Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

True to form, Guantanamo Bay gave us warm temperatures in the 80's to grace our Christmas Day celebrations and while I do enjoy cold weather and a crackling fire, I must admit that I'm enjoying the weather here as well.

We hosted a brunch at our house and enjoyed a meal of belgian waffles, omelets, oven-roasted potatoes, sausage, fresh fruit, carnitas, carne asada, San Diego burritos, juice, coffee and a Jamaican drink called Sorrel.

Just like our Thanksgiving meal, our Christmas meal found us blessed with many wonderful and interesting people.  When we first arrived here, we made friends with a teenage Jamaican boy.  He was here visiting his dad, who works here on the base.  Now his entire family was able to make the trip here  to be together as a family for Christmas.  Also joining us was a man named Manny.  His nickname is "Balancing Manny" and he has quite a unique talent for balancing objects on his head.  In fact, he has been on the Ellen DeGeneres show a number of times. Another claim to fame for him is that he ran the L.A. Marathon with a watermelon on his head the entire time.  He is in the reserves and was called up for duty here as a chef.  Manny has cooked for many Hollywood stars for years and today we were blessed with some of his cooking.  He made the carnitas, carne asada, San Diego burritos and several different salsas to go with it.
Here is a link to check him out: http://www.ellentv.com/2009/07/22/mannys-balancing-acts/
We ourselves have seen him balance and jog with a 5 gallon water cooler and a 6 ft. folding table on his head.
Our final guests were the George family.  They arrived on the island shortly after we did and we became instant friends.  We go to church with them and they have two teenagers who are friends with our teenagers so we are with them quite a bit.

We truly had a wonderful day and while we certainly miss family and friends, God has seen fit to add new people to our lives to enjoy and for that we are grateful.

Merry Christmas to everyone from Guantanamo Bay!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Shopping

Like most people during this time of year, I've been doing some Christmas shopping.  I've mentioned before that there is only one store here.  And while that is true, I did realize that there are other places to shop as well.  For fun, I decided to come up with a list of all the places to shop besides the exchange.

  • Craft fair - I think this might be held quarterly.  There have been two since I've been here.  I was absolutely amazed at the variety and quality of crafts being sold.  Jewelry, framed photography, hand drawn cards, hair bows, oil lamp bottles, beach-combing crafts of all sorts, and scented wax smell-good things were among some of the offerings.  My favorite thing was local honey!  Yes, someone here has bee hives and bottles the honey.  Fantastic!
  • Paintball Range - There is a store there that sells everything anyone would need to paintball.  My son got the whole set up as a Christmas gift from the grandparents and is ready to go!
  • Treasures and Trivia - this is our thrift store and it has fabulous yard-sale prices.  I found a Pampered Chef cookie sheet for $1.50!
  • Paperclips - the gtmo version of an office supply store.  I found several things that kids would like too like stationary, paint, backpacks, etc.
  • Radio GTMO - I don't think I've mentioned this before, but we have our own radio station here.  They sell t-shirts, bobble-heads, water bottles and some other items.  The t-shirts say, "Rockin' in Fidel's backyard"
  • Marine Hill - at the Marine's headquarter building, they sell t-shirts, coins and flags that have been flown over the Northeast Gate.  The t-shirts have the quote from A Few Good Men, "I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me" 
  • Dive Shop - perfect for the scuba diver, they sell everything necessary for diving but also have * tons of things that anyone who is headed to the beach would enjoy.  Goggles, fins, masks, knives, t-shirts, beach shoes, etc.
  • *Coming Soon* a bowling shop at the bowling alley
  • The Windjammer restaurant - they sell a couple of t-shirts and a really fun caricature-style map of gtmo
  • GTMO Family Connection - this is gtmo's facebook page and comes in handy for buying and selling.  I bought a fantastic Batman Lego set for Vincent from someone who accidentally ordered two!
  • Marina - besides bait, I actually haven't paid too close attention to what they sell, but I do think I remember sunglasses and some fishing stuff.
  • McDonald's - giftcards baby!  ok, so maybe this is a stretch, but hey =) And I don't actually even know if they sell giftcards...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


 Aside from those powdered-sugar-coated-packaged donuts and some Entemann's-style boxed ones at the Galley (which I don't think should count), we don't have any donuts on the island.  Yesterday though, the commissary got some glazed donuts in the bakery section.  Vic spotted them but didn't buy any!  What!?!?!?  He told me about it while I was shopping today and proceeded to tell me that they were all sold out.  Why oh why would he tell me that!?  I was broken-hearted for the kids knowing that they would have been so excited and that I would have been a hero if I had come home with a box.  But, lo and behold, as he and I scanned the shelves, there was ONE box left!  Yippee!  Straight into my cart it went.  I am a hero after all!!!

If you're reading this from gtmo, no need to come knocking...the box is empty and a donut is happily in each of our tummies...and some of our tummies may even have two.  =)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our First Visitors!

Grandma Carleen and Grandpa Ron arrived today!  It is so fantastic to have them here.  Since everyone  here is completely new to us and we are literally starting all of our relationships from ground zero, it is very comforting to have someone that we love so much and are familiar with.  Having them here also makes me long for others that I miss dearly.

During the next week, we plan on showing them our favorite things about the island and just enjoying time together as much as we can.  I'll try and post some of the activities that we do, but if you don't hear from me all week, you'll just know that we are too busy having fun!

