Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas sans Santa

So, Christmas has come and gone. This morning, as I was walking to the gym, it was so beautiful I thought summer had just started again. Very weird, but nice.

We had a nice Christmas here in the Bahamas. Everyone stayed in their pjs all day, we made manicotti and artisan bread for dinner, and built Legos for most of the afternoon. Santa did not make an appearance, and no one seemed to care.

When we were first married, we talked a lot about whether or not to do Santa. I wasn't too big on the idea, and Oliver was neutral, so we ended up nixing the big guy with the red suit. I had witnessed other parents' seemingly crazy efforts to ensure their offspring believed this false tale, and didn't see myself going to all that effort or having fun with it. Plus, I didn't want to give credit to someone fake when we'd put so much love and time to finding gifts that they would enjoy. Overall, we've been happy with the no-Santa Christmas.

*Before you get all worked up about this, we don't avoid Santa altogether. We let the boys watch Christmas shows that star the jolly old elf, and have even put them, quite unwillingly, on a few fake Santas' laps. They know, however, that Santa is just fun stuff, like Mickey Mouse. Presents come from the people that love them. We are very low-key about it, so Wyatt has yet to feel the need to trumpet Santa's fakeness to other children who do believe in him. I'm really not trying to rain on anyone else's parade with this.*

This year, I had some moments of trepidation about this decision to excise Santa from our holiday preparations. Wyatt is getting older and a tad confused by all these people asking him what Santa is going to bring him this year. I did spend some time wondering whether or not he was missing out by not believing in Santa Claus, and debated whether or not I'd fill their stockings (given to them by their grandmother, not us) with candy and call it Santa's visit. In the end, I decided not to, in no small part because Christmas candy is rather impossible to find out here. Also, I just couldn't bring myself to start telling stories I didn't believe in.

I am glad I decided to hold strong, because I noticed something this year: Christmas day wasn't about the presents under the tree at all. The boys went to bed at a normal time after watching the Nativity DVD we got from our church a few years ago. There was no being too excited to sleep because of presents, but much talk about who baby Jesus was and what happened that night so long ago.

When they woke up, the first thing they wanted was breakfast, as is typical. I had made blueberry muffins the night before, which is sort of our traditional Christmas breakfast. Typically, we'd pair it with eggnog and linguisa, but we couldn't find either of those things here. We ended up with some kielbasa, which is so not the same thing, but such is life here. After breakfast, we finally called them to the tree. It was weird, though; I remember as a kid hovering around the tree in anticipation of what was to come. Neither of our kids seemed interested at all until we were actually opening the gifts.

I know some people would probably think we've gutted the fun things about Christmas, but I don't think we have. The gifts under the tree were the sorts of things we could all have fun with, from the new Wii games for Oliver (all of which were the type the boys can play in some fashion, too), to the Legos and RC cars for the boys. We spent the day building things, trying to figure out how to drive an RC car on the wall, and making music on the TV.

In short, I think Christmas without Santa has been a resounding success around here. It's so much easier to avoid all the hoopla and stress without the big red guy hanging around. Christmas in our home has become a day to celebrate Jesus' birth and reconnect as a family. I'm really glad we made this decision and stuck with it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

...means it's time to make pizza. We may be at the mercy of what is in the store while we live here, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun and grow a new Christmas tradition while we're at it. I do think Oscar ate more raw dough than he did the finished product, but it was so much fun letting him have a go at making his own.

I'm so grateful we are all home together this year as a family, free of the shadow deployment has all too often brought in the past. Life is good here in the Bahamas, and I am once again reminded of all our Savior has done for us.

Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fire Trucks!

We take care of our own lawns here. This is fine with me as I was very tired of the racket the landscaping company made every week in our housing in Washington. I use the term "lawn" loosely, as it is mostly a collection of weeds and clover with nary a blade of actual grass in sight.

In order to take care of this prickly mess of green, housing provides some equipment in a shed at the end of the street. Both a lawn mower and a weed whacker are kept there. I wish we hadn't put our rake in storage as there sadly isn't one to use (or buy) here. I'm a little tired of the coconut pods littering our yard, but it's a pain to pick them all up by hand, especially after the lawnmower has shredded them. I guess we'll just have to learn to ignore them.

