Sunday, June 18, 2017

(Maybe) the Last Dispatch; or, l'll Be Loving You For Always

It's been a long time since I first wrote these words:

Sunday, October 21, 2012
First Dispatch; or, You Don't Get This in Texas 
Hola from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, our new home!

And it kept rolling from there. 

I really didn't think after the first few months I would stick with it, but I'm glad because it made me get out of my comfort zone and write something publicly and on a semi-consistent basis.

It hopefully answered some questions people have about GTMO, gave some of you a glimpse into life at The World's Most Bizarre Military Base (or something like that), and helped you understand why someone would choose a crazy life overseas instead of a more comfy one in the U.S. For our many, many friends who have come and gone, I hope it gave you good memories. 

This is blog post #186, and you can scroll through the other 185 to catch up, if you are just getting here. I think a few posts are the best writing I've ever done; others are really rather wretched. However, I'm leaving it as-is, at least for now, to keep as a record of our time for almost 5 years. Overall, I'm happy we were able to share a little of our lives here. 

Four days and a wake up, and then we are en route to new adventures starting in late July in Spain. We are trying to take care of many last-minute things, so I'm staying offline much more until we are back in the U.S. 

Hasta la vista, and hopefully in a couple of months, I'll be back to posting pictures and stories about Spain.

In the meanwhile. . . I made this to commemorate our time here. There have been many celebrations here (sadly, many, many without a camera---maybe that's a good thing), and there have been MANY goodbyes. It's been tough on my kids to lose so many good friends. It's been tough for us adults, too. As they say in the military, "It's never goodbye, only see you later," and I really hope to see our GTMO friends who have become our GTMO family in the future. 

Crank up your sound, feel free to clap and sing, and behold the beauty of the people and places that have made this our home. As the song goes, "I'll be loving you for always." That goes for GTMO, as well as our many precious friends we've met on this adventure. 

(If you can't get the video to open on this page, go to: GTMO Memories

Friday, June 16, 2017

Connections; or, Finding Bliss

The end of any school year is difficult. 

Class of 2016, my son's class. I got to teach
every single one of them (including my son),
and I absolutely loved his class. 

I worked in eight schools (six as a teacher, two as a librarian) before moving to Cuba to do a little of both jobs. I have a bad habit of doing a "cut and run" when it's time to leave. I don't mean I leave my employers hanging at the last minute; I just usually don't tell students I'm not going to be back. 

Before you think, "you horrible, heartless wench," there is a reason. I found out early in my career that students sometimes take it personally when you leave. They get attached to you and vice versa. They guilt trip you (why are you leaving us??) or give you the cold shoulder, sometimes even flat-out refusing to talk to you the last weeks of school after you've announced you are leaving.  You can tell a teenager that you are doing what's best for you and your family, but many of them are still at the stage where it's all about them. 

I've taught at schools that primarily consisted of military students (even one on a military installation), so you would think at least those students would understand. But many times, they don't. They don't want you to leave, and sometimes, you don't want to leave them, either.

I have some very mixed feelings about leaving a handful of students here. I hope some specific students find teachers who get their quirky senses of humor, or see through their tough exteriors, or refuse to look at their school records and instead focus on the present, not their pasts.  I hope a few will make better choices and not follow the footsteps to some family members. I hope the kids who think they are just average will push themselves into taking Honors classes and will aim to be the first in their families to go to college---because they definitely have the brains to do it, even if nobody at home has ever told them that. 

Unlike most other places I've left, I told my students a while back that I was leaving. Actually, a co-worker burst in with a very enthusiastic, very audible, "I'm so happy you are moving!!!" as soon as the transfer gossip had made it her way, and all I had to do was look at my students' faces and say, uh-oh. Not cool, lady. She had no idea that many of my students have been here for years and have dealt with several teachers leaving in the middle of the year (and more often than not, never being replaced with a certified teacher). So I quickly explained that I'm leaving after school's out, and their demeanor quickly changed. Whew. Honestly, kids here also get the "I have to get out of here" feeling more than most kids in other places. It's understood. This place is tough. Leaving doesn't mean you're giving up; it just means it may not be for you. Or for your family. 

Knowing you live in a tough place connects me to my students. A collective eye roll at what we have to do without this week (food items, flights, working restaurants, THE MAIL) or the way small things seem to be larger than life, not helped at all at how gossip spreads like wildfire, makes it hard to live here for many people. That connects me in ways I've never connected to students before. 

This guilt of leaving students is one reason why the end of this year has been especially exhausting for me. Then there are other factors. 

There's what another colleague calls "survivor's guilt." I got the golden ticket out of GTMO. And by "golden ticket," I mean any way out. I feel guilty that some of my other colleagues who have wanted badly to get out of here will be here yet another year. 

Is it that horrible to teach here? 

No. Not at all. 

Is it an easy place to teach? 

NO. To work at the secondary campus here, be prepared to teach 5 completely different classes (and sometimes, multiple subjects). There are limited resources at the school or on base, so wait 2-3 weeks to get supplies or professional books you've been wanting to use. Yes, I may have 35 students---but I prepare for them a helluva lot more than I did for 160 kids for only 2 classes. It's HARD teaching here. Give me 160 students and 2 preps over 35 and 5 preps ANY DAY. I think most secondary teachers will agree. 

Plus teachers don't have an end-date here. We can be here 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, or more before we get a chance to transfer. The budget for transfers is shrinking (as well as the number of DoDDS schools world-wide), so knowing you got one of 120 transfers out of 800 or more applicants feels like you've won the lottery. 

