Monday, February 27, 2017

Calm Before the Storm; or, Life in Limbo

So we are going to Spain. . . 

but we don't know when 

because we don't have orders

because the government needs to pass a budget to fund our travel

and without orders we can't arrange for a pack out of our house hold goods

or make travel arrangements to see friends and family in the US before our big move

and we can't make arrangements for temporary housing while we are waiting to find the right place for us. 

And this is life when you work for the government. 

So I am very excited about our move, but I guess it will get real once we have actual orders and can get this great big ball rolling. 

In the meanwhile. . . 

I am purging starting with my books (hardest thing for me to weed)

and going through clothes to give away (who needs 7 pairs of flip flops or 10 swimsuits in Spain?) 

or thinking about what I need to do for a new life with new electrical currents. 

Yes, I am thinking about electricity. Obsessing over it, actually.

None of our electrical appliances and gadgets will work if they are 110V without a transformer, which is this obnoxious little box you have to keep around to plug said electrical gadgets into. 

I know I want to keep my Vitamix and my stand up mixer because I use both of them more than any other appliances, but what about everything else? 

Is is worth dragging a waffle maker and toaster, an electric razor and hair dryer, hair straighteners and curling irons, and my beloved Clarisonic (that thing takes 5 years off your face, I swear---and no, I'm not getting a kickback to endorse it)?

I can live without an iron because, well, I don't iron. About 3 years ago, I pulled out the ironing board and the iron, filled it with distilled water and waited for it to get good and steamy, and my bewildered then-8 year old said, "Mom, WHAT are you doing?" I explained I was ironing. He said he had never seen an iron. 

True story.

There's the coffee pot. The stand up fan. There are lamps. Clock radios. Cordless telephones (do people even have phones in their homes in Spain?). 

So much to think about, and it's mostly electricity. 

Most of the rest is easy. I'll get the youngest in on clearing out books, toys, and clothes, and will probably have to bribe him with promises of iTunes cards or graphic novels to keep him motivated. 

Because I can't focus on realty listings (we will live off base, thank you sweetbabyJesus) and buying a car (because our GTMO specials just won't get it in Spain), I am focusing on minutia. The minutia of the week is electrical voltage. I've become obsessed with flipping over everything in the house and seeing what voltage it has. So far, we will be selling and giving away a lot of things. But that's okay. 

One of my first posts about life here was about digging up plants out of a random stranger's yard. His words of wisdom to me were this: 
"You come here with nothing, you leave with nothing. Make sure you give everything you can away when you leave the island. It's the GTMO way. And it's just stuff---you can't take it with you when you die."

When we evacuated (and I really thought my husband, who was left behind, was going to die---but that's a whole other story I will probably never write), I took the following in a small carry-on: two almost 100 year old pictures of my grandfather and my husband's grandfather, both wrapped in my favorite scarf from my first trip to France; my (first! signed! Canadian!) edition of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale and a copy of a book written from a man from my home town, Mr. Thomas Jefferson Young, which I gave to my parents; the Morgan dollar my grandfather gave me as a little girl that I brought with me on my maiden voyage to GTMO as a good luck charm; a small envelope of baby pictures of our oldest, which were all from film, and a handful of pictures of my grandparents, mostly in b & w and from years and years before I entered this world; a canister of every SD card and jump drive I could find in the house; the diamond drop necklace my grandparents gave me when I graduated college---the stone had been an earring my grandfather gave my grandmother for their 25th anniversary---my sister has the other one that she, too, got when she graduated college; a small picture I painted of my youngest kid on the beach and the only thing I've painted that I've truly, really liked; my stuffed rabbit named Elizabeth (after my sister---it's her middle name) that I've had since I was 4 and has been to camps, college, and even Mexico; my husband's grandfather Harvey's bible; and other than my computer/iPad, a few days worth of clothes. I didn't come close to the 40 lb limit.

Everything else was replaceable. It made me realize---it's all stuff.  