I had a few pics to share, but they accidentally got deleted off the camera.  Oops!

Another fun thing about them arriving is that they brought two huge suitcases full items that we had requested that we can't really get here.  It surely was like an early Christmas!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Parade

Last weekend we enjoyed a Christmas Parade here.  All six of our kids rode on floats.  Victor and Celina were Joseph and Mary on one float and then the other four rode the Navy Exchange float.
Since all the kids rode floats, Vic and I told them we would collect candy for them.  I felt a little bit silly bending over and picking up treats off the ground and holding my bag open!

The best thing about it?  I didn't have to bundle up any kids with hats, gloves and jackets.  No blankets were necessary and I surely didn't have to pack any hot chocolate to warm cold hands either.  Everyone did get a thorough coating of bug spray though!

 Victor and Celina as Joseph and Mary

 The Parade was quite long!  So fun and so colorful!

The Navy Exchange Float

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Downside to LIfe in GTMO

I've been thinking for awhile that in order to be fair and give a balanced view of life in GTMO, I should write a post about the negatives of living here.  To be completely honest, I've had a hard time coming up with a list.  This is interesting, because depending on who you talk to, you may find a much longer list of negatives than I have to offer.  I simply love it here.  Yes, there are aspects that are different, or inconvenient, but nothing that makes me not want to be here.  For some people, the negatives make them want to get back to stateside living as soon as possible.  And I totally understand that sentiment and don't fault them for it at all.  It just simply isn't my experience.

I've found that generally, people who live here will fall into one of three categories:
1. Those who absolutely love it here and would stay for the rest of their lives or for at least a very long period of time.
2. Those who like it ok, but are content mainly because they know it will be temporary.
3. Those who hate it and can't wait to leave.

I think that I would fall somewhere in between category 1 and 2.  While I don't want to live here forever and not even for a really long time, I feel perfectly content and happy to live here for say, 4 or 5 years.  Of course, I've only been here for a little less than 4 months, so perhaps I will change my mind.  But right now I'm very content and happy.

Here are my couple of dislikes:

1. Mosquitos and No-see-ums - the mosquitos aren't as bad as the no-see-ums and both of them seem to come in waves.  I notice that particularly after it rains, there seems to be an abundance of the nasty little biting insects.  Bug spray has become a way of life here particularly if we are going to be out in the evenings.  Benadryl and Hydrocortisone cream have become a hot commodity in our household as we have gone through no less than 4 tubes since our arrival.

2. The Weather - since we moved from a hot climate in Florida, this isn't really an adjustment for us.  But because we didn't love the weather in Florida either, it isn't a plus for me either.  It is at least 80 degrees during the day year round and often times, it is closer to 90 degrees.  I do find it less humid than where we were in FL though.  The intensity of the sun is incredible.  90 degrees her doesn't feel like 90 degrees anywhere else I've been.  It actually hurts to stay in the sun for too long.  I am very fair-skinned so along with bug spray, sunscreen has been my close ally.

There are certainly other aspects of life here that are different or a little more inconvenient, but it isn't anything that makes my life less enjoyable.  I feel like the good outweighs the bad and I came here knowing that life wouldn't be like it is in the states.  I am trying to embrace the unique experience and enjoy it as much as I can!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tree Lighting Ceremony

Yesterday was the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the NEX.  It was about an hour and a half and included various singing, dance, cheer and band performances by the local children.  I only managed to snag a few pics and completely forgot to take a picture of the actual Christmas Tree!

The event started with the arrival of Santa via a decorated golf cart and then sat on his chair to observe all the festivities.

A couple of our cuties sang with the Chapel Youth Choir.  Notice Tori is the only girl not wearing a dress?  Well, for some strange reason, she didn't want to wear a beautiful dress yesterday.  For anyone who knows her, they would know that this behavior is completely anti-Tori.  Usually for her, everyday is princess day and she jumps at the chance to get dressed up.  Oh well.

I think my favorite part of the day was the sense of community.  For events like this, much of the community shows up.  It's the thing to do.  Guantanamo Bay is sometimes referred to as "The World's Largest Gated Community" and I'd say that is a pretty accurate description.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two Minutes

Two minutes used to be the amount of time it took to drive out of my neighborhood.

Now two minutes is the amount of time it takes to drive to the following places:

  • Vic's work
  • The store
  • The gas station
  • Starbucks 
  • All the Restaurants available to us
  • Soccer
  • The Library
  • The Gym
  • Swimming Pool
  • Church
  • The Bank
  • The Movie Theater
  • Post Office
  • The Bowling Alley
  • The Marina
Do I like it here?  Um, yes!  Is my life less stressful?  Most definitely! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all from us in Guantanamo Bay!

We had a traditional Thanksgiving meal here at our home and had several guests join us.  Our guests  included two of Vic's Jamaican co-workers, two young service men, a woman who is a pediatrician and currently residing in Brazil as a missionary (she is here visiting a friend) and a man born in Afghanistan who works as an interpreter here and goes to church with us.  It was so wonderful to have so many different people from various backgrounds.  Many stories were shared.  One of the most enjoyable experiences for me being here has been being able to interact with so many different people from so many cultures.  There is so much to learn if one is simply willing to listen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fishing Fun

I have officially joined the ranks of those who love fishing!  Check out the pic below and it will probably be apparent as to why.

