Wednesday, January 14, 2015

And Now, More Happiness; or, Changes in Attitude, Changes in Latitude

Things that make me happy:

1. The Map of Lost Mail got yet ANOTHER pin!!

It seems like just yesterday that my mail was going to Muscat, Oman. Now we have a new location: Wiesbaden, Germany. This is the second time my mail has been to Germany in less than a month. 

The package? My husband's Christmas present. The Christmas present I ordered online in November. As I have said before, my mail is better traveled than I am. 

2. The same day we got the wayward Christmas package in the mail, I got a very special package for me (and it wasn't even my birthday). Who knew that my oldest a) reads this blog and b) has as bizarre a sense of humor as I have? I got my pillow! If you've been keeping up, you know which one. And it's even more amazing than the picture online.

3.  A couple of times in the last week I've been reminded about the blessings of living here. STILL no Diet Coke, but I did smile a couple of days ago and had 3 guys clambering to open the door for me. (Funny, since it was an automatic door). My students have been so sweet and have worked really hard since I got back to work. I stopped twice in 2 days for iguanas crossing the road. Recently, Cuban radio was playing an entire cheesy album of Air Supply (and I sang along---loudly and badly). Y'all know how it is---it's the little things that make your day that much better.

4. My youngest has said more than once this week, "Mom, you need to get surgery more often. That food was GOOD!" Should I be offended? Of course not. I totally agree. That food WAS good, and so very appreciated.

5. The best news of all for last---there is definitely a transfer round this year, and I definitely qualify. The sky's the limit (although who knows, when it comes down to it, what will be available). The kids both want to make their wish lists to make sure that we all in agreement as to locations. We don't have total control of the situation, but it's the first time in three years that we feel we have a little control over what comes next.  H made his list of stipulations on the location list. He's a real list-maker, that kid.

It doesn't say, "No unicorns." I mean, who wouldn't want to live with unicorns, right?? 

Instead, it says, "No uniforms." That leaves all locations. Why is my little guy worried about uniforms? I asked and he said, "I don't like wearing pacific clothes unless I have to." I'm not quite sure what "pacific clothes" are, or specific clothes, for that matter. But he doesn't want to wear them, and thankfully, no DoDDS schools require them. 

Also: "seasons." That narrows it down a bit. It's been fun in the land of eternal summer, but we are all a little ready for some change. "Good internet." Compared to here, that's the rest of the free world. "Toys." Again, most places have more than here. He doesn't just want toys; he wants different toys. Or more than 3-4 choices of toys. He would also like to live somewhere with real castles and "a real dungeon." 

Oh, to be nine again. At his age, there wasn't a possibility of life's next great adventure involving toys, castles, dungeons, and maybe a little snow. (That would be my husband's childhood in Belgium and Germany). I had a wonderful, stable, loving family and home, but he is going to have a much different childhood than I did (or even as his older brother). We are both lucky---and I don't think he has any concept yet of just how lucky he is. 

He also mentioned living in a house bigger than this one. We are crammed into a very small house (less than half the size of our last house, but with 2/3 of our furniture). We have supposedly been on a list for a while to move to a larger house, but who knows. . . it's an all-around disagreeable procedure to deal with the whole moving thing (and list thing), so I'm glad we stuck it out here. Free is free. It's nice to have a free house with free utilities, and we have great neighbors. Also, living in a small space makes you more ruthless when it comes to deciding what stays and what goes. 

Hopefully in 3 months from now, we will have a definitive answer as to where we are going (and then the real ruthless sorting and throwing out will begin). In the meanwhile---having a tentative end date helps me mentally prepare for the end of the school year. I can then look at this place with new eyes---and instead of "firsts," it will be "lasts." 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ain't No Thang (but a chicken wang); or, Blessings & Gratitude

This makes me happy:

GTMO McDonald's serves this:
Cue OutKast, c. 1994: Ain't No Thang But a Chicken Wang
Sticky rice + chicken wings = happiness

We may not have gourmet restaurants or much variety, but it's finding the weird and strange little things that makes me happy. How many of you have rice at your McDonald's? 

