallway is an open sidewalk with grass on one side (thankfully I didn't need to fall into) and little lizards frantically running in all directions when they hear me coming.

Thank god I started running a few weeks ago because I am not in the worst shape and didn't completely want to die after the 15th or so time to the teacher's lounge.

I actually forgot how much fun I had as a kid on roller skates. I skated every day after school for years. I admired Olivia Newton John in Xanadu and Linda Blair in the awful Roller Boogie and watched them dozens of times each, and like all kids of the 70s and 80s, I had my favorite skating songs, as well. By the end of the day, I was skating around the classroom backwards (and bonus: the kids really did pay attention, although I think it as more to see if I busted my butt than because research is just that riveting).

Why oh why did I quit skating?

One kid in the hall (in a snarky tone of voice): WHY on EARTH are YOU wearing SKATES?

Me: Because I can.

Kid to snarky girl: WHY are you NOT wearing skates?

Love these skates. 


District employee to me: WHY are you wearing skates?

Me: They are a metaphor. Skates represent the last two weeks of class. If you study hard and do your work. . . (pointing to student)

Student: You skate through the last week of school.

Can you believe the kid picked up on that? Not bad, right? (And not bad for off the cuff, if I must say so).

Skating/Problem Solving/Metaphors.   I see a great lesson plan in the future. Feel free to use and adapt it for your own needs. (Be sure to throw in some Common Core in there, too).