The large fish at the top of the picture is a Horse-Eyed Jack and weighs about 7lbs.  I snagged this guy on my pole, but I don't have the skills necessary to land a fish this big just yet.  I quickly handed the pole over to Vic and watched the struggle ensue.  This guy fought hard and Vic spent a good 10 minutes wearing him out before finally winning the fight and bringing him ashore.

The rest of the fish are all varieties of Snapper and include Red, Yellow Tail and Mutton.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pumpkin Patch

With 90 degree weather, it didn't quite feel right, but we took a trip to the pumpkin patch here sponsored by the Youth Center.  Hayrides, bouncy castles and rock climbing walls were among the fun activities offered there.  Pumpkins were plentiful and there were more than enough to go around.  In fact, each person in our family was able to bring one home!  The best part?  You guessed it: totally free!  If we had bought 8 pumpkins at a pumpkin patch in the U.S., I'm guessing it would've been nearly $100.  I actually have never bought one at a patch before so I'm not totally sure about that, but I'm guessing they must be between $10-$20 each, right?

Actually, we only brought home 7 pumpkins.  Somehow, in the excitement, Tori forgot to pick out a pumpkin and by the time we realized it, we were already home.  She and Vincent ended up agreeing to share one.  Since I'm not an artist in any form, I cooked mine and made pumpkin butter out of it.  Yum!  Everyone else carved theirs up.  Pumpkin carving in our family is serious business and hours are spent perfecting each one.  Vic is the mastermind behind it all and usually ends up doing most of the work.  Jordan and Alana though each fully carved their own this year.  Victor Jr. did most of his and Celina was able to do her entire outline.  Jordan's pumpkin is missing from the photos because she took longer to finish hers, but she did Yoda and it was so great!  I wish that I had a picture of it.

Here they are all lit up with a string of lights instead of the traditional candles.  

 Vic carved a boxer in honor of our Tyson

Alana carved this Mocking Jay, from the book, Hunger Games

Celina chose Tinkerbell

Victor Jr. worked almost as hard on his Call of Duty: Black Ops pumpkin almost 
as he works on the actual video game!

And finally, Vic carved the Avengers symbol for Vincent and Tori

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Post Hurricane Sandy

"It's only a Category 1 Hurricane" is something I will never say!

Hurricane Sandy unleashed her fury on Guantanamo Bay!  It was quite scary and unnerving.  I eagerly anticipated the end to the worst of it which lasted about 6 hours.  The whipping wind, sideways blowing rain and sections of flashing being torn off of our roof made for a sleepless night for most of us.  Our two teenagers, in typical teenage fashion, managed to sleep through the entire storm.  Not following suit, our little ones (and the dog), followed us around for most of the night and only managed to catch winks of sleep here and there.  The power went off around midnight so as the temperature increased in the house, the chances for sleep decreased.

"Should we really spend money on a generator?" is also something I will never say again!

As soon as the worst of the storm passed, Vic got the generator started up and plugged in a small a/c unit, some fans and the surround sound.  I was exceedingly grateful for Vic's purchase that I tried to convince him not to make.  The cool air was a welcome feeling after a long, sticky night.  And while our power was restored this morning around 10 a.m., the three hours that we had the generator running were wonderful.

As far as damage, our house and yard only had very minor damage.  Some flashing and gutters torn off, branches from trees blown down, and a few shingles blown off the roof.  The cover over the neighborhood playground is shredded to pieces.  During the last tropical storm, a small hole started, but Hurricane Sandy finished it off.  I'm sad about that since it provides such wonderful shade for the kids to play during the blazing hot days here.  I'm hopeful that it will be replaced soon but I wouldn't be surprised if it takes awhile.  After all, there are certainly much more pressing issues around base.

As far as damage to the whole base, I have seen a few pics that are very disturbing!  It looks like the marina sustained quite a bit of damage.  Many of the boats are up on the shore or on top of each other on the docks.  Also, I hear there is a good bit of damage to the dock at Ferry Landing.  But overall, it seems as though most of the homes sustained little damage and hopefully there were no people hurt.  If you would like to see some pics for yourself, go to Facebook, look for the page called, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and check out the album for yourself.

Hurricane Sandy has certainly added to our adventure here in GTMO, but I'm sure glad it is over!  I now am quite sure that each decision that we previously made while living in FL to evacuate from a hurricane was the right decision!

 This pic was actually taken long before the hurricane force winds arrived.  The worst part of it was a night time so I couldn't get any pictures during the storm.
 Sounds of this tearing off during the night was pretty scary!  There are several spots around our house and that look just like this.

Here is the shredded covering over the playground.  This made for a very sad Vincent! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

"Condition of Readiness 3 has been set by the commander of NAVSTA..."

We were greeted this morning with sirens blaring and the above announcement along with directions to get prepared for the impending storm.  Hurricane Sandy, indeed, has set her sights on Southeastern Cuba which is precisely where Guantanamo Bay is located.

 From the weather reports, it looks as though the center will pass just to the west of us tomorrow morning.  This means that we will be on the eastern side of the storm; not exactly the place to be!  Right now I think the winds are about 80 mph, so a Cat 1 storm.