My Papaw George's gift to me---and his handwriting---
makes this worth much more than face value.
It's become a good luck charm over the years.
I will carry it with me on our trip to Spain. 
If we get to Spain with useless electrical devices or too many flip flops, we'll figure it out. That being said---I'm looking forward to a smaller load than our arrival here (all those crates!) and can't wait to tread lighter and trade in more things for life experiences. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fortuitous News; or, A Valentine to Austin

Do you like how I posted about how I need to be like Ferdinand recently, as in, I need to chill out and enjoy life more, and worry less, and now we are headed for the land of Ferdinand?

It was seriously a coincidence.

I have had friends congratulating me and tell me that I "deserve" a great place to be, but I don't feel it's something I earned; ending up in Spain is fortuitous and I did nothing special to get there. There are so many amazing and wonderful teachers in the system also waiting for their own golden ticket to somewhere else, and they may end up having to wait another year. They, too, "deserve" to transfer, so I feel very uncomfortable when anyone says that to me. It's all a numbers game and I just happened to have the right combination of certifications, years, and places I was willing to live ("worldwide," by the way). I am lucky; I am not deserving.

So I'll just say "thank you" for all the congrats. THANK YOU! 

absolutely awful picture---but I think the only one I have---of Austin (center)
with my friend J.Carol and my husband

You know when something big happens in your life and you have to call someone to tell them? We called our family as soon as we found out that we are moving to Rota in the summer, but there was someone we really both want to call but can't. I have thought about her so much the last few weeks (and honestly, a lot since we moved to Cuba). 

Dr. Karen Austin---or simply Austin, as all her students who loved her so much called her----was one of the best teachers I've ever had, and as I've gotten older, I've realized the best lessons from her classes stretched way beyond the books and lectures in the classroom at USM.

I had Austin for several upper level Spanish classes---advanced grammar (seriously fun---I'm not kidding, I love grammar and I love conjugating verbs), Spanish history (she made the Spanish Civil War comprehensible), and maybe a Spanish linguistics or conversation class. I really don't remember too much about exactly WHAT she taught; it was her fervor of the nuances of the Spanish language, the stories behind the history, and her own personal connections that made it so interesting and made her memorable.

And she was larger than life---she was tall and not a small woman, with wiry, crazy hair, and smoked like a chimney when I first met her (so did many of my other profs---even in the classroom. She quit, and by the time I graduated, you couldn't get near a building with a cigarette in your hand). She had a boisterous laugh and a lively spirit. I was devastated when I heard that she had died shortly after we got here, because in the whole process of moving here, she is the person my husband and I wanted most to talk to about Cuba. She would understand more than anyone else why we were dropping out of civilization, giving up life in the US, and starting over in the unknown. She loved risks and was a hero to me---she broke the glass ceiling at my college by becoming one of the first tenured female professors. She helped take care of a friend dying of AIDS in a time when most people were terrified to get near anyone with the disease. She had lived in Spain as a single woman under Franco's rule. She was adventurous, unafraid, opinionated, and brilliant.

As much as I loved and admired her, you can triple that for what my husband felt for her. She was his advisor and did so much more for him than any advisor I ever had---she took time to get to know him and her door was always open for him (or any other student). She advised him on life as well as college. He will always (deservedly) give her more credit than anyone else for motivating him to graduate college, and she had a soft spot in her heart for the skinny kid who would let her insult and scream at him in her Spanish for Law Enforcement class and played along as she read him his Miranda Rights in Spanish.

When our son decided to go to college in Madrid, I wanted nothing more than to pick up the phone and call her. I wanted him to meet her. The last time I saw her, he was only a toddler, and she sat him on her lap and sang him a lullaby in French. My adventurous son would love the crazy lady with the wild hair, the big laugh, and the great stories. I can imagine the pure joy on her face and her excited voice and animated manner as she would tell him the best cuisine and places to see, and share some of her hilarious stories as a young lady in Spain that would amaze and amuse all of us.

I was driving home a few days ago again lamenting the fact that we will be in Andalucía, the area where she lived and loved the most in Spain, and I can't tell her how excited we both are about it. 

My husband and I hadn't discussed this at all, but later that night, he said, "you think Austin's watching over us?" He feels it, too. I just feel like she's guiding us along the way. I'm not superstitious and don't feel she's literally watching over us, but I do feel like her life has influenced us both to be brave, adventurous, and helped plant the seed for a good case of wanderlust. And we know that without her in our lives, living in Spain would not have even been on the radar. 