This makes me feel blessed: 

We've had a rotating door of colleagues and neighbors bring food to the house since my hospital stay. I am humbled to no ends that people have taken time out of their busy lives (almost all are teachers) to cook us a delicious meal. We are lucky to live in a small and close-knit community where people look after each other. 

Also, I am blessed to have a husband who does more than fair share of cooking all the time (I can cook, I just don't like to do it, especially after a long day at work). With being Mom/Dad/Nurse during my recovery, he has gotten a much-deserved break from cooking, as well. We are both feeling very thankful right now. 

This makes me feel lucky: 

I have gotten to a point living here where I don't really buy anything. Living in one season, you don't need many clothes. Driving less than 50 miles a week and no faster than 35 mph, you don't need a new car. We no longer own a house, and it feels GREAT to be homeless

I love my new "normal." It's not for everyone, but getting away from that lifestyle has made us all feel like our so-called struggles of GTMO---no Diet Coke at the commissary for a month, limited and expensive flights off island, ridiculously slow internet---seem very trivial. 

The first year here, those issues seemed huge. Now, it's sort of like, "eh, we've had no fresh fruit for 2 weeks. It will show up sooner or later." You learn to deal. You learn to live without. 

In the words of my second favorite Henry (Thoreau): "Our life is frittered away by detail. . . Simplify, simplify, simplify." 

I have moments where I get really frustrated or depressed or angry about small things that seem to pile up. It's hard living in an isolated place. It's difficult living so far away from family. It's crazy not having some basic services in the 21st century (we are spoiled Americans, after all). I have good and bad days, and like so many people here, I have a love/hate relationship with this place. Some days are in the middle, but more often than not, it's on one of the extremes. 

The past couple of weeks has reminded me that living without doesn't mean that your life isn't rich. Sometimes small surprises, big-hearted friends, and a simple life is all you need. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Getting My Sh*t Together; or, Stopyerbitchin'

For two times in three weeks, I had to do preliminary paperwork at the hospital for surgery. It was the typical meeting with the doctors/nurses/anesthesiologists for filing out and verifying forms, having blood work drawn, etc. and then meeting with the hospital administrator to go over insurance details.

Part of that paperwork included filling out a living will and advance directives. If you haven't done this before, it's quite jolting.

Also, if you've dealt with a family member who is elderly or who is going through a terminal illness, you know that it's necessary.

Because I'm not that old and I don't have a terminal illness, I haven't really sat down and thought these things through. I have a will, but I don't really sit around much and think about my mortality. That is, until I am getting ready for major surgery.

The chances of dying in the real world are much greater than dying in surgery, but for whatever reason, I didn't panic and think that I haven't gotten everything in order until they were literally wheeling me into the OR.

Now that I'm at home and recovering, I'm trying to organize everything needed in case of an emergency. I have a leg up in some ways,  I guess, because we moved recently which required a lot of gathering of what I call Important Stuff.

When you go through a major move, it's common sense to throw all of your Important Stuff together and make sure it doesn't get dispersed to 15 different boxes you may never unpack. Important Stuff includes things like passports (and we have 2 each), marriage and birth certificates, our government orders, insurance papers, wills, and social security cards. If you have kids, you need vaccination records and school records.

In the haste of packing up and moving out of country in two weeks, we didn't get all of the kids' school records. No problem, we'll mail them to you, the office said. Several months later, the registrar called me in and told me that other than our high schooler's grades, they never got any other records. She requested them via fax. Three times. We never got them. We returned to Texas over the summer and one of my first phone calls was to each school's office. Guess what? They were out of the office for two weeks' vacation. Then there's life. You get busy. You neglect the past and move on to the future. So today, two and a half years after moving, I am getting around to personally contacting each school's counselor in the US to get my two sons' records. Whew.