Our house is entirely ready.  I cleaned up the yard, bought necessary supplies and situated the generator for easy access should we lose power.  Movies, candy, snacks and chips accompany the necessary supplies of flashlights, water and candles.  Vic should get out of work around 7pm and then Condition of Readiness 2 should happen sometime this evening meaning that we will be confined to quarters until the all clear is given.

Again, we are safe and have all the supplies and resources that we need.  Since our home is hurricane proof, we don't have to leave to go to a shelter and will ride out the storm in the comfort of our home.

I'll post again when it's all over.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Lyceum: GTMO's version of the movie theater

Here in Guantanamo Bay, we are able to go to the movies. The Lyceum is an outdoor movie theater: similar to a drive-in, but with seats.  We get new releases although sometimes it is a few weeks later than the states.  No big deal to me though since I don't even really keep up with what comes out and when.  On Friday night, we watched Franken Weenie and tonight we saw Hotel Transylvania.  

Even though we've been here nearly two months, this weekend was the first time that either Vic or I had gone to the movies.  Our kids have been a few times, but we've never ventured out.  I think the thought of an outdoor movie experience made us a bit leery at first.  Mosquitos and heat are not our two favorite things in the world!  Surprisingly, neither the heat nor the mosquitos bothered us at all this weekend!  In fact, it felt a tad (and tad might be a strong word) bit chilly when the wind blew.  On Friday, I made sure to apply my gtmo perfume, a.k.a Off, but tonight I didn't put any on at all and was just fine.

One of my favorite parts of the outdoor experience is being able to look up at the stars.  On Friday, we even watched a brilliant lightening storm in the distance.  I think I spent more of my time watching the storm than I did the movie.

But the best part is that the movie is free to all, the snacks are cheap and like everything else here, it is just plain easy.

  • No lines to purchase tickets
  • Free admission
  • $4 large popcorn
  • Plenty of seating
  • Bringing your own food and drink is perfectly acceptable (no alcohol though)
  • If the movie is no good (like Franken Weenie in my opinion), just watch the stars!
  • Leave the house 10 mins prior to showtime and get home 5 mins after the movie ends

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Customer Appreciation Weekend at the NEX

Each year, the NEX (Navy Exchange) hosts a customer appreciation weekend.  Filled with activities galore, this weekend has been lots of fun!

Activities included:

  • 5K Run 
  • Fishing Derby 
  • Just Dance competition on the PS3
  • Humvee pull competition
  • Bounce House for the kids
  • Concerts
  • Food 
  • Prizes
Special Guests included:
  • A Wounded Warrior
  • Three chefs from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
  • Kelly Bell Band
  • Sideswipe (a martial arts group)
The entire weekend is made possible by generous donations from sponsors such as Samsung, Sony, Apple, New Balance, and so many more.  I know I sound like a commercial here, but for the first time I realized what it really means when an event is made possible by sponsors.

Enjoy some pictures from our fun weekend.

 This is the group, Sideswipe.  They combine martial arts with gymnastics and
 it was very entertaining to watch their performance.  
 The three chefs from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  l to r Dimitri, Hodad and Johnny Brava
 The Kelly Bell Band.  This guys were fantastic!  Vic and I enjoyed every bit of
their concert.  They are scheduled to return at another time and we will  most
definitely be watching them again.  They played a mix of music including jazz, funk and blues.
Some of the delicious food that was prepared by the chefs.  So yum!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Driving in GTMO

My oldest daughter got her learner's permit yesterday and drove for the first time.  Very exciting stuff!  This will be a great place for her to learn to drive since everything is safe and easy.  We don't even have a traffic light here.  Only stop signs.  And like I mentioned before, the top speed limit anywhere on base is 35 mph and mostly it is 25 mph.  The poor girl though when she gets back to the states is going to have to learn how to navigate freeways, traffic lights and round abouts.  

One of my favorite parts about the whole process of getting her permit is that it is free!  In FL, I think it was around $75 because she also had to take a 4 hour drug and alcohol course.  She could've gotten her permit on her 15th birthday in FL but we chose to wait and see about the job here before she got it.  When we realized that we were coming here for sure, we put the whole process on hold so as not to have to repeat courses and costs.  Now I'm very thankful that we just waited.  Also, in FL, it was mandatory to have a learner's permit for a whole year before being allowed to get a drivers license.  But here, she will still be able to get her license on her 16th birthday!

I can't wait until she has her license!  I'm going to teach her now how to do all my grocery shopping.  =)  

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Well Thought Through Plan?

Well it seem as though "a day or so" escaped me.  Here I sit, 4 days later and still haven't put up the pictures of our recent activities.  The pics are on Vic's iTouch and whenever I get some time to write, he isn't here with it.  So, I'll share briefly on another topic.  


Did I mention that 5 of our 6 children are playing soccer?  Until now, we've had a general rule that went something like: only 2 children at a time in a sport.  This was necessary for my sanity because Vic usually missed practices and only made it to a few games.  The life of a retail manager dictates working most Saturdays.  

Being in gtmo I realized that a) Vic would have off most Saturdays and b) the kids can ride their bikes to practice.  So, in my mind this meant that they could all do soccer without a) me having to be a taxi every day of the week and b) me having to navigate Saturday games by myself.  Both a and b translate to a much saner me.  Piece of cake!  I could even picture myself sipping a glass of tea and reading a book while they were all at practice...