Is it an easy place to live? Um, no. I'll just leave you with this: my husband was left behind while a Cat 4 hurricane was coming this way. Am I bitter? Damn right I'm bitter. I wish I could say I am a better person, but I'm not. I blame a lot of people for incompetence, lack of communication, horrendous planning, and downright stupidity. (I have 5 days and a wake- up, as they say in the military---I really don't care who I offend at this point). Roll your eyes, but I am still dealing emotionally with thinking for 48 hours that my husband was going to die. I don't think I will ever get over it. 

During the "evacuation," they lined children up by height because they ran out of room on the last plane, and that's how they determined who got on it. They didn't get as far as the teenagers. This included several of "my kids," some students whom I've known for 3 or more years. I sobbed until the ferry turned around in the middle of the Bay and went back and got them. 

That event was the nail in the coffin. I HAD to get my family out of here. And seeing those kids today and knowing what we've been through---some have seen me sob inconsolably for hours---connects me to them in a way I have never connected to other students. Sadness, disappointment, a real, palpable fear, and yes, bitterness connects us, both colleagues and students. 

Packing up the few things left in my room is also mentally exhausting. I've found notes from students, graduation announcements, and other things that make me wonder, again, what will happen to them. You never stop worrying about your students. Never.  I will miss them. And dare I say it? I will: I will miss them more than I will miss many adults here.  They are why I've stuck it out after being reassigned to a position I didn't want to do (teach English), which ended up working out sort of beautifully because I have relationships with students on a level you just don't get as a school librarian. I love my students and they know it. Even when they drive me crazy, they are my heart. I hope the knowledge that I want them to succeed in this crazy world is another thing that connects me to my students. 

So onwards. My previous post was all about the wonderful relationships we've forged here, all the wonderful things that have connected us forever to GTMO. And those are the things that will stay with me more than others. But I do feel in fairness I have to explain why I am so ready to move on. I have friends who will probably leave here in a wooden box (crass, yes, but true). There are things to love. However, I don't want to paint this as the Most Perfect Place on Earth. Quality of life and basic safety issues aside, I've also written before---I am not a small town girl. And even in my small town of Monticello, Mississippi (1500 people---Sa-lute!), as a teen I spent many a breezy evening riding through the countryside, windows down, music turned up, smelling pine trees and dreaming of moving to bigger places, but always knowing I could come back any time to people and places I love there. 

You don't get that here---either the ability to ride around more than 10 minutes or so on this tiny, fenced off base, or the ability to come back any time you want. That part is what makes this move bittersweet. 

People have told me, "Oh, you are moving to an isolated area!" Rota, Spain has apx 29,000 people, and Puerto de Santa María, where we may possibly live, has apx 88,000 people. I've managed to keep busy on this small, VERY isolated base; I have a feeling we will be just fine, even if we don't venture far from home the first year.  One of my favorite novels, Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, has a main character named Maria who aimlessly drives in the desert and on freeways to clear her head. I relate to that feeling of aimless travel (maybe it's even a metaphor for my life in general). To have to ability to get in a car, to get lost: that's bliss.  Even if it means I have to ride around, windows down, music up, and thinking back to people I've left behind, I will be HAPPY.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Going, going, not quite gone; or, The time is nigh

We have been physically preparing for moving all of our earthly possessions for months now.

Every since I got the transfer notice in February, and even without official orders, we started downsizing even more. And this is something that has been ongoing since I arrived four years, seven months, and twenty three days ago. I landed on island on a Saturday, started work on Monday, and was told by one of my new colleagues, "You know, you are a little overdressed for what people here wear for work. You have to dress for the weather." Well. I immediately took some of my dresses to the thrift shop, and went to the NEX and got a few pieces of casual, warm weather clothes. It's the land of eternal summer and you dress accordingly. I had left Texas in a chilly October and a school that considered "dressing down" the occasional jeans and college shirt on Fridays; otherwise, we were told to dress "professionally"----no shorts, no tee shirts, nothing that looks like something you'd wear to a beach cookout, and never, ever sandals or flip flops.

Welcome to GTMO. Everything is different with island life and the downsizing and a new mentality started the week I got here.

At the end of my first year here, my colleague Brock and I celebrated every week's end with "Flip Flop Friday."™ If you're looking for something small to look forward to, I suggest this small celebration.  (Just give him credit if you try to make money off of it---I trademarked this phrase so you won't feel like you have to. LOL). 

We are leaving with approximately five thousand pounds less than we brought. This is awesome because it is mostly small things that are now gone. I find it amazing because we've picked up a few pieces of furniture, but still managed to downsize. Our wardrobes are mainstreamed. We only have the toiletries we really need. We've gotten down to the pots and pans we really, really use. Same with kitchen gadgets. I had fourteen hair brushes. Have you seen my hair? I try, but even on a good day, it's not what you'd consider awesome or even good. How do you get so many hairbrushes? Especially when I've had days when students have asked me, "Did you forget to brush your hair today?" (true story)

It's so easy to accumulate stuff---sometimes it's gifts from well-meaning people who you have continuously told to PLEASE stop sending you things. If they don't listen, those things are re-gifted to people who need them. You want to give me something? Offer to watch my kids when I'm back in the US so my husband and I can go on a date. Take me out to a restaurant I haven't be to in over a year and offer to pay part of the bill. Sit with me on the back porch (or if it's too hot, indoors) and take the time to ask how I'm doing and LISTEN. Show me pictures of what you've been doing since I last saw you (especially if they are of your kids who have grown up while I've been away). These are the gifts I want.