In order to get into the shed to borrow the lawn care equipment, we have to go borrow a key. The place we go to borrow the key is actually in the fire station. There is someone there working dispatch 24 hours a day (this is also the person that handles 911 calls for the base), so we can pretty much get the key whenever we want.

A couple days ago, I returned the key for Oliver after he was done using it, as he's quite nicely taken on this job for the most part. Oscar was itching for a ride, so I brought him with me. The firefighters are great with the kids here on base. When I walked up, one of them came right up to Oscar and asked him if he wanted to see the trucks. He was so excited!

fire truck time

Here he is sitting in the driver's seat. Notice the glow from the window? That is a pitfall of living in a place that requires 24 hour air conditioning. The camera lens always fogs up when you first leave the house. I forgot to wipe it off before taking the picture. Sadly, it was the only one I have where he grinned like that, so I'm posting it anyway.

This next one is also not the greatest, but he was on the move, so I took what I could get:

next to fire truck

Friday, December 18, 2009

Because the Sky Here is Beautiful

We took a random drive today to see some of the island. We haven't made a huge effort to do so before, but felt the need to get out of base for a bit. Truthfully, I don't feel particularly comfortable here yet. Part of it is because it's a country with a different road system and almost no signs for anything. You have to ask people to find out where things are. You can't just drive into town and figure out where the stores are.

The other issue I'm having is that never in my life have I felt like I stuck out so much. Because we are white, we are clearly not from the island. The few times I have found myself in the minority in the States, I never felt as discomfited by it. Here, though, it's not just skin color, it's also because I'm American. I know I'll get over this, and being out today helped, but I think this is an experience that will prove valuable in the future. You never truly get how an outsider feels until it's you.

While we were out on our drive, I caught these pics of the sky. The sun was setting, and it was beautiful. I love the sky here!



Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's Christmas About?

For church today, we decided to focus on Christmas. We decided on this partly because I don't think we are doing a particularly great job teaching the boys what Christmas is actually about. Their quick responses to what it's all about usually focus on the presents. So, for our makeshift Sacrament meeting, we watched the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional since we hadn't watched it last weekend.

When the first congregational hymn was playing, we sang along. I found myself tearing up some while we did so. It felt really good to sing with other members of our faith, even if they were on a computer screen and had done so the week before. I don't feel like we are hurting spiritually by being out here on our own, but I very much miss the ability to be with others that believe the way I do. I never really understood before how good that can feel. I'm so grateful for the internet and all the Church does to reach out to its far-flung members. This would have been so much more difficult without that.

P.S. I will keep you all updated on the compost progress. I'm a few weeks away from being able to actively start a bucket right now, so not much to say for awhile. I'm hoping it will work out; if not, maybe I'll try doing something enclosed if I can find a container that would work.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What I've Been Up To (in case anyone out there still reads this blog, ha)

I'd like to say I've been neglecting this blog because I've suddenly become so busy with holiday excitement that there is no room for such things. Nope, life is pretty much as slow as it has been. This is not to say that I'm sitting around feeling bored. The nice thing about having almost no scheduled time is that you can fill it with things you've always wanted to do but haven't because there was the excuse of a deadline/event/etc. coming up. Oliver is home far more than he's gone, which is a very, very nice change, so I even have help with the boys. So, what to do?

There's the book writing, of course. I'm not making as much progress as I'd like, but the story is taking shape and I have about 20 pages written that I think I may actually use in the final book. The rest is scrap, but it's still useful. The biggest challenge for me here is to have a block of time to work on it. All too often, I sit down and start writing, then someone or something needs my attention and I never get back to it. A lot of it is being shaped in my head, though, so I work on it even when I'm not actively typing. It'll get done one of these days.

Then I have my gardening gig. The radishes are developing; I could see a nice bulge on one of them when I checked them this afternoon. Hopefully, they will all start doing the same thing. The chives also are going well. I almost lost them when we had a really heavy thunderstorm a few weeks ago because I hadn't taken the time to drill holes in the bottom of their container.

The rain here tends to come down with the same force as someone dumping a huge bucket on your house. It ends fast, but, wow, the amount is crazy. This is especially interesting when you live in a trailer. The sound is incredible. Oliver came home one day after another brief dumping shower to report he'd heard it loud and clear in the two story building he works in. His office is downstairs. Yeah, I was at home waiting for the roof to collapse it sounded so loud. We've yet to have a rainstorm that lasts all day, though. Mostly, it comes and goes in a half hour or less.

