Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Losing weight on a cruise ship is no fun...

...especially when you're just 1 year old - or 3 - or 31.

Especially if it is caused by five days of vomiting and diarrhea (for the Banana; the Papaya had only 2 days; Husband and I had mild illness).

The first 2 days of our cruise were a lot of fun.

The last 5 nights and days could have been better.

Sometimes the things you dread really do happen.

We spent $25 on self-service laundry on the cruise ship.

At least somebody else was washing our linens every day, and cleaning our room for us.

We gave our cabin stewards generous tips. They deserved them.

We are glad to be home again, even if it is cold and the wind is gusting up to 50 MPH, and you get sand and dust-blasted every time you step outside. The children are even happier to be home.

It will be a while before we cruise again.

It wasn’t all bad. It was beautifully warm and humid in the Mexican ports of call, and we even dragged the sick kids off the ship for the last two stops (Mazatlan & Cabo san Lucas) and managed to have a good time on the beach. We saw a humpback and a few gray whales from a distance, along with several blowspouts (although my hoped-for zodiac trip with Husband was nixed). Our obstructed balcony cabins were wonderful, especially since we were stuck in them quite a bit. Just watching the water of the Pacific was lovely.

The formal night in the Goodwill dress happened before the sickness, and was a lot of fun. Husband and I had portraits taken for fun, which turned out so well that my mother-in-law plunked down $20 for one of them. And despite a clingy Banana, an open-backed stretchy dress, and no bra, I managed to avoid entertaining the entire dining room with another wardrobe malfunction*.

I’m hoping we’ve gotten all the sickness out of our systems, so that the upcoming visit of my sister and her family (from Wazoo Farm in Pennsylvania) won’t be a repeat of either our ill-fated cruise or their visit from last year.

*On our last cruise (two years ago, courtesy of my brother-in-law’s great airline benefits), I wore a silk wrap-around skirt that my mother-in-law brought me from Thailand, with a blouse that just came down to my waist. For the last 20 minutes or so of the formal dinner in the dining room, a tired and bored Papaya (less than 2 years old at the time) snuggled and went to sleep on my lap, kneading his feet into my belly. When we finally got up to leave, I took a few steps away from the table and realized, to my intense embarrassment, that the Papaya’s feet had completely undone the tie of my skirt. The entire skirt fluttered to my feet, creating quite a show for the scores of diners behind me. Since I was holding a sleeping Papaya, I couldn’t grab it, and was reduced to communicating my distress with hysterical laughter. My mother-in-law and husband grabbed the skirt and wrapped it around me as quickly as they could, then ushered me out of the dining room to the sounds of great hilarity from my fellow diners. I was comforted by the fact that at least my underpants were not old, and matched the color of the skirt I had been wearing. My brother-in-law definitely saw a lot more than he probably wished to, but at least my father-in-law missed the show. Happily, there was no repeat offense this year.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Heads Carolina, Tails California...

...Someplace greener, someplace warmer..."

To satisfy a fairly inexplicable desire I had to listen to country music, my brother-in-law downloaded I-Tunes and put together a country music mix for me last Christmas. "Heads Carolina, Tails California" really resonated with me, and has been playing through my head fairly constantly for the last couple weeks of cold & brown here. [Side note: the Papaya loves that song, too, because Lightning McQueen went to California in the Cars movie, and therefore the song must be about the Cars movie.]

And by brown, I mean brown - there is virtually no (natural) green in sight at all - no evergreens, bushes - nothing! Only the few hardy mint leaves that survive the cold, as well as the beautiful little shoots of lettuce, arugula, and chard in the small cold frame my husband built in our back yard - but you can't see those without opening the top. And that, my friends, is it as far as green goes in the great outdoors in our neck of the semi-desert.

And by cold, I mean cold inside as well as outside - our propane tank got down to 5%, and with our next fill-up not scheduled until Thursday, we turned the thermostat down low to conserve fuel. With all tile floors, this means cold! And it snowed 6 inches last night! Brrrr!