Through two big moves in 5 years,  I've started thinking ahead to my children, and all the crap they will have to go through. I imagine the gift of my kids having only a few boxes of things to sort after I'm dead and gone instead of an entire house, garage, and attic. Wouldn't that be lovely? It is seriously my dream---that I leave my children wonderful memories and few possessions to choose to keep or give away.

amazing back porch---we will miss this!

waiting in the garage in the rain for the packout to complete


The best part of GTMO, as anyone who likes living here will tell you, is the friendships we have made. Before we had our second child, my husband and I played in an adult recreation co-ed soccer league and made friends with many other couples. I think it's important in a marriage to have other friends who are couples, because it really helps you see that everyone is working hard---because marriage is hard work----and your struggles sometimes pale in comparison to other people's struggles. Plus hanging out with just your spouse isn't healthy. People need friends outside of their immediate family, and sometimes you need someone other than your spouse to tell your troubles to, to share laughs, to tell stories. After all, my husband (and my good friends) have heard my favorite stories 1000 times by now. But life happens;  we had baby #2 and were hermits for a while, and when we started to play soccer again, most of our married couple friends had either moved or divorced. Our circle of friends disintegrated in a period of 2 years, and we spent most of the remainder of our time in Texas isolated.

Living here has given us opportunities to be friends with all sort of folks. I've hung out with people I would have never, ever been friends with in the US---my supervisors, my children's teachers. People who come from very, very different backgrounds and sometimes values, but through a longtime, simmering friendship, I realize I do have much in common with them and will continue to be their friends after leaving. I found friends who felt like I've known my entire life. This is the beauty of a small community.

When you have to knock on a stranger's door in the middle of baking and ask for an egg or some butter, or you know the new neighbor probably needs board games and other toys to occupy their bored kids, you venture out of your comfort zone to help or ask for help. Every Thanksgiving, our little commissary seems to run out of Thanksgiving meal basics. You see people asking on our community fb page for everything from sour cream to sugar to cranberries to cheese. Several people step up. Some folks also offer up their homes to single servicemen and women who will spend a holiday alone. This is how people do things here---you never run out of what you need, because someone will give it to you. You don't have to be a hermit, because people will literally drag you out of your house to make you socialize. (That would be Karin---thanks for making me come out and play poker, even if I did christen your new poker table by spilling a drink on it).

Living here has been challenging and I've done my share of bitching (and itching---the bugs are out of control right now!). But I have learned in my 40s that I have the courage to march up to someone I've never met in my neighborhood and ask them if they need anything (and mean it). I have gotten over some of my anxiety of having people over to my house for dinner or social occasions. I'm not kidding when I say the thought anywhere else of having someone over for dinner gave me a major panic attack. I've kept my social circles very small over the years because I feel awkward with small talk. Here in GTMO, you sort of skip the small talk. It's all about "how can I help you in this rather difficult place?" I've had people flying back to the U.S. mail important documents for us. We've had people lend us everything from linens to a car. My wonderful and amazing neighbor Kim called me the day we were returning from several weeks in the US at the end of summer and said, "I know you are exhausted from traveling. I hope you don't mind, but we cooked dinner for you. You can come over to eat or I will deliver it to you." SERIOUSLY. This is what happens here. You meet generous people who realize that we are all in this hardship location together, and the best of the best make sure you have what you need to make life a little easier.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Play on, Playa; or Solace Amongst the Propaganda

It's the final countdown. 

Except it isn't quite yet. 

Government orders? Check. 
 Pack out dates? Check. 
 Plane tickets? Plane tickets? Bueller? Anyone? 

No plane tickets yet. This is a little aggravating, since I did the paperwork in February for orders, got caught up in the government shutdown, waited patiently until May to get said orders, and I've done everything else I can possibly do. I'm just in the queue, waiting for tickets. And waiting. And tapping my foot. And trying not to freak out/scream/blow up someone's email/vent. You know, waiting. . . 

Patience, patience. . . not my finest quality. 

In the meanwhile, music has been soothing my soul. 

from Twelfth Night
Substitute "life" for "love," and you have me.
I don't have a lot of love for either of our two local AFN music stations---one plays top 40, and the other, country music. FYI: I'm allergic to 90% of country music---I grew up riding in the pickup truck, loving the dog, traveling via dirt and gravel country roads, and swimming in creeks---I don't need to relive it again in song. I prefer anything else. And it's the same with the same four or five top 40 songs played ad nauseum. I'm weary of today's music. Is this what my parents thought of music in the 70, 80s and 90s? I don't think so. 

Why? Because our music was better. Of course. 

I listen to the Cuban stations and try to practice listening in Spanish (for me, the hardest language skill) and I'm occasionally blown away by a piece of American music thrown in between "this day in history" (Communist propaganda) and more traditional Cuban music. It's the Whitney Houston and Air Supply and Michael Jackson that makes me laugh. As a result of spending long stretches of life between long travel days back to the States, an American song from the past, no matter how cheesy,  brightens my day. Nostalgia warms my curmudgeonly old heart. 