She's been gone 4 1/2 years, but as her obit reads, she "was a force to be reckoned with." (If you get a chance, read her obit---she LIVED life).  I hope we do her proud in our adventures in Spain, and I will think of Karen Austin and her infectious laugh often; instead of sadly regretting the stories we didn't get around to sharing, my husband and I will be telling our sons stories about Austin and creating our own Spain story.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How Transfer Season is Hell; or, Time to Do a Ferdinand

Sometimes, I wish I could be more like Ferdinand, my favorite hero from one of my favorite children's books by Munro Leaf, and illustrated by Robert Lawson.

Comparing Ferdinand to the other bulls in the ring, who snort and cavort and show off, Leaf writes, "But not Ferdinand. When he got to the middle of the ring he saw the flowers in all the lovely ladies' hair and he just sat down quietly and smelled." 

Everyone expects him to be a fighter, but all he really wants to do is sit in a field and smell the flowers.

Why can't I just sit around and smell the flowers? Why do I always want to fight the good fight?

(as an aside, I always wondered if this was a protest book for Franco and the Fascist regime. I guess all roads lead to Spain and to Guernica. . . ) 

Instead, I am still obsessing over things I can't change. Argh!

It's the government system, including inefficiencies and inconsistencies and just people who are supposed to know the answers not having a clue. Have you called HR lately? Then you know my pain.

And you are probably laughing at why I think fighting the world's biggest bureaucracy is going to change it.

I am OCD'ing it by checking my email and fb messages to see if anyone has heard anything about our transfer round that was supposedly finished up on Friday. Not a soul has heard anything that I know of, so maybe I'm in good shape? Who knows.

And I posted about this on facebook a few days ago, so my apologies if you've already seen it, but it was too good to miss again.

If you aren't familiar with Dante's Inferno, it basically tells of Dante's journey through Hell, which has many levels and layers. Students love it.

The sign above hell says, "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here" or something to that effect (there are several translations). 

My former colleague and I used to laugh and laugh about how GTMO should have that over the gate. Like many of my colleagues, she is now gone, so who's laughing now? 

I've had several people call and write and message, all asking about the transfer. I turned in my application over a month ago, did a little tweaking to the final version and resubmitted by deadline, and now I sit and wait. And wait. And wait some more. They only inform those who get the job. They don't inform you if you don't. I know this because I have already applied for a transfer 2 years in a row, and I didn't get a "we're sorry" or "you're outta luck" or "sucker!" email or anything.

I also applied for an ISS position, which is something of a promotion (well, sort of, anyway) and was very hopeful when I actually got an interview a few weeks ago.  It was in a field I want to be in and in a place I'd like to live. But alas, that did not pan out, either. My options are getting shorter.  I wish I could just sit and smell the flowers and be content, but it's just not happening. 

I haven't heard anything but as soon as I do, I PROMISE I will post about it. The future is uncertain. For those of you who keep writing and texting and calling, I am not ignoring you. I just have NO information. Nada. 

In the meanwhile, I am circling Dante's 1st level of hell, Limbo. I hate living in limbo and that's what the transfer season does for those people who want to leave. You don't just jump up and move to another country; even if you are given several months notice, it takes months to gets everything in motion for a smooth transition. My son is overseas and doesn't know if he'll be coming back here for summer to work or going somewhere else with us until his school starts. Our youngest will be transitioning to middle school and we'll need to find out about new schools. Summer plans depend on the transfer. What I'm teaching if I am stuck here next year here will yet again be up in the air, and that's a whole other sort of limbo.

Let's hope good news comes out by tomorrow. I will tell you this: there will be people in this transfer process who will move to Wrathful if they don't get a transfer. I'm hoping I can continue to stay philosophic about why I'm stuck indefinitely in a hardship location, but there's a good chance I may slip along the way. Hopefully I can find my way back up to Limbo, if that happens.

I've got to stop and smell the flowers. The last words of Leaf's book? "And for all I know [Ferdinand] is sitting still there, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.

He is very happy."