There are things like your voter's registration card and your driver's license. These expire and renewing them overseas is such a joy! I've explained how some people just can't wrap their heads around you living in another country .  The state where you lived when issued orders is your "home of record" until you retire or quit your job. If you live in a state with income tax, you still pay tax back to that state (Texas = no state income tax). My husband joined the military in Texas and although we never lived there his 4 years in the Army, there were occasional issues, especially way back in the days before email and inexpensive international calls. The best (worst) situation was me calling from Colorado to explain to the court in Texas that my husband in S. Korea would not be showing up for jury duty.

So I am today, two and a half years after moving, trying for the third time to get our voter registration cards changed.You'd think with the thousands of men and women serving the military from Texas, this would be an easy process, but we aren't military, so it's a little more complicated. Sometimes there isn't a box to check online that says, "I live overseas, I don't own property in Texas, I am not in the military, but I do have orders and I am a legal resident of Texas." I am ashamed to admit that I haven't voted since being here---doing anything online is a hassle, and a 50 cent a minute phone call to a government agency explaining our weird residency issue is exhausting (and expensive). Today I think I have it sorted out. Which brings me to my license. . .

My license expires and I have to have 2 sets of papers stating that I'm a Texas resident. I don't have anything officially saying I'm from Texas except my orders. My voter registration card is expired (thus the process above) and I don't have any bills or property in Texas, so again I'm trying to get something that used to be simple sorted out.

And: a kid going to college in the US while living overseas, while he is a resident of Texas but doesn't have an actual residence, is something I don't even want to think about right now. Some states make this process easy. Texas isn't one of them. Shocking, I know.

Also: we went through the same ordeal with school records as with our dental and medical records, which we still don't have. I'm not giving up. I'm just not dealing with it right now.

These are the things you don't think about until you move overseas.

Which leads to this: getting my license and voter registration card sorted out over leave has me thinking about other things, as well. There is a great web site called Get Your Shit Together. The author has a reason for being so blunt with her website title. As a young wife and mother, she lost her husband in a bicycle accident. It was sudden, it was shocking, and they didn't have his effects in order.

And who of us truly does? Moving suddenly out of the country (and having to have important papers to get last minute orders and passports) forced us to put most of our Important Stuff in one centralized location. However, we need to go one step further and have everything updated and notify family members of some of our decisions.

If anyone else wants to join me in Getting Your Shit Together 2015, let me know and we can send each other gentle reminders to get it done. The web site has great (free) checklists and resources, and I'm all about getting it together in 2015.

I'm on the mend and hanging out this week at home, per my doctor. I have felt out of sorts so I'm going in to have more blood work done (oh boy!) to find the cause. It may be the anemia or it just may be what happens when you have a body part surgically removed. Who knows. This is all new to me. Hopefully all these pills I'm taking will do something to improve how I feel. (It has also occurred to me that it may be all the pills having me feel out of sorts. Hmmmm. . . ).

Other than nausea and dizziness, the worst part of recovery has been removing my dressings. I have small, puncture type wounds that they sutured (it's the same as any other laparascopic procedure), so we aren't talking anything major like what my girlfriends have gone through post C-section. I feel ridiculous to admit that standing in the shower, trying to remove the large, clear waterproof bandage over my small sutures FREAKED ME OUT. Granted, I was bloated and sore and it was just a couple of days after the procedure, but seriously. . . that was the worst part so far. (Why couldn't I just rip it off in one fell-swoop like I would with my sons? I'm the mom that says stopyerbitchin'! and rips that bandaid off, but I couldn't do it to myself. Embarrassing).

We've been without fresh fruit or veggies for 2 weeks now, so cross your fingers that the magic ferry or produce flight brings goodies to GTMO. (Maybe I have scurvy in addition to everything else).  I need something to make smoothies to choke down all these pills!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Land of (the) Lost; or, Daytripping to Ft. Conde

Happy 2015!
I'm focusing on health and wealth this year.
Health is obvious (see previous blog); by wealth, I mean a wealth of experiences and adventures, not monetary wealth.