Recently our NPR in the morning was replaced by some conservative idiot who blames Obama for everything. (Would someone please tell him that Barry left office a while back?). It makes me angry. Even if it's a couple of miles from my door, over a big hill, dodging iguanas and kamikaze guinea fowl, I don't like to be mad when I'm driving. In its place I have found a station called El Taino out of Havana. Unlike the station I've listen to for 4 years that's out of Caimenera, this station has a top 10 list of songs en esapañol in heavy rotation. The propaganda is only news snippets, not folk songs with children singing about The Revolution and occasion mention of El Comandante Líder, the late Fidel Castro. I'm sure they love him there, too, but this station is about music. 

They play themed play lists. One recent day it was all about the beach and ocean.  Today's list include all things "suave" (smooth), which is more of an attitude and less of a physical description. I heard bands from Mexico, South and Central America. There are songs in English I've never heard---mostly from European bands. I love the variety of music in mostly Spanish, and my iPod's playlist has increased exponentially. 

Last week I was leaving work and  heard the unmistakable chords of the intro to "Hotel California." I don't care if you think the Eagles are cheesy, overrated, or even embarrassing---I love them because their music reminds me of my childhood, and because it's one of the most endearing and well-used nicknames (amongst many) for GTMO. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave"---truer words have never been spoken of life on a 45 square mile strip of land surrounded by a fence and a beach with rocks for sand. After the initial shock that I am in Hotel California and listening to Hotel California, I laughed and sang along---loudly.

I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, graduated high school 30 years ago this month, and attended the prom all four years. Purple Rain was the theme one year. A Morris Day and the Time cover band played another year. It was a great time for music for dancing, for singing, and for chillin'. After being a prom sponsor a couple of years ago, I have a newfound respect for any teacher who takes on that daunting endeavor, and I have since sworn to be a chaperone and help any future prom sponsors. This year's event was at the Bayview restaurant, which, if you can deal with the swarms of horrid, painful mosquitos, has a beautiful view of the Bay. 

I was more than happy to realize that I have, in some weird and small way, had an influence, albeit small one, on my students. We start many days with "song of the week" (SOTW) and I basically choose anything I want to hear (the Pixies, the Dead Milkmen, David Bowie, Lauryn Hill. . . the list goes on). This is the beauty of having your own classroom: you get to make the rules, and you get to choose the playlist. 

I make it work with themes, with characterization. We find literary and sound devices. Most importantly, we SING (with all apologies to anyone who has taught next door to me). The students' all time favorite SOTW is Earth, Wind, and Fire's "September." You would have to be a serious GTMO grouch to hate that song. 

So how did the prom end? With a set of songs, all from the set list of SOTW. I was ecstatic to dance with sweaty, goofy, and gahd dang lovable teenagers to "September,"  "Come on, Eileen," and watched in amazement as they sang Every. Single. Word. to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." That night I get in my car and my newly favorite station, 105.9 "El Taino" is playing hits from the 1980s. 

From their website (sorry for the auto-generated weird translation):

(And this, kids, is why you don't use Google Translate to help you with your Spanish homework---it sounds like this, but in Spanish. In other words, a little ridiculous). 

I love to go way, way back to the days of careless dancing (and not hobbling because I wore The Most Ridiculous Pair of High Heels for the second year in a row), moving like nobody's watching (and honestly, I'm PCSing, so I really don't care what anything thinks of my moves at this juncture of my GTMO stay), and singing off-key to "Take On Me," another SOTW that is meant to be annoying in its impossible high-notes in the chorus. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Final Countdown; or, A Vagabond Heart

"WALKER PERCY ONCE wrote that at a certain point in his life a man draws strength from living in some authentic relationship with the principal events of his past. I have often pondered what it was that brought me back to stay [in the South]. I am forever drawn to the textures, the echoes, the way things look and feel, the bittersweet tug of certain phrases: 'We crossed the river at Natchez.' The South is a blend of the relentless and the abiding for me, and an accumulation of ironies so acute and impenetrable that my vagabond heart palpitates to make sense of them."   Willie Morris, from the essay "Is There a South Anymore?" Southern Magazine, October 1986. 

My favorite memoir is from fellow Mississippian Willie Morris. North Towards Home tells of Morris' childhood in Mississippi, college life in Texas, and life as a writer in New York City---and all in an attempt to find "home."  When I read his book in college, I couldn't help but feel it spoke to me. And I love his term "vagabond heart" in the above essay because it encapsulates how I feel. Morris did some wandering of his own before finally giving in to that tug to return to his native Mississippi, where he died in 1999. 

part of my heart---the Mighty Pearl River, MS

In one of my earliest blog posts, I wrote about not knowing where home is and my forever quest to find it. It's been a quandary as long as I can remember. I was a shy, strange child, and moving from the Delta to southern Mississippi was a rather traumatic experience. I didn't like having to meet new friends. I didn't like change. I didn't like people's prying questions, or having to deal with going to school (I had only attended kindergarten part time), and I remember thinking if I were quiet, I could make myself invisible. It's a trick I held on to for several years, until being part of a community over time made it impossible to do anymore. I was part of something. I had become part of the collective memory of my classmates with whom I attended 1-12 grade. My biggest pet peeve of life in that small town is when certain classmates would like to say, "Do you remember in kindergarten when. . . oh yeah, that's right, you didn't live here then." It was their not-so-subtle way of putting me in my place because I wasn't born there. Maybe this is why I never wanted to stay. Or maybe I just never took root and after reversing my original stance and working hard not to be invisible, realized that to some, I would always be. My hometown is not my birthplace, nor my sister's, nor my parents. Despite living there for twelve years of school and countless years of going back annually, I am in many ways still not "one of them." 

