Where we left off

Where we left off

2013 has certainly been an interesting year, but I was blessed yesterday, at the very end of it, to be reunited with some of my closest friends and reminded of how special such a bond really is.

When I was accepted into UT Martin in 2008, I agreed to be roommate’s with a girl I’d gone to Governor’s School with the year before, simply because she is also a Christian and we both wanted to avoid situations like boyfriends trying to sleep over and drunken parties in the bathroom. It was almost purely a logical pairing, since neither of us knew the other hardly at all at that point.

Since then, that girl has become my best friend, my Person, my Goose, my closest sister, my maid of honor and (one of) the future “Aunties” of my children. We lived together all four years of college and have learned to both tolerate and anticipate each other’s annoying habits and quirks over time. I know that Goose is not going to take the trash out, no matter how high I let it pile up, and she knows that I’m not going to wash my share of the dishes until the sink is full and I feel like the job is worth it. But I also know it’s ok for me to borrow her hair straightener or her clothes, and she knows I’ll leave her part of whatever I cooked for dinner when I know she’s out studying and will get home in the middle of the night. She ultimately introduced me to (and helped me Facebook stalk) the Mister. I always wanted a sister, or at least a friend that was comfortable enough in my house to move about as she pleased, get her own snacks from the fridge and call my parents “mom” and “dad.” I finally have one, and the feeling is good.

I was the maid (technically matron) of honor in her wedding too, exactly three weeks after mine.

I was the maid (technically matron) of honor in her wedding too, exactly three weeks after mine. (June 2012)

We somehow managed to pick up four other young women over that first summer, and the six of us lived in one big dorm suite on campus for two years, adding two new freshmen during the second. The eight of us are known to each other and a few outsiders as “The 4D Girls,” since that’s where we lived and learned and learned to love each other. (The ladies in the cafeteria actually came to recognize us as a unit and would ask when people were missing.)

All but ML. Being cheerleaders? Who knows. (Winter 2010)

All but ML. Being cheerleaders? Who knows. (Winter 2010)

We eventually left suite 4D, two becoming resident’s assistants and living in designated dorm rooms and five eventually moving off campus to more grown-up apartments nearby. One stayed and made new 4D friends, but the feeling was never quite the same.

All eight of us at my wedding in 2012 - the last time we were all together

All eight of us at my wedding in 2012 – the last time we were all together (May 2012)

Yesterday I was able to spend the afternoon with four of them, making it the largest group of us that have all been in the same room since my wedding. People often say that best friends can pick up right where they left off and keep going after a long separation, but I want to alter that somewhat.

Reunion - Mexican food, as per tradition. (Dec. 2013)

Reunion – Mexican food, as per tradition. (Dec. 2013)

Even with as close as we are, we can’t just pick up and keep going without pause. We’re not the same people we were back on campus, or even at graduation. We started off students, not completely sure of where we were going or who we were going to turn out to be. Now, three of us are married and one is getting married this coming August. Three have full-time jobs, two are in graduate school and one is headed that way. One of us is even a mother with a seven-month-old son. We live all across the south, from Kansas to Texas, across middle Tennessee and down into Mississippi. And then of course there’s me, floating out in the ocean.

So we can’t just pick up without pause, but we can fill in the gaps and keep going, marveling along the way about how in the world we ever got to be adults. I am grateful beyond words for these girls and their families, their quirks and their dreams, and all the ways they have all helped me into adulthood and taught me to be the person I am today.

Probably one of our first group pictures, at I think our first football game as freshman (minus PM) (Fall 2008)

Probably one of our first group pictures, at I think our first football game as freshman (minus PM) (Fall 2008)

Taking cute spring pictures on campus (minus ML and AA) (Spring 2011?)

Taking cute spring pictures on campus (minus ML and AA) (Spring 2011?)

One of our annual Christmas pictures (2010)

One of our annual Christmas pictures (2010)

Me and Goose :) (Spring 2011?)

Me and Goose ­čÖé (Spring 2011?)

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Deck the halls with food and pastries, fa la la la la la la la la

Oh my goodness. I’ve eaten more food in the last week then I think I’ve had in a month on the island. That was the ultimate goal after all, so I am definitely far from complaining, but man! I’d forgotten there were so many choices in the world!

Red meat, flaky pastries, soft potatoes, fragrant sauces, dips and creams; meals served with complimentary rolls and cinnamon butter; steamed vegetables that don’