And speaking of adventures. . . I took a trip with friends and my youngest son over to the Leeway side and Conde Beach to investigate Fort Conde during the break.

My first trip to Ft. Conde was a fun adventure and I've been itching to get back---with a camera---for another look. Thankfully I brought a camera for this trip (even if the battery died after taking only a handful of pictures).

Fort Conde was built in 1907 and never finished because of budget issues. Eventually the fort was abandoned. There is a lot more info on this site that also goes into the long, long history of Fort Conde and the rest of Naval Station Guantánamo Bay (it was here way before there was ever a prison). It's now covered with hutia poo, graffiti, and some wild vegetation. Bats are everywhere and the unmistakable waft of guano is in the air.

I love it because, corny as this sounds, it reminds me a bit of the show Lost. I expected smoke monsters or the Dharma Initiative to show up.

But no. Just this.

And this.

"Insert token" here: 

Vintage graffiti (or is that Physical Graffiti?): 

Screen shot from Google Earth of Ft. Conde

And THIS view: 

We had to travel there via boat---it's a lot more trouble to get to than our regular beaches, such as Windmill, Cable, Glass, or Ferry Landing. It's even more trouble than Chapman on the Leeward side, which "only" requires a ferry ride and then a walk or bus ride. 

You can't see the fort once you get to Conde Beach on Leeward; instead, you just kind of have to know where it is. I remembered that it's close to a watch tower, which I guess was good since I was the only person my 2nd trip over who had actually been there. 

Then you hike up a steep hill and through some vegetation---thus the Lost comparison---and voila!---it sits on the top of a bluff with the magnificent view above. 
Did we ever figure out the Dharma Initiative, anyway?
I didn't see any polar bears from the Dharma Initiative, but I did see wild dog tracks. My first trip there, my friends and I actually saw a small pack of mangy wild dogs running down the beach. We have another pack that occasionally roams my neighborhood, including my favorite one---the feral wiener dog. 

It was totally worth it. In addition to the abandoned fort, there is the BEST thing about the trip: you haven't lived until you've held a live sand dollar in your hand and felt and watched it breathe. (We left them there---we never take shells or sea life from the beaches if they are alive). There were hundreds in the water on what, to me, is the nicest stretch of beach on base. I'm going back, if just to hold sand dollars again. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Lady Bits and the MJ Special; or, Surgery, GTMO Style

I wrote the first half of this post over 3 weeks ago, after my first experience with surgery in Cuba. I then chickened out at posting it because, well, living in a fishbowl where everyone knows your business is difficult for me, a somewhat private person. 
But thanks to social media and that whole fishbowl thing, most people know about the second, much more serious surgery, and because I've had 1001 questions,  I decided to post it anyway. 
For those of you who haven't kept up with the last few blog posts, here's a quick breakdown of my woes and recovery. 

So here it is, a tale of my recent medical issues, in 2 parts:

Part 1 from Dec. 11:

I will just cut to the chase. But beforehand---a warning that if you are overly-sensitive reading about women's reproductive organs and the like, you can skip out now and catch another post, another day.

Okay. Still here? Good.

I have something to add to my list of GTMO firsts---this Wednesday, I had surgery.

I have been anemic for a while---if you haven't had anemia, it's a horrible feeling of total exhaustion, and sometimes I also get to the point of shaking uncontrollably. Most recently, I started passing out because my iron levels are so low.

Because I have been cursed by an overactive cycle, I was a great candidate for a Novasure procedure, which gets rid of the pesky endometrium and thus no more hemorrhaging. Bonus---Novasure can be done here,  so I was like, sign me up yesterday. I. AM. SO. THERE.

Going into the hospital is always a strange experience (especially when there is anesthesia and narcotics involved), and I did learn and experience the following during Wednesday's trip:

1) I have big veins. Huge veins. Amazing, healthy veins.
I heard all the above, at least twice.
Need blood? I'm the type 0+ girl with big veins and I will happily oblige.