And I am totally okay with that. I love many people there. The adage goes, "Home is where the heart is," but truly, can you aimlessly travel from one place to another, holding those you love close, while knowing they live thousands of miles away and you'll be lucky to see them once a year? For me, yes. For others, not so much. 

These are the things I have tried to explain to many of my friends and even family members who have deep roots and love their towns. They have a sense of place I have never had. 

That brings me to this. We have a pack out date now, meaning that for three days in the beginning of June, a moving crew will invade our house and pack up practically every possession we have. We made the choice when we plunged into this peripatetic life to not put anything in long-term storage. Family valuables we left at home. Years of paperwork we finally shred. Many things---linens, furniture, pots and pans that we have had for the majority of our 24 year marriage---we have finally given away. 

Today we took the ferry over to the airport to pick up our son who is returning from college in Spain. The next time we take that same ferry will probably be when we leave here forever. As we left for the Leeward side and watched people jump off the dock to say goodbye to those leaving island, I wondered, who is left to jump for us? Will anyone come out? Teachers tend to leave the day school is out; we will stay another week, probably. So many dear, wonderful, close friends have already left GTMO forever. There's part of me that wants to sneak over to the other side the night before and stay at the hotel there so we don't have to say goodbye. I always get a little lump in my throat watching people jump and swim out to the ferry, even knowing they aren't there for me.

It's been a great four years, six months, and 22 days in many ways. Despite my whining and complaining at what are truly first world problems (no diet Coke, no eggs, the pool is closed---again), there have been rewards that we have reaped and will for years to come. I'm still a little freaked out when I look back and think that in 2012 we walked away from a house, two stable jobs, friends and family, and a community we lived in longer than anywhere else in our marriage (10 years---and for my husband, the longest he's lived anywhere). We took a leap of faith and I have no regrets. The big stuff for those of us here that adds up to low morale at times is still small stuff compared to some of the big challenges of our life living in Texas.

part of my heart, this crazy, crazy place

I'm hoping my wandering spirit and vagabond heart will find a place to call home once we get to Spain. With a son only a few hours away, and the ability to get on a commercial airplane and get to our families faster from Europe than from GTMO, it's already got some things going for it that we don't have here. I will miss those here who I hold in my heart---and I hope they will take me up on our offers to visit. I don't think we will ever come back here to visit, and knowing we don't really have that option, unlike other places we've called home all over the U.S., makes me a little sad. 

The possibility that we will spend the next 10 years or so in Spain make me very happy. Could this be the place? Or, like Willie Morris, will I one day find that pull to the South so strong that I will want to go back to live? 

It is very possible that in six weeks from today, if all goes as planned, we will leave GTMO forever. How will I feel? Relief? Grief? Sadness? Giddiness? 

Maybe a little of all above? 

In the same essay, Willie Morris also wrote, "To escape the South, however — all of what it was and is — I would have to escape from myself."

The South is my home, who I am. As much as I have worked to lose the accent (some find it charming, but it comes with its own set of detrimental stereotypes), I am a southern girl through and through. However, it is not where I live. A wanderer is what I am. That cliche "citizen of the world" is also me. 

And Spain is calling. Onwards to more purging and packing for the next great adventure of someone consumed with wanderlust. 

read all of Willie Morris' essay here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Everybody's Dancing in a Ring Around the Sun; or, Butterflies, Kayaks, Caves, and More

Spring Break was a blast. We didn't deal with the nightmare that is GTMO holiday travel. No hastily packed bags, no regrets for the overindulging in too much rich food, no early morning wake up calls to make the airport. We didn't do much of anything. And it was glorious. 

Ab-so-lute-ly glorious.

There were trips to the beach which included snorkeling and sea glass gathering. I have decided that the hundreds of pounds of household goods I am throwing out and giving away will be replaced with sea glass---five or six thousands pounds of sea glass. 

Okay, just kidding. I dream of leaving much lighter, but who knows---I have a sort of OCD/hoarder sickness. I cannot walk by a piece of sea glass and not pick it up. Woe is me.

I went kayaking near the hospital with friends and to Ferry Landing for a kid's birthday party and I'm happy to see so many large, brilliant orange star fish. Those who haven't been here 5 years can't appreciate what disappeared and is finally coming back after Hurricane Sandy hit the month we got here (Oct. 2012). My husband spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking (do they frolick? dance? play?) in the Bay, too. 

I caught up on literary pursuits. Okay, I'm lying. I watched a lot of television, mostly Netflix. At least it wasn't all junk; I did see a great documentary: Searching for Sugarman (2012). It's a story of missed opportunities and the realization that you haven't fulfilled your potential---and dealing with it with grace. It was a nice counterpoint to the seven part podcast that I listened to almost non-stop from beginning to end, "S-Town" (as in "Shit Town). It's is a true Southern Gothic cut from the cloth of Flannery O'Connor, with a little Faulkner, Welty, and Tennessee Williams thrown in. And it's totally addictive and will have you calling your friends (especially if you, too, are from a little southern town) and talking all the finer points of what makes it so disturbing and intriguing at the same time. 

I also finished the HBO mini series, "Big Little Lies," based on one of my 40 book challenge books. I couldn't manage to keep up with it pre-break (and it's less than 10 episodes). Read the book first, then watch the show. It will bring more depth to what you're watching, and the director/producers made some interesting changes in the storyline which also brought some depth. That being said, it's guilty viewing and not that much depth there. But that's okay, because I'm on break and I'm a little weary of my last 6 weeks of so with the Bard (Hamlet with seniors, Romeo and Juliet with freshman). 