But there's an even better reason the song has been playing in my head - we are going to California! Leaving tomorrow for Phoenix! Flying to Los Angeles on Friday! And even better - we're not going to stay in Southern California very long. Taking advantage of our military benefits to procure great low-cost fares, we plan to spend next week sitting out on a balcony (obstructed, but still a balcony) of the Carnival Pride, basking in warm breezes (and humidity, I hope - I really miss humidity!) and watching whales breach in the waters of the Mexican Riviera.

I am very excited. We will be cruising with Husband's brother & mom (who get cheap fares using airline benefits, since Husband's brother is a pilot) and plan to have a wonderful, relaxing time. Husband has been working really hard lately (including two full nights in a row last weekend), and it will be nice to unwind with him. And since the cruise ship has two formal nights, I'll finally get a chance to wear the sexy velvet black dress my mom bought me for fun from Goodwill a couple of years ago! Husband's even going to dust off his suit to wear with me!

Since I'll be dressing formally in my elegant Goodwill gown, I decided I should hunt up some make-up to really look the part. I went searching, and found: lipstick, bought on my wedding day almost 7 years ago; blush, given to me 9 years ago by my aunt who used to sell Mary Kay; mascara, which I bought 7 years ago from a strawberry farm employee who was trying to raise money to go on a missions trip; and foundation of indeterminate age & origin (but at least 7 years old). I actually did buy new mascara & foundation (the cheapest I could find - WOW! make-up is expensive, even from Walmart!) but figure the old blush & lipstick won't kill me.

I'm going to fit right in with all those southern California girls on the cruise!

Next post after the cruise! Goodbye!

P.S. The propane guy just came - a day early! I just turned up the thermostat to 66 degrees! I can take a long, hot shower! Vacation is beginning already!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

100 Great Things About Living Here

The post I just wrote (about schooling blues) seemed pretty negative to me, so I thought I'd see if I could quickly list 100 of the things I love about living here. It really wasn't that hard. Here they are (although I'm sure I'll think of many more over the next few days):