I think I missed one important bit of information though.  Did any of you catch it?  Um, hello!  Game day!  Sure, I won't have to be by myself, but I didn't clearly think though the obvious implication that 5 kids playing = 4 games (thankfully two of them are on the same team) each and every Saturday!  Each age group has a time slot and then plays in order from youngest to oldest. This means that I will be at the soccer fields from 9am - 2pm every Saturday watching games.  Oh dear!  I'm not sure if there is enough sunscreen for my poor white skin.  Unlike my husband and children, who are naturally blessed with pigment, I tend to burn right around the 20 minutes mark.   

On the bright side, I suppose I just might learn the soccer rules really well.  

btw, Tori is extremely happy because her team color is light pink!  There were some not-so-happy boys and dads though.  Victor Jr. hasn't got his shirt yet, but I do know it is going to be lavender purple.  Oh my!  Can't wait for that reaction.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm Still Here

Pardon the brief absence.  I promise that I haven't run out of things to write about.  Quite the opposite.  In fact, sometimes I feel like I have so much to say and I want to share so many details that I eventually give up because it makes my brain work too hard.  And other times I simply don't want to fight the slow internet.  I tend to blog in the evenings and that is precisely when the internet is at its slowest.

Our days have been filled with school, swimming lessons, soccer and regular day-to-day activities.  We aren't more busy here than we were in FL, but added to the regular busyness of a household of 8 is the fact that I'm still not quite unpacked so I've been spending my free time fine tuning the areas of the house that are a bit out of order.

I promise another post in the next day or so complete with some pictures of our recent activities. So far though, we are still singing the "It can't GTMO better than this" song.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Simple Pleasure

I am a water snob.  I like bottled water that is labeled purified or distilled.  The two major brands that fit that category are Dasani and Aquafina.  I don't like anything labeled drinking, spring or artesian.  And I can tell the difference.  Just ask my good friends and husband who once put me to a blind taste test.  Oh yes, I can spot an impostor!  I have been often posed the question, "What would you do if the only thing you had to drink was not your preferred water?"  Well, I do like life more than I like my brand of water, so I must say that I would always choose the water, even if it was sub-par.  Given the choice and resources though and I will take my purified or distilled water any day.

What does all this water talk have to go with gtmo?  Well, there are only two brands of bottled water sold at the (very limited) NEX and both are sadly spring and drinking.  Sigh... Yes, I can choke it down, and I do because as stated before, I do love life more than water, but it's not my preferred brand.

There is one other tidbit of info to know about me.  I dislike almost everything about McDonald's.  I say almost because over the past few years, they have come out with some acceptable items like oatmeal, smoothies, coffee drinks and salads.  But I will never choose McDonald's as my first choice when it comes to fast food.  In fact, it will always come last on my list of places to go.  But, here in gtmo, there are very few choices for fast food.  And, there is only one fast food place open for breakfast.  Turns out I needed a quick option for my kids the other day.  McDonald's would do the trick, especially since I myself wasn't going to eat.

Back to how this has to do with water.  I go inside to place my order.  While I am standing waiting for them to call my number, I notice a large bucket of iced water bottles on the counter.  I stare blankly for a moment, then I do a double-take.  There, before my very eyes, is an entire tub of iced cold DASANI water bottles!  I could almost hear the angels singing.  Rushing back up to the register, I hurriedly pulled my money out and ordered a bottle.  I think the employee was a bit caught off guard by my enthusiasm for bottled water.

Cracking one open, I sipped slowly, savoring every swallow while waiting for my order.  There, at my least favorite place to eat, I enjoyed my most favorite water.  A simple pleasure indeed.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Beach in Pictures

Today we managed another trip to the beach.  Although we wanted to go to Kittery Beach, we ended up at Girl Scout Beach.  We had a fantastic time!  Vic bought snorkel gear for all of us to enjoy.  Very fun!  The kids took to it like it was old hat even though none of them have done it before.

 Most of the beaches that I've been to have these long stairs to navigate the cliffs to reach the bottom.  Notice how clear the water is?  And the pictures never quite do the color justice.  It's beautiful!
 I know it's hard to see in this small picture, but notice the many small rocks on the sand.  The sand is really more like millions of small pebbles and then scattered with larger pebbles and rocks.  It actually hurts a bit to walk on it!  Our next purchase will surely be water shoes for everyone.  We have decided that we were surely spoiled by the sugar white sand of Florida's Emerald Coast.  But, while those beaches were made for relaxing, these beaches are made for exploring!
 Tori collected all of these sea snails and put them into this small hole carved out of a large rock on the beach.  Actually, I don't think it's a rock, but rather a chunk of coral.  I told her, "Oh, I see you've put all the snails in this hole."  She looked at me quite puzzled and very seriously said, "No Mom, I didn't put ALL the snails in there."  Clearly I should've known that ALL the snails on the beach would never fit into that hole.  
 Snorkeling was a hit!  It was really neat to see all the rocks and fish in the water.   It was very peaceful although I must admit, it took me a little while to relax enough to do the snorkeling correctly.  I felt a tad bit claustrophobic.  Hopefully I'll be able to steadily get more comfortable with this because I would eventually like to learn scuba diving as well.  
 Here is Vincent showing me a piece of coral that he had collected.  This went on over and over.  He would find something grand and rush it over to me for a closer inspection.  He collected rocks, shells, sea glass, snails and coral.
 Tori is hands down the best "collector" of them all!  She will spend hours searching each nook and cranny for a snail or a piece of sea glass.  And she doesn't seem to tire of it at all.  
Another picture of the gorgeous water, looking down from the top of the cliff.  Beautiful!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Household Goods Arrived!