The rainstorm that almost murdered my chives was at night. I woke up to find all these little green shoots floating on the top of mud puddle that filled the container. I hurried to drill holes and drain the dirt, then carefully replanted every last one of them. Amazingly, they all survived, and I am really looking forward to using them when they get a little bigger. I think the spinach seeds were drowned out, though. They never came up, so I've planted jalapenos in their place.

Gardening has got me thinking about compost. We have no garbage disposal here (although, we were very, very lucky to have a dishwasher; almost no one else here seems to have one...I would have been a very unhappy woman without one), so we are constantly dumping food into the garbage. I could really use some decent compost when I figure out how to build a couple raised beds. I plan on doing a version of square foot gardening, and compost is definitely what I need.

All that rotting food in the garbage has got me thinking about how to turn it into the compost I need. I can't, however, start a big, stinky pile outside our trailer. Not only will the neighbors hate me, but we will be swarmed with bugs. We have more than enough of those already, so we need to do it inside. I'm planning on using Bokashi, which is a Japanese method that basically has you layering your food scraps with a material innoculated with beneficial bacteria. You seal it up into an air tight bucket, then when it's full let it sit for a few days. Then you bury it (or, in my case, use a container with some dirt on top), then in about two weeks you should have compost ready. The stuff basically pickles in the bucket.

The one big problem I'm running into is that I can't find the Bokashi bran online without being charged a lot for shipping. I ran across a method of making your own, so I now have a little science experiment going on in the kitchen. Oliver thinks I'm a little on the crazy side, I think, but I'm pretty fascinated by the whole thing.

It's a very empowering thing to be able to produce things on your own. Living here is going to teach me a lot about making do and coming up with creative solutions for stuff I can't just go out and buy anymore. I think Wyatt is catching on to this, too. A couple weeks ago, he wanted a donut. Instead of begging to go to the store, he asked me to make him one because, "we've got to do it ourself". I'm rather proud of him for that.

Speaking of Wyatt, he is doing so well with this reading program we've been using. It's a computer program that I found through an online homeschool coop. It wasn't very expensive buying through the coop, and I'm really glad I decided to go with it. Wyatt is a very tech-savvy kid. Other than keeping an eye on what he's actually doing online, I really don't have to help him with anything. He just finds a new game on the site he's allowed to go on (the Lego site is his latest obsession), then figures out how to play it by himself.

I wanted something that played to that strength and interest, and it's going very well. He's gone through ten lessons (I have him repeat one if he hasn't really grasped what it taught), and there are practice sentences with each one. Today, he read through the three sentences they had with no help at all. It's the first time he's really applied the letter sounds and other skills he's gaining to actual reading. I'm very excited for him! It's an amazing thing to watch your child learn something that will be such a life-changing tool for him later in life.

I will have some new pictures soon. I took the Lumix to the store today and got a nice shot down the aisles. I forgot to take one outside, though, so I'm going to wait until I get that to post the store pics. It's very nice having my camera back. Getting clear pictures with the Olympus was so difficult.

That's about it for me. What's new with you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mail Call

No pics today, but when I went to go pick up our mail this morning, I was excited to see five package slips. Looking at them a little closer, I realized several of them said "x2". When Wyatt handed the Second Class Petty Officer behind the counter our slips, she told us she'd meet us around back (which is really the front of the building where you park your car/golf cart). When I herded the boys there, we saw a stack of about nine boxes with our name on them.

Receiving packages is always fun, but here, it takes on a bigger significance. Nearly all of it was stuff we need: a new toaster, seed packets, dried beans, among other things. There was also a Lego Advent calendar I've been anxiously awaiting. We're obviously a little behind, but we'll just keep opening one door a day until we've finished it. I am really glad I was able to find one at a decent price.

The best thing, though, was a package from my in-laws. They had sent us a Christmas present, but also included our missing DVDs and my camera. I'm really happy to have it back!