1. Sunshine almost every day.
2. Looking out my back window and seeing for over 100 miles.
3. The ever changing, enormous sky. Sky-watching.
4. Being able to see almost all of the sky (no trees).
5. Summer thunderstorm clouds.
6. Monsoon season with spectacular summer thunderstorms.
7. Watching our kids enjoy the puddles (sitting water is a great novelty) after a spectacular summer thunderstorm.
8. Badger Butte (the beautiful butte about 11 miles away when I look out my back window).
9. Nipple Butte (also out my back window; a distinctive landmark that is aptly named).
10. The Hopi Buttes (a whole landscape of old volcanic cores – we can see some of them out our back window and others as we drive to Winslow.)
11. Spectacular sunsets filling the whole sky.
12. Spectacular sunsets that make Badger Butte glow crimson.
13. Med-evac airplanes landing and taking off on the airstrip about ¼ mile out our back window (my kids love them).
14. Med-evac helicopters that sometimes come, as well.
15. Walking to The Tree with my family (about 1 ½ miles away).
16. The Tree itself (a lovely big cottonwood).
17. The wash The Tree sits in (a place of dry sandy fun most of the year; very occasionally, a rushing river).
18. Walking anywhere behind our house with our family.
19. Finding beetles as we walk (in the summer).
20. Watching harvester ants in the summer.
21. Watching hummingbirds fight each other off at our feeder in the summer.
22. Watching other little birds congregate at our seed feeders the rest of the year.
23. The fact that despite night time temperatures in the single digits and brown clay soil, our outdoor mint has continued to produce edible leaves throughout this winter (did I mention the sunshine almost every day)?
24. The fact that our house faces south (thus taking good advantage of the sunshine almost every day).
25. The beautiful, open architecture of our Southwestern-style house.
26. The abundance of light and sunshine that fills our house every day.
27. The sense of community among the medstaff living here.
28. The wonderful informal potlucks residents here host for each other fairly frequently.
29. The incredible vegetarian food served at those potlucks (people here can really get into cooking).
30. The many Hopi runs that take place and the fun sense of community expressed at those runs.
31. The Hopi Wellness Center (an incredible, free workout center that includes high-quality, free childcare), and that I, even though I am a pahanna, am somehow eligible for.
32. Bacavi Community Fellowship Church.
33. Our wonderful, informal, never-know-what-to-expect, flexible 2-3 hour church services.
34. Singing congregational-chosen hymns and choruses for an hour each Sunday morning at our church.
35. Singing Hopi language songs at church.
36. Not feeling overly self-conscious when I badly attempt to sight-read strange hymns as I accompany worship with the piano (because nobody is being critical).
37. The wonderful and dedicated Christians, both Hopi and pahanna, that we know from our church.
38. The spectacular view from the windows of our mesa-top church.
39. Potlucks at our church (usually NOT heavy on the vegetarian food, unless we bring it!)
40. & free shipping (yeah, you can get this wherever you live, but it has special meaning to us here because of how far away we have to go to shop).
41. (see above).
42. (we do enough travel that this has become an incredibly useful and fun way to plan our trips and stay in nice hotels).
43. Curling up with Husband after the kids are in bed, putting on a Netflix, opening up a pint of Haadgen Daz, & feeling like it is a Grand Occasion.
44. Learning to rock-climb from other medstaff in Jack's Canyon.
45. Burning the local cedar, pinon, and aspen we bought in Flagstaff in our back-yard fire pit.
46. The clear night sky on the reservation and amazing star show that is available to us.
47. All the Really Cool Places there are to visit within a four hour driving radius of our house.
48. Going camping in some of those Cool Places.
49. 30 days of paid vacation for Husband a year.
50. Having the time and expendable income to do some cool vacations.
51. Having the time & expendable income to treat friends & family to some sight-seeing when they come to visit us (hear that, friends & family)?
52. Living in a place that actually makes friends & family want to come visit us for reasons other than just us (this never happened when we lived in York, PA)!
53. Military benefits without really being in the military.
54. Fort Tuthill Military Recreation Area in Flagstaff.
55. Staying in a cabin or A-frame at Fort Tuthill.
56. Enjoying the snow tube run at Fort Tuthill.
57. Bright sunshine almost every day.
58. The San Francisco Peaks, our own personal mountain range.
59. Gazing at the San Francisco Peaks almost every day, even though they are over 100 miles away.
60. Watching the sun set behind the San Francisco Peaks and turn the sky red; seeing them silhouetted against the burning sky.
61. Visiting Flagstaff & getting onto the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks.
62. Hiking in Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.
63. The West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon.
64. The fascinating, picturesque mesa-top villages on the Hopi Reservation.
65. The wonderful celebration and sense of community and pageantry expressed at Hopi social dances (although the jury – i.e. our Christian Hopi friends – seems to be out on whether or not Christians should attend those dances).
66. The fact that my husband can walk to work.
67. The fact that my husband usually walks home for lunch, even if it’s only for five minutes.
68. The cottonwood & Navajo Willow trees my husband planted in our yards.
69. Watching our Hopi Christian friends make their faith their own.
70. The sense of adventure our friends here have; their appreciation for a lot of what we believe is important in life.
71. Not having any kind of TV reception at all!
72. Watching our kids grow up less exposed to what we believe are some of the negative aspects of American culture.
73. Having a health care center, staffed with friends, within easy walking distance.
74. The fairly laid-back, positive experience of delivering a baby in a health care center staffed by friends, and being able to walk back home right afterwards.
75. The bright, yellow wildflowers that sprang up in the desert and in our yard last summer.
76. Driving to the post office with my kids to pick up our mail (it’s always something of an occasion).
77. Navigating the pockmarked, seen-better-days road through the village of Polacca to get to the post office, while seeing how fast I can drive without hitting any big potholes. (Answer: not very fast.)
78. Helping the Papaya open our PO Box & watching both the children excitedly pulling the mail out.
79. Finding a package slip in our PO Box & the excitement of redeeming it at the window for a package!
80. Never knowing whether our trash is going to be picked up on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. I actually like the quirkiness of the system!
81. Learning about the local flora, fauna, & systems & figuring out how things work here.
82. Seeing life as an adventure.
83. Having lots and lots of space.
84. Idyllic summer evening weather.
85. The fact that going shopping is a family occasion (Husband would not consider this a positive, but I usually enjoy our shopping marathons in Flagstaff, as long as I’m not alone).
86. The fun of stocking up, then making do (sometimes creatively) until the next shopping marathon.
87. Spending the night in a Flagstaff hotel & splashing in their pool & hot tub with my family.
88. The excitement of a winter snow and watching the San Francisco Peaks become snow covered.
89. Exploring ancient cliff dwellings and discovering petroglyphs at nearby Canyon de Chelley, Betatakin, and Montezuma's Castle.
90. Slowly making friendships with other Hopi.
91. Taking a tour of Walpi Village, the 2nd oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States (the oldest village is also on the Hopi Reservation, but is not as spectacular).
92. Taking friends on a tour of Walpi Village.
93. Singing Hopi language Christmas carols at the electricity-less homes of elderly people in the villages at Christmas time – a truly cross-cultural experience.
94. The novelty, excitement, and sense of accomplishment of actually helping something nice (besides mint) to grow in our yard.
95. Learning to appreciate the beauty of rocks as a primary landscaping medium.
96. Watching trains and experiencing the green grass and wonderful food at La Posada in Winslow.
97. Suddenly having the Little Painted Desert open up in front of us when we take a short turn-off off the road from Winslow to the Hopi Reservation.
98. The somewhat quirky honor of being asked to be the local leadership of the Mennonite Voluntary Service, even though we’re not (nor have we ever been) Mennonite, just because there was nobody else who seemed to fit the bill.
99. The Hopi Mission School, which brings back happy memories of small missionary schools I grew up with.
100. Often having the feeling that we’re living in another country, but without being too far away from a lot of our friends & family.
101. (Bonus) Did I mention it already? Wonderful sunshine streaming into my house almost every day of the year!