I began this post on Friday, but I've been so busy and tired that I failed to finish it and failed to update the blog for the last few days...

Today we received all of our HHG shipment!  Right now I'm typing this while sitting in my recliner and watching our t.v. complete with surround sound.  If anyone knows my husband, they would not be surprised to hear that that is what he chose to set up first.  Tonight I will look forward to sleeping in my bed.  So, I've slept in my bed for the last two nights and it was amazing!  Our bed is really comfortable.  I had forgotten how amazingly comfortable it was.  Ahhhh

Furiously working for the last three days, I have managed to get the house about 75% complete.  I even skipped church tonight to keep working.  Most of the kids went with Vic and I was able to have a couple of uninterrupted hours.  It sure feels good to get things in order!  Right now I'm enjoying the Broncos-Steelers (Go Broncos!) game and it feels like home sitting in my living room.  So far I have the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, upstairs storage, laundry room, dining room and all the bathrooms complete.  Jordan and Alana took care of their room.  I still have to work on the little girls, boys, office/school room, shed and outside storage.

I have to say again how much I am loving this house!  For me, it is much bigger than what we had before and I am enjoying not having to cram things into every square inch of each closet.  While I am still using my best organizing skills, I feel like I can be a bit more relaxed.  My goal while living here will be to not accumulate too many more belongings.  It certainly can be so easy to have more space and then just fill it up!  I'm happy to say that for the first time in 11 years, I don't have anything in the master bedroom except for OUR stuff!  At our last two homes, it was necessary to store extra items in my master closet and I even had all of our home schooling books lining one whole wall at our last house.  When I walk in my room now, it feels so peaceful and tranquil.  When I was a kid, my parents' room was off limits.  They even had a keyed lock on their door.  I have half a mind to implement the same policy.  OK, not really, but the thought did cross my mind.  :)

Tomorrow Vic has the day off so we are going to go to Kittery Beach since it is actually open.  It has been closed since we have been here and we hear that it is one of the nicer beaches to visit.  We plan on taking advantage while we can since we don't know when it might close again.  Perhaps I will work on more of the house tomorrow, but more likely than not, I will take a day off of house organizing.  Also, Vincent and Tori start swimming lessons tomorrow afternoon so our day sounds like it will be full of fun!

Updated to add:

I almost forgot to mention that our shipment took just shy of a month to arrive!  Our pack-out was completed on August 10th and then delivered to us here on September 7th.  Not bad at all!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Safety First

"I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans, who are trained to kill me..."

Recognize that movie quote?  If you said Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men, you would be correct. But, life here is really not like that at all.  At least not for those of us who live in base housing and work regular jobs.  I wouldn't want to discount the danger to the Marines here who do protect the fence line, but most of us never even get to see it.  It is simply not a part of our daily lives.

One of the things that I love about base life here is that it is safe.  And I'm not just talking about crime.  I'm talking about daily life.

Some examples:

  • The speed limit is 25 mph on the main streets, 15 mph in the residential sections and 5 mph if drivers see troops running in formation.  I think there is one road that I've seen that goes out to a beach where the speed limit is 30 mph
  • There are chain link fences that separate housing from the water.  Since there is so much water here, and most of the housing is relatively near water, the fences are very helpful.  I know it eases my mind.
  • Anytime that we see a pedestrian about to cross the road, it is expected that all vehicles will stop. No matter what.  And the vehicles do stop.  Every time.
  • Helmets must be worn at all times when riding a bicycle, skateboard or roller blades.  No questions.
  • 10 year olds may swim at the pool without a parent, but they must first demonstrate the ability to swim 25 yards.  There are always at least two lifeguards on duty at the pool and I think that I usually see three.
  • Tropical Storm Isaac was a perfect example of the safety measures employed on the base.  We were in our homes and everything secured about 24 hours before the storm.  I imagine if everyone in the states took storms this seriously, less life and property would be lost.
  • All of the construction sites that I have seen are entirely enclosed by chain link fences.  Then the work vehicles drive into the fence and close it before working.  Our neighborhood is currently under construction, so I have especially appreciated this.  I even went and spoke to the workers on the first day that we were here to make them aware of the presence of my children.  They assured me that they watch very carefully and that they are only allowed to drive 5 mph when they see children.
  • Beaches are closed at the first sign of bad weather.  The beaches remained closed for three days after TS Isaac.
  • I'm not entirely sure if this is a regulation or not, but everyone who runs, walks or bikes at night wears reflective gear.  
  • All of the playgrounds have that nice spongy padding under them to cushion falls.  There are also canopies to shade the equipment.  I consider that to be a safety issue because on more than one occasion, I've had a child get burned by a hot slide. 
With little children, I certainly appreciate the extra safety measures.  And for my older children, it is so nice to be able to let them jump on their bikes and head to the pool, the post office, the NEX or the library without a second thought.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Our Suburban Arrived!