I didn't read much. Okay, I read very little. I am damned and determined to read that "great Spanish novel" Don Quixote, but god gawd, y'all, it's slow. Sorry, I'm just not digging it thus far---but I AM going to finish it. 

I enjoyed the great outdoors (thanks to some DEET to make it more bearable). In addition to swimming and kayaking in the Bay, I went on some hikes with my husband. I had a few very close encounters with iguanas---we all know I'm blind as a bat, but even for those who can really see---because they blend in so well sometimes, you don't see them until you almost step on them. Or sit on them. Thankfully I didn't do either, but I did get thaaaaat close.

Best wildlife experience: the feral cat who, upon my opening of the closed garbage bin, let out a howl from hell, and shot out, claws first, narrowly missing my head. My life flashed before my eyes. Okay, I'm being hyperbolic. It did make me almost pee my pants (sorry, TMI). 

In an unrelated trip to the garbage bin, I stopped by a neighbor's house and ended up staying and talking until well past midnight. I love that sometimes you just find the right person for the right evening of good conversation (and good wine) if you look hard enough. Or if you are just taking out the garbage. (My husband to another neighbor: "She takes out the garbage at 8 pm. She comes home at 1 am. I'm not sure how she does it." )

Also I am amazed that in 4 Years, 5 Months, 2 Weeks, 5 Days of living here (heck yeah I count; sometimes it feels like a prison sentence), I still find firsts. 

There was the first time to the top of the lighthouse. The restored lighthouse is open and we can go to the top for the first time in the five years we've been here. 
The stairs are steep, and the windows offer little in ventilation. It's not too unbearable now, but come summer, it will be hellish at the top, since it's all enclosed in glass. I felt like I was in a huge gazing ball, and I'm glad I chose the hot spring instead of the hotter than hot summer to see it. 

There was my first time to go to a party for someone who gained their U.S. citizenship. During break, a colleague's spouse was sworn in as an American in Florida and some of the staff threw him a surprise party when he returned. Call it a "we're glad you are now officially an American" party. There's a party for everything---and there are thoughtful people who put them together, too.  

There's magic here, too. 

All during the break, the base was covered with butterflies. 

I was reminded of my favorite novel: “It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia" (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

Nope, they aren't yellow, they don't announce the arrival of a guest, but they are everywhere.  And there is something magical about the glistening of white wings in the hot sun, and having them tangle in your hair in the breeze. I tried to capture them on film, but I'm afraid I didn't do a great job. 

You know what I didn't do? I didn't go in to work. I didn't grade papers. I didn't work on the yearbook. I didn't think about lesson plans. And with very, very few exceptions, I didn't wear shoes. 

I chased butterflies on trails. I dodged iguanas on the beach, and spotted several species of fish in two beautiful afternoons of snorkeling. I managed to climb rocks and a narrow trail and found a cave I've been wanting to visit before leaving (another GTMO first). 

And while driving Sunday night with the windows down in my car, pondering the end of break and listening to one of the few CDs I managed to salvage (because you never, ever get rid of the Dead), I heard these lyrics and thought how it could be my eternal-summer, beach-life, trail-hiking, Bay-kayaking, GTMO-living theme song, if I had chosen to stay here indefinitely: 

"See that girl, barefootin' along,
Whistlin' and singin', she's a carryin' on.
There's laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet,
She's a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street. . . 

Well everybody's dancin' in a ring around the sun
Nobody's finished, we ain't even begun.
So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find out where it's at"---
"The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)Find" 
the Grateful Dead

Instead, I'll be dancing a jig barefooted on another beach, but undoubtedly missing the iguanas, the plumerias, the neighbors (but most likely not the feral cats or the hutias). I loved spring break and now I'm nervous but ready to move onward towards closing out the year---and this chapter----in Cuba. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Fresh Hell is This; or, Boxes of Feelings

Teachers do this awful thing during our "down time," i.e. unpaid vacations scattered throughout the year.

(No, we do not get paid for the times your kids are not in school. Our districts just spread our paychecks out evenly over the school year, or, in most states, the entire year, so we don't go completely broke during those long vacation months).

So now that we have ascertained that it's MY unpaid time---I've decided to treat my unpaid self to a week of----wait for it!---cleaning like a madwoman.

And that's the other crazy thing we teachers do.  Are we lounging around, watching soap operas, baking, doing whatever people supposedly do who don't work? (don't worry, those of you who work as domestic gods and goddesses---I know all of these are ridiculous stereotypes and myths). At least in my case, I am doing all the deep cleaning I can't do during the school year because I'm spending (unpaid) hours after work and on weekends doing my job that I can't do because of 1001 meetings (or because---heaven forbid---I chose to spend time with my own family instead of work on some weekends). 

Not that I don't love my job. Please, please don't get that impression. Good grief---I've been at it since 1991, so yeah, there's something there.

I've been reminded SO MANY times this week of why I love teaching. More about that in a bit. . .

Here's the deal: I have this horrible habit during moves (13 times in 24 years) of throwing those things we don't want to deal with in a box and repacking them over and over and over and over again.

Some people eat their feelings. I don't eat my feelings; I pack them in a U-Haul or moving company box and throw them on a shelf in a closet or garage to deal with, well, never. And one box has become seven or eight boxes, and I HAVE to deal with those things because I don't want to leave them for my kids to deal with, once the eight boxes have become 10. Or 20. Or a whole basement.