In other news, they got some Christmas lights in at the store this week, so I grabbed a few boxes when I saw them. We always use white lights on our tree, but I brought home a string of colored lights, too. I'm not one for decorating, but Wyatt has been begging to have something outside our house, so I was happy to oblige him this year. It's a pretty weak little strand of lights wrapped around the top rail of our deck, but it has made two little boys very happy, and that is definitely worth the five bucks I paid for them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Phone System

I've never really been much of a talker when it comes to the phone. To illustrate, Oliver and I have one cell phone between us, and it's the pay as you go type. We really only use it for traveling and the rare occasion we think we might need to call home for some reason (like when he would need to be picked up from work when we lived in the States). The rest of the time, it's turned off. Typically, we have minutes that go to waste, but since it only costs us about $20 ever three months, it's no big deal. We did have a home phone, which saw moderate use, but nothing crazy.

Now that we live here, we have little choice when it comes to a phone system. Getting a cell that works here is big bucks, so we aren't even going to think about that. The phone that came with the place operates on a LAN system. The good news is that we have a U.S. phone number, so it doesn't cost extra for people to call us. The bad news is that it can be very difficult to get through. Also, while it doesn't cost us anything to have it hooked up or to call others in the LAN, it does cost about 50 cents a minute to call someone outside the system. That adds up pretty fast. A lot of people here use Skype to cut costs, but so far we have just avoided using the phone unless absolutely necessary. No one in either of our families seems to be much for the phone, either, so this hasn't really been difficult.

This past week, though, I have been quite aggravated with the phone system. I've been trying to work something out back in the States, and the situation requires that someone can actually call me back. A week went by with no word, so I tried to call this company to find out what was going on (we'd been doing it through email). They won't accept my calls because their phone system requires all incoming calls to register on the caller ID. Obviously, mine will not do this. They finally emailed me back and said they'd been trying to call, but it's always busy.

So, now I have to put this on the back burner for the next couple of weeks. Wyatt and I have eye appointments in a couple weeks, so I'm going to take care of it when I fly to WPB with him. I really do miss the ability to just handle stuff when it comes up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Is Here

Yet, this is what we were up to a couple days ago:

Before you ask, no, I have no idea why Oscar's swim trunks are so huge on him. 
It's a matching set, yet the rash guard is the same size, but almost looks like it won't fit him for much longer. 
Either he's built weird or someone mislabeled something.

It's getting a little hard to get into the whole Christmas thing this year. I've never before realized just how much of it revolves around snow, despite how rarely it actually snows on Christmas day. I grew up in the northeast, and while we often had snow just before or after, there were many years that Christmas looked more brown than white. Ironically, when we lived in Washington, it did snow on Christmas day last year. I suspect that will not be repeated this year.

I can tell when Wyatt is dealing with a bout of homesickness for his first home when he gets all nostalgic about how much he "just loves snow". Poor kid; next year, we are going skiing. With all the moving and traveling, it just wasn't possible this year.

We did spend some time putting up our tree tonight, though. Typically, I procrastinate and the tree goes up a few days ahead of time, but I figured we needed extra help getting into the spirit of things this year. Good thing we have a fake one. Otherwise, we would have had to dress up the coconut tree in our yard. That would probably have been more interesting, though...

Wyatt did so well at matching the colors and hooking the branches into the trunk 
that I think this will be his job next year.

After we assembled the somewhat dusty-smelling tree, we discovered a bit of a problem: we have no lights. Last year, several of our strings developed shorts in them, so I tossed about half of them, intending to buy new ones this year. There were a couple strings left, but apparently they either ended up in storage or somehow vanished in the move. In most places, this would be no big deal. Here, the solution is a little more complicated. I could wait to see if they will have any in the store this month, but a. they may not have any and b. someone else could easily buy them up before I see them (which is what happened to the very few bags of fresh cranberries the store got this Thanksgiving - grrr). So, I guess I'm going to be looking for some online tonight.

We did crack open a couple of the ornament boxes (ok, the boys actually got to them first and had the entire Nativity set lined up on a nearby table while we were searching for lights; that was kind of cute) and let Wyatt and Oscar hang up ornaments until they were bored. Since we will have to try to get lights on later, I didn't care where they chose to hang them. Oscar's idea of ornament hanging was something like this:

When Wyatt was his age, we had no problems with him pulling things off the tree. Oscar, though, is probably going to be a bit more challenging. I've already had to stop him from eating a glass candy cane ornament. In fairness, it really does look like a real candy cane. What actually brought the incident to my attention was his frustration at not being able to remove the string dangling from the top of it. That is one of the few ornaments hanging high in the tree now. I think a lot of the more fragile ones we didn't open yet will just stay in the box this year.