Today we got our Suburban off the barge!  It was shipped from New Orleans on 7/27, so that was just about 5 weeks.  I'm so thankful to have it back.  It's a nice feeling to feel one step closer to being settled.  According to the barge manifest, our household goods were also aboard, so I'm hopeful that we will be getting a call very soon to schedule the delivery of our stuff.  Perhaps even by the end of this week!  We'll see.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It can't "GTMO" better than this

***"It can't 'GTMO' better than this" is one of many sayings here in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba***

I know I've been absent for a few days.  It's not for lack of things to write about, that's for sure!  Each day we are learning new things, discovering new places, finding new activities.  We have been settling in very nicely.  There is so much that I like about living here and to be honest, I haven't found much that I don't like.  At least not yet.  Or at least not anything that I don't like so much that I don't want to be here.  No doubt some things will come up, but I think I had prepared myself mentally for life to be different.  For the internet to be slower.  For the store shelves to be hit or miss.

 I love the slow pace of life.  If you are at all familiar with the phrase "island time", that would be an accurate way to describe life here.  Very few activities start precisely on time.  Thinking about the military and their reputation for punctuality, I didn't quite expect that on a military base.  But no matter, we are still showing up when events are scheduled and then finding ourselves with ample opportunity to take in the newness, meet new people and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.  In addition to a slower pace, everything is so close by that it literally takes me no more than 5 minutes to get anywhere.  And that includes loading all the kids in the van.  Yesterday I needed some items at the commissary and I was there and back again in a record 17 minutes!  Fabulous!

Activities are also quite plentiful here.  Yesterday some of the kids participated in a 50 meter swim off at the Windjammer pool.  What fun that was!  After the races, MWR (stands for Morale Welfare Recreation) provided lunch for everyone for free.  This week I plan on signing various children up for swimming lessons, soccer and art lessons.  The other nice part of the activities is that many of them are free and then the rest seem to be quite a bit less expensive than the states.  Swimming lessons, for example are only $30 for a two-week session.  I remember it being more than double that amount for lessons in our town.

So, right now the tune I'm singing is, "It can't GTMO (pronounced get 'mo) better than this".  Hopefully, I'll still be singing the tune for a long time!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More exploring

Today Vic had the day off so we loaded up and headed out.  We checked out some tide pools, had a picnic, went to the Windjammer pool and finished off the day with ice cream at the Caribbean Coffee and Cream.  We can get Starbucks coffee, smoothies, Breyers ice cream and milkshakes there!  Yum! Tonight we plan to join some Jamaican friends for a special worship time that their church is having this week.  I'll try and take some pictures and post about our time tonight.

Enjoy some pics of our day!

                                              View of the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean
Tide pools.  We saw fish, hermit crabs, larger crabs, snails and all sorts of coral.
                               left to right: Vincent, Tori, Celina, Victor Jr., Alana and Jordan
 A rather larger hermit crab.  I think he will need to find a new shell soon.
 An itty bitty tiny hermit crab.  So cute!
 This picnic pavilion is on top of a hill an overlooks all of Guantanamo Bay.
 A view from our picnic spot
 Enjoying ice cream at Caribbean Coffee and Cream
 We found this telescope to view the bay.
These little island-looking things are moorings for Battleships.  We are allowed to tie up with a boat and check them out.  Hopefully soon we will be able to do that!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our house

I've been waiting to do a post on our house until I got some good pictures.  I must say, I love our house!  I was preparing myself to be disappointed, realizing that base homes are often older and a tad out of date.  This house is anything but that description.  Sure, it is older, built sometime before 1978, but it is certainly not out of date.  Nor is it small.  At least not for us.  This house is quite a bit bigger than our previous house in FL.  And the neighborhood is great too.  It is basically the closest that we could get to the "happenings" of gtmo like the NEX, chapel, sports complex, restaurants, bowling alley, movie theater, swimming pool, library, etc.  We are also situated on top of a hill and have a 360 degree view!  It's breath-taking.  I still can't believe I get to live here!  

Here are a couple of details:

  • 4 bedroom / 2 1/2 baths
  • approx. 2000 sq. ft.
  • 2-story
  • duplex
  • wood floors
  • tile
  • Corian countertops
  • berber carpet 
  • large kitchen
  • indoor laundry room!!!!  
 The front view of our house.  Ours is the left half.  Notice the playground behind the white vehicle.
                                  This is the backyard.  That tree is ours!  I love, love, love it!
                            View out of our front door.  The dock is called "officer's landing".
                       Another view out our front door.  Those houses are senior officer homes.
                                                 The marina.  Also out our front door. 
                                          The playground.  Notice the awnings?  Fantastic!
                              View from our backyard.  That is the chapel where we worship.
                                        View from our side yard.  That is the sports complex.

A trip to the doctor

Today we made our first trip to the hospital.  Actually, we just went to the clinic, but it shares the same building as the hospital.  My two oldest girls have been fighting a cold for a number of weeks and it turned into a sinus infection for both of them.  I must say how thoroughly impressed I was with everyone from the receptionist desk and medical records office to the nurses and the pediatrician.  I've heard some not-so-pleasant reviews about military doctors in general, but I actually personally know several military doctors or former military-turned civilian doctors and I always thought to myself, "how could everything be as bad a people are telling me?"  I'm pleased to say that each aspect of the visit was pleasant and each person that I had to deal with was very helpful.  In all, I spent less than two hours there, but most of my time was spent filling out paperwork since we had to register first.  Anytime I have to fill out paperwork, it is for eight people so it takes some time!  I do for sure have our new address and phone number memorized though!  The best part of the whole trip?  It only took 6 minutes to get there.  I could get used to that.