Schooling Blues (also Titled, “Why It’s Hard to Recruit New Doctors With Families to Live Here”)

When Husband & I first moved here (a year and a half ago), we started out with a three year contract. This would conveniently allow us to move somewhere else the summer before the Papaya became kindergarten material, thus expanding our school options for him.

Last September, however, Husband (with my blessing) signed a four year contract, making our total stay here five years, two of which the Papaya will be school-aged. So the theoretical question of whether or not we’ll send him to First Mesa Elementary School has become not-so-theoretical. On top of this quandary, we’ve added the question of whether or not we should send the Papaya to the Head Start program here this coming Fall.

In response to the schooling debate over on Jordana’s blogsite, I’ve been inspired to type out some of our own struggles regarding school options for our children. While I’ve learned recently that our dilemmas are in no way exceptional to us, but that even parents in suburbia struggle with how to school their kids, I think that living here has presented us with some unique concerns.

If someone had asked me those two questions (from paragraph before last) the first month we lived here, I would have answered, 1. “Probably”, and 2. “No way! Who needs it?”. After a year and a half of living here, these answers have changed to 1. “Almost certainly not”, and 2. “No way, but I wish there was something of some sort available to us.”

The reasons we initially considered sending the Papaya to First Mesa Elementary included the following:

1. We really wanted to fit in here, and not be seen as the high and mighty Pahanna (white people), too good to send their children to school with everybody else. After all, we came here to serve and to try to befriend and live in community (to some extent) with other Hopi.