I am a hoarder of feelings. 

In anticipation of move #14 to our second overseas location, I don't want to move SEVENTEEN freakin' THOUSAND lbs. of goods to a new house. I still can't believe that's what we brought with us. I want to have only things we want, we need, we love.

So Dorothy Parker, whom I adore and wish I had 1/10 of her wit, had a habit of saying, "What fresh hell can this be?" any time anyone came to her door. Over the years, this became, "What fresh hell is this?" For some reason, it's one of my favorite expressions, and I have said this ad nauseum while opening those boxes of feelings I've been avoiding for years. Spring break has been SO much fun. It's been a fun-fest of feelings and shredding. Because the best way to get rid of feelings is to shred them----it's become quite satisfying, actually, to hear the constant hum of my trusty old shredder. 

There is paperwork for the four houses we have bought and sold. Each house meant so much---the first house in Colorado, which was still one of my top two; the house in Washington, where we brought home a baby boy; the haunted house in Texas that made me decide to never, ever live in a house built in the 1940s ever again (the ghost had nothing to do with that, btw); the last Texas home where we brought home another baby boy and lived in the longest of any house we've lived (8 years). Some of those houses were bought hastily and were probably not the best fit for us; others cost us money to unload, and caused a little resentment that things didn't go as planned. Today we have chosen a life where we will probably not own another house for many, many years. So seeing the former life of home ownership spread before me has dredged up many feelings, and shredding all that paperwork has been a little bittersweet. 

There are mementos from my childhood. Do I need yearbooks and scrapbooks and autograph books and diaries from my childhood? I took hundreds (I'm starting to think thousands) of photographs, starting in middle school, and although I've managed to mail several of them to friends in the US, I am finding even more that I need to get in envelopes and give away. My children are not going to want school pictures of kids they don't recognize. And honestly----I don't even recognize some of the people in the pictures. I am at the point of NO guilt over throwing out some of these things. It's all beginning to feel like clutter, and it doesn't have that official context of mortgage paperwork that had me holding onto it for so many years. It's sentimental stuff, and I'm trying to be tougher about throwing out something that's been thrown in a box for 15 years and I haven't thought about since. 

Those are the easy things. The harder things are those associated with feelings of failure and shame: paperwork and letters and pictures from what started as a lovely relationship (or so I thought, at 16 years old) and ended as a rather nasty divorce at 22. If you haven't been through a divorce, then you don't know this fun little fact: you will carry your divorce papers with you for the rest of your life. You need them to buy or sell a house. The military asked for them several times when I was a military spouse, and again as I am a civilian working for the government. I honestly forget about that first marriage (as a friend calls it, it's my "starter marriage") until I have to gather them again for official government paperwork. Incidentally, I recently gave my starter marriage an annulment (long story, too boring for a blog) and I did shred that paperwork. I am not Catholic, and no offense if you are, but I think annulments are silly and pointless. And the ridiculous amount of paperwork it required was taking up way too much room in my boxes of feelings. 

The more difficult boxes have paperwork to remind me of times of financial hardships, of very stressful health issues, of friendships that just petered out for some strange reason or another. I don't know why, but I had people I thought would be in my life forever, and I see now our relationships have just dissolved. It's neither person's fault; it just happens. It's life. And like a set of divorce papers, those cards and letters and photographs are reminders of something that maybe I should have fought for (or maybe something I should have never tried to make work). Unlike divorce papers, they can go to the shredder. 

There are letters and cards from people I have loved who have died. What do you do with letters from your Granny, especially when they make you smile and laugh every time you re-read them? What about cards? If they don't have a note in them, do you throw them away? But just being able to touch my  father in law's handwriting again, and chuckle at the types of cards he chose for me---he knew my personality so well---keeps me from throwing them out. This is the guy who called me EVERY SINGLE WEEK for the entire year that my husband was deployed to S. Korea to check on me. His loss 15 years ago isn't any easier today, and I grieve every week for what my kids missed. Will they get to know him by reading his funny little sarcastic notes and postscripts on cards and letters? I hope so. Those I kept. 
my Granny Ann's chicken scratch---she was a dreamer, a cloud gazer,
 a lover of small animals and children, and believed in sending and receiving letters.
As a college student, if I went over a few weeks without sending her a letter,
I got a note reminding me that I should write her.
And I did---often.  

I really do suffer from hyper-sentimentality, if there is such a thing.

That being said----I have shredded EIGHT extra large black garbage bags full of materials. I feel like I'm doing some illegal operation for the mafia (or the government). And those eight boxes are now 2 bins, very neatly organized into materials I am keeping for legal (and yes, some sentimental) reasons, and one more box to go through. I feel so accomplished. That supersized box of extra large ziploc bags came in SO handy. I can see everything neatly organized, and seeing everything spread out gives me reasons to do a second and third sweep and get rid of even more. 

Coming back full circle to teaching---one thing I have never thrown out is the letters students have written me. 

Since my first year of teaching, students have given me Christmas cards or even thank you cards at the end of the year with wonderful little notes. 

Some notes are written with sloppy handwriting and bad spelling; others are in the student's very best print. Sometimes they have a photograph or even a piece of poetry the student has written for me. And other times there is no letter or card---it's just a piece of artwork done for me.

I will be honest---I can't picture the face of a few of the students, especially the ones from way back in the 1990s. 