*If you personally have had a bad experience with a military doctor or hospital, please know that I'm not doubting your experience at all.  I'm simply sharing our experience today.*

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tropical Storm Update #2

Well, Tropical Storm Isaac turned out to be a non-event here.  The storm took a slight northern turn and skirted the northeast coast of Cuba while we are situated on the southeast coast.  With nothing more than light wind and rain, it ended up being a nice day off relaxing in the house with the family.  We were ordered to stay indoors starting at 2300 last night and now at 1700, we are being allowed out again.  Everything remains closed except for the Galley, so we are headed out to stretch our legs and enjoy yet another cheap and yummy meal!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac Update

We are all hunkered down.  Everyone has been ordered to remain in their homes until further notice.  Not much is happening outside just yet, but we are anticipating some strong winds and heavy rains starting sometime soon.  Probably in the middle of the night.  Tomorrow we should see tropical storm conditions for the whole day.  Sounds like it won't be a hurricane when it hits us. If sustained winds reach 50 mph, then the base will shut down the electricity.  We are prepared though with a generator, small a/c unit, plenty of water and food and games galore.

I'll let everyone know how it goes!

Meet the Zarates

I just realized that I haven't fully introduced myself and the family.  We are the Zarates - like Karate, but with a "z".  My husband, Vic and I (Joy) have six children; four girls and two boys ranging in age from 3-15 and a dog.  I'll go ahead and answer the FAQ's for you.  Yes, they are all ours, together.  None are adopted (although once you look at the picture, that is probably going to be self-explanatory).  None are twins.  No we are not crazy.  Yes we know what causes it.  Yes I am busy.  Yes our house is loud.  No I do not have the patience of Job or Mother Theresa or Michelle Duggar.  No I am not super-organized.  Yes we are blessed.

A brief background is that we moved to GTMO from the panhandle of FL where we lived for 11 years.  Previously, we lived in CO where Vic is from and he and I met.  I grew up in CA and moved to CO when I was 15.  Vic and I went to high school together and got married shortly after I graduated from high school.  After we got married, Vic started a career in retail working first for The Home Depot, then Sears and finally to the Navy Exchange which is what brought us here.

                                    from left to right: Alana 13, Tori 5, Vincent 3, Victor Jr. 10
                                              Celina 9, Jordan 15, Vic and Joy in the back

                                                                   Tyson, our boxer

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Date Night

Vic and I are going on a date night tonight.  Yay!  I don't think we've been on a date since before he left for gtmo at the end of July.  Actually, we did manage a quick lunch date the other day in the middle of some errands.  I'm not sure where exactly we are going to go, but it might surprise some that there are quite a few choices as far as restaurants.  We have some fast food places including: Subway, McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC and A&W.  Then of course there is the Galley which is similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The Galley is great because it is cheap, good and fast.  Lunch and dinner is $4.55 per person and includes a drink and breakfast is around $2.50.  There are also several sit-down restaurants.  I know for sure about the Bayview Club and the Windjammer Cafe.  We ate at the Windjammer on Sunday after church and it was fantastic!

Now I've gotta get the kiddos all settled in with some standard date night fare: mac n cheese, hot dogs, popcorn and a movie.  Lucky kids!  heehee

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac

I was hoping to not have to do a post on Tropical Storm Isaac, but alas, it seems as though it is choosing to take a direct aim at southern Cuba, which is precisely where Guantanamo Bay is located.  We expect to begin feeling the effects sometime on Friday.  At least the bigger effects.  We've already been experiencing some wind gusts.

The base is well prepared for the storm it seems.  There are plans for where each person is to shelter, if necessary.  Our home is considered hurricane proof, so we will "shelter" in our house, but we are given specific instructions as what to do and when.  We have already heard sirens going off that indicate which "level" of storm awareness we are in.

Since we lived in FL for 11 years, we are already used to the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes.  And while it is something to be very aware of and prepared for, I don't feel at all afraid.  Sure, we make  necessary preparations, but we don't panic or worry.  And I feel very confident in the structure of the base to quickly mobilize any necessary resources.

My heart goes out more for the residents of the poorer nations of Haiti and Cuba.  Please pray for them.  And pray for us too, but rest assured, we have resources readily available to meet our needs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Iguanas: the gtmo mascot

Iguanas are everywhere!  There are signs here that read, "don't feed the iguanas".  I am told that if you feed them, they start to become aggressive.  Apparently, there is one who lives near the A&W who is notorious for trying to steal food. Iguanas generally move very s-l-o-w.  But, sometimes, they can move extremely fast.  Faster than my sprinting dog.  Tyson saw an iguana on our front porch and took off like he was chasing a cat or a squirrel.  Thankfully the iguana got away.  I am also told that if you kill one, the fine is something like $10,000!  And it doesn't matter if it's an accident.  If you run over one, your dog kills one, etc. you will be responsible. We also have signs that showing "iguana crossing".  There have been a handful of times already that I've been behind someone who has stopped for the iguana crossing the road.   I'm not sure why the iguana is so protected here?  Vic and I were trying to think about that.  It can't be because they are endangered because they are everywhere!  We think perhaps they were at one time endangered and hence the steep fines but just haven't been taken off the list?  When I find out, I'll let you all know.