2. We thought it would be neat for the Papaya to go to school in a multicultural setting. The schools here really do try to teach Hopi culture, and even some of the Hopi language, to their students. We plan to spend most of our lives living & working in cultures different from our own, and we really want the Papaya to play and be friends with kids who are different from himself.

3. The elementary school building was brand new, and beautiful. We were hoping that the nice facility might draw some higher caliber teachers.

4. We know that (for a variety of sad reasons) most reservation schools are ranked near the bottom of any list. But we planned to teach the Papaya a lot at home, anyway. We figured that even if he didn’t learn anything at school, what we could teach him at home would be sufficient for his early years.

5. Our MD friends who sent their children there had mostly positive (or at least not a lot of negative) things to say.

The idea of sending my child to Head Start (or that a child with a parent earning an MD salary would even be eligible for Head Start) seemed crazy. But I soon found out that not only was everyone living here eligible, no matter what their economic circumstances (because there are NO other preschool options of any sort within 80 miles), but that it was the expected thing to do when your child turned 4 (or even 3 ½). My next door neighbor and good friend of last year, who was also pahanna (and whose husband was another doctor) sent her 4 year old daughter to Head Start, and it was a great experience for all concerned. While it’s doubtful whether or not her daughter learned anything academically she hadn’t already learned at home, she matured socially & became a much nicer person to be with, and my neighbor finally developed friendships with Hopi women, something she had been hoping to do for over two years. She urged me strongly to send the Papaya there as soon as he was eligible (he actually has been eligible since Christmas).

Meanwhile, over the past year and a half, just about all of the families with kids that lived on the health care center compound moved away. It’s hard to express the isolation here to somebody who’s never visited. We lived on a compound, attached to the health care center, that is owned by the Hopi Tribe and houses health care center staff. There’s a playground at the center of the compound, which, for my first few months, was a real social center for parents & children during the day. But now all but 3 of these families have moved away (and two of the remaining families are moving in the next few months) & the playground is usually empty. On the entire reservation (a fairly large area), there are 2 gas stations and 2 small food marts that I know of, as well as one convenience store. There’s not even a library. The nearest town with real services is Winslow, 80 miles away, and the nearest town that’s really fun to go to is Flagstaff, about 100 miles and a 2 hour drive away. Our small church is a 30 minute drive away. When I look out my back window, I can usually see for over 100 miles (there are no trees) and there is not another house in sight.

Before moving here, we lived in downtown York, PA. I don’t recommend it (the downtown area) as a place to bring up kids – it has a gritty, Eastern inner-city feel; we had no yard and sometimes heard gunshots from our house; we could watch drug deals taking place in our back alley. However, even from inner-city York, the Papaya and I could walk to a nice library, where he could play with other kids and we could read together. We could walk to the YWCA and take a Mom & Tots swimming class together, where he would interact with other kids & I would interact with other women. We could walk to a church where I went to a Tuesday morning Bible study. He would play with the other kids in the nursery & I would enjoy relationships with other women. We could get in our car and, within 15 minutes, drive to a grocery store, the mall, and several lovely parks/ playgrounds.

I actually love the place where we live – after all, we chose to extend our time here. There are many wonderful things about living here, and I’m starting to build some relationships and beginning to feel a sense of belonging. But I hadn’t really thought about how much all of the things I just mentioned had become part of the fabric of my day, and how much the Papaya (& the Banana) & I would be left to our own resources here, especially when the majority of the other families moved away.

So, mostly for the social interaction aspect of it (for both of us), and because enough people were recommending it to me, I played around (just a little bit) with the idea of sending the Papaya to Head Start. But over the last few months, I’ve heard enough negative things about it (some just unbelievable) that I’ve gone back to my original “No way!” Moreover, Husband & I have gotten uncomfortable enough about the school system here in general to pretty much decide on an alternative for the Papaya when he enters kindergarten.