2) the "Michael Jackson Special" (Propofol) is awesome---"like 5 margaritas without the hangover," as one staff member put it. I was mucho loopy afterwards, but what great sleep. . .

3) Those minutes before going completely under are so strange. I've have three surgeries before, and in the past, I've had OR staff tell me to count backwards or think happy thoughts. This time, it was, "Think of a beautiful tropical island you want to visit and go there in your dreams" and my last words before going under were, "Anywhere but GTMO."

Thank God those weren't my last words.

4) I woke up in recovery with the lyrics to a Social Distortion song in my head ("I was Wrong"). Were they listening to Social D in the operating room? Is this some message from my subconscious??? Was I wrong about "Anywhere but GTMO?"

5) I knew when I came to in recovery that my surgery was not successful. When the doctor came in with photographs of my uterus, I saw the problem---a huge fibroid tumor taking up over half of it. You can't have the procedure if you have any tumors or polyps. Sadness, sadness---I will have to go with the next plan, which is---

6) I now need a hysterectomy. :(   My husband saw that I was on the verge of tears when I told him. I have few long-range goals in life: healthy, happy children, ability to travel when I'm retired, and the knowledge I will die with all my teeth and organs.

Having some of my lady-bits removed does not make me happy. I don't know why; it's been such a pain (literally) for several years now. But I love being a woman, and I am going to miss my lady bits.

Look at your fist (if you are a dude, look at a lady's fist---it's somewhat smaller than yours) and image that's the size of your uterus. I had 2 children that were almost 9 and 9/12 lbs, both measuring over 20 inches long, and now it's back to its original size. It's amazing thing, the human body, and the uterus is the most incredible of all organs, in my opinion.

When he saw my disappointment, my husband said, "Oh, sweetie, it's okay!!! It housed 2 awesome children and did a great job. It's okay, you can live without it."

True, true.

So I am resolved to take care of the situation, although I'm going to miss my uterus.

I need this awesome pillow from

The staff here was fantastic---professional, courteous, and took the time to answer all questions and explain everything multiple times. The staff took good care of me, and I have full confidence in them when it's time to come back for surgery part 2.0.

My issues, part 2 (Jan 1):

So I did it! I went through with major surgery this past Monday in a small hospital. Just the idea of having it done here freaks out a lot of my GTMO friends, but seriously, y'all---I grew up in a small town with a small hospital that had similar services as here. As long as you have experienced, smart people treating you, it doesn't matter if it's a big city hospital or a little island one.

For me, the best decision was to stay here instead of traveling to the US and having to stay in a hotel for recovery. I can't imagine flying soon after the procedure, either.

No MJ special this time---a LAVH is a lot more tedious a procedure, and it took several hours from the beginning of surgery to me being able to go back to my hospital room. I ended up spending 2 nights because I was really weak and had some low blood pressure issues.

And no, I still don't have a complete set of  #@%*! lesson plans for five preps of classes for next week, so that's constantly in the back of my mind. I hate feeling guilty for being sick. It's the curse of being a teacher; you fall victim to the attitude that you aren't doing your job well unless you feel like a martyr.

I like to plan and plan and overplan for my job, so having about a week to prepare for major surgery threw me for a loop (especially when Christmas fell right smack in the middle of that week).

I am feeling better since coming out of surgery (I'll spare the details---let's just say it was really, really rough for several hours) and now my pain level is manageable. I'm working on getting my iron levels back up so I feel like a regular human again instead of an exhausted one.

I'm also appreciative of the angels all around---my neighbors, friends, and colleagues who have brought my family meals and/or offered to help in myriad ways, and all the friends and family who have messaged my husband and me to see how things are going. You are very appreciated. <3

I never thought 2014 would be the year that I (literally) left a little part of myself in Cuba. . .

With that thought, I'm looking forward to a more healthy 2015. Here's to new beginnings, better health, and all around happiness!