But have you ever gotten a thank you note for doing your job or a piece of poetry written for you? It doesn't happen to me a lot---and I will be honest, it has happened very little since I have been here. I don't know why; maybe it's just this generation communicates almost exclusively electronically. I have several emails and facebook messages that have made me smile and thankful that I get to work with teenagers.

An email isn't the same as a hand written card, however. Getting something so personal, especially when I know how hard it is for so many teenagers to express themselves to adults, has made me hold on to these things. They were a labor of love, and something I will definitely keep. 
YOU'RE, Tyrone, YOU'RE. But the sentiment is appreciated
Wonder if he'd feel the same of me at 47? And don't worry, kid;
I've had administrators at the above-school level
who didn't know the difference
between your/you're, either.
Also, Tyrone is 34 years old today. Ouch.

This process has been somber, and in a lot of ways, it's created feelings of grief. I won't even go into some of the personal things I have found, but there are little things you throw in a box, and when you reach in and take them out, they can give you all sorts of feels. If they can be shared with someone else, I'm boxing them up and sending them on. If I no longer have a relationship with that person, they are being thrown out. If it's something that makes me feel regret, I try to throw it out, too. Why hold on to sadness?

Here's to a life that eventually contains no boxes of feelings, where everything can be unpacked and displayed, and with no boxes to shuffle from one house to another. It may not be completed over spring break, but I have a manageable project that won't have me hollering, "Oh what fresh hell is this!" every time I pull out another tidbit of my past from a messy, unorganized cardboard box.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Más Purge, por favor; or, Quiero tener duende

The Great Purge of 2017 continues.

Oh. My. God. Becky, would you look at her books?

Or movies? Or games? Board games AND video games?

Not to mention all the electronics that will eventually have to go?

Yesterday I came home to the husband on the back porch burning up the shredder double time like a mad man. I feel like we are in an illegal organization with the amount of shredding we are producing. Good grief.

Of course, this takes a lot of time, as does listing tons of stuff on one of the base fb selling sites. I'm really trying to figure out why I am doing this.

Here's what happens---I get some of the following messages:

a) "Yes! I want this __________. Please hold it for me and I'll be over at _____ to pick it up!!!"

(24 hours later-----"oh yeah, forgot to tell you, sorry, I don't want it after all" and the 3 other people who were once interested are suddenly not interested anymore).

b)."I know it's listed for $60, but will you take $5?"

c). "Very interested!"
(I send a message and never get a response).

d). "I'd want it and I'll pay for it. I don't have a car. Do you deliver?"

So WHY am I doing this?!!?!?

As it's all sitting around on my dining room table, never being sold, I'm rethinking the need to get rid of all of this stuff by selling it and just throwing it away. Or giving it away. Or anything but dealing with flaky people and SO MUCH STUFF. Ugh.

The point of the story: I have too much stuff. I also hate selling things. And I don't hate people, but I sort of hate dealing with people.

Otherwise, I'm making preparations for a big PCS move (that's Permanent Change of Station for all you non-military/DoD, real-world people).

In more exciting moving news (no, no orders yet), I got this in the mail:

Do you know how exciting it is to organize all of my toiletries, clothes, etc into 100 extra large ziploc bags?

No, you probably don't. Take my word---it's exciting.

If you've done a big move, you know the more organized you are, the better. Just like the less junk you have to move, the better.

In other news, I've been researching Everything Spain and sometimes I get so excited, I can't even sleep at night. I've also had a hard time doing my job.

It's not because of the moving excitement; it's because NOTHING TECHNOLOGICAL EVER WORKS IN OUR BUILDING.

If it's Monday, either a) the internet, b)the server, or c) the network will be out. Of course, today is Wednesday and it's the same. I am an idiot and can't say "no" to sweet, begging children, so I got suckered into doing yearbook which I cannot do without any of the above. I am in technological hell. Some things haven't changed in five years. I think it's the universe's way of telling me that if I had any remorse over leaving, fuggedabouit.

Also, H and the rest of the elementary school are moving into either extra classrooms (okay, we don't have extra classrooms---they are taking over labs we actually use) or "learning cottages" (aka "portables" aka trailers) on the grounds of our school while they are tearing down the old elementary school to build a new K-12, two storey, high-tech, 21st century, *insert educational buzzword here* school in its place. You know, the school that was supposed to be opening this year but has been delayed for years.

Yes, they are moving during spring break instead of over the summer. No, I don't know why.

My husband keeps telling me that I need to quit getting so riled up over things here because it's not my fight to fight. He is right (he always is, dammit) but I can't help it; it's like a genetic defect.

My future focus will be trying to quit fighting the good fight and focusing on things I can control. That leaves. . . looking up Everything Spain and daydreaming about a house that's hopefully a little less cluttered (our clutter is well hidden in drawers and closets, mind you). It will have its own sets of frustrations, and I will be reminded, again, that I need to quit fighting and just give in. But I also will try to let go and give into a new culture and let the stress of our final months of GTMO wash away. . .

Duende. From the page "Spanish words that don't translate directly into English"---I really liked this one.It's used with tener (to have)---"Tengo duende."(pic source:

From another website, loosely translated: "To have the art, the magic, the spell of captivating people with art and the will and affection of other people" ( 

I want to try to find things to make me feel this word. Isn't it a beautiful concept? It's usually used in conjunction with flamenco, which originates in the area of Spain where we will live.  I am SO ready to feel that way about the food, the art, the architecture, the people of Andalucía. . . and to stop fighting so much to control things that are, well, not my things to change.