For one, the nearest Head Start program (First Mesa) runs all day (including breakfast & lunch), four days a week. This just seems like an awful lot for a 3 or 4 year old. You are not allowed to enroll your child “part time” – it’s all or nothing. This, by itself, is enough of a reason for me not to send the Papaya. Unfortunately, there are more:

Last year, there were three occasions in which the Head Start school bus driver just didn’t show up to pick up my neighbor’s daughter (or anybody else, for that matter) for a few days. He didn’t even call in to say he wouldn’t be able to do it – he just completely disappeared. “He’s got to be in jail,” my neighbor reasoned. “Why else can nobody reach him?” “Yeah,” I joked, “he’s in jail for DUI!” Well, as it turned out, he was in jail for DUI – three times throughout the course of the school year. The administrators knew about it, but kept on giving him another chance. And it turned out that this had been going on the previous year, too! My neighbor, slightly guiltily (see reason #1 above that we considered sending the Papaya to public school), started driving her daughter to Head Start. Not until the statewide Head Start evaluation team showed up & heard about it (because of some whistle-blower teacher) was the driver fired (with no one to take his place). And this was almost at the end of the school year!

Despite her & her daughter’s good experience with Head Start, my neighbor was disgusted & angered at the end of last year because the bad teachers were retained or promoted, while the good, dedicated teachers were not. This had to do with clan connections and local politics.

A Head Start teacher from the Third Mesa program who goes to our church complained to another church member (a HVAC specialist) that the staff & students at her Head Start had just been feeling sick and dizzy and tired all day, for several weeks. The HVAC guy went to check things out. Although he was not allowed to make any repairs or get too close, he quickly ascertained that the school’s heater was not installed properly, meaning that carbon monoxide was being piped into the building all day. There were no detectors.

Two of our Christian Hopi friends pulled their children out of Head Start last year, largely because the Hopi religion was pushed so strongly & their children were not allowed to express their Christian religion at all. This is a tricky thing – it seems that the Hopi religion is tied so closely into the Hopi culture, that when a Hopi school tries to instill a sense of cultural pride & belonging in its students, it nearly always involves teaching & promoting Hopi religion. For example (from what I’ve heard), our friends’ children were not allowed to say grace over their meals, and were asked to leave some of each meal untouched, for the kachinas (spiritual messengers, almost like gods). This is one of the main reasons we’re reluctant to send the Papaya to public school here at such an impressionable age. I don’t think public school should promote any religion, Christian or Hopi or anything else, and it makes me uncomfortable that they do (although I understand and even sympathize with the reasons behind it).

Homeschooling sounds somewhat fun, but I’d really like us to have a little more contact with the reservation world. We’re isolated enough as it is.

Happily, it looks like there is an option that, starting in kindergarten, would allow the Papaya to still interact with other children, different from himself, and even learn some of the Hopi culture (but not the Hopi religion). It would also provide a small class size (this year, I think there are about 6 students in the kindergarten), and, hopefully, a more flexible environment and dedicated teachers than the public school. The Hopi Mission School is a small school (about 50 students, grades K-6), founded about 50 years ago by the Mennonites. Though no longer officially Mennonite (it has a local board now), it is still staffed largely by Mennonite teachers. It really is a small school, and brings back happy memories of small, fairly informal schools I went to in Bangladesh & Kenya. It seems to be pretty good academically, at least compared to surrounding schools (my husband works with a nurse whose husband is a teacher at the public elementary school, but sends their son to the Hopi Mission School), and has dedicated teachers. I’m actually pretty excited about the option, and hope it proves to be a positive start for the Papaya’s academic (and social) experience.

And as for preschool – I’m still hoping I can work some sort of “co-op” thing out with a couple of my Hopi friends with preschoolers (all girls). Now, if we could only find a boy around the Papaya’s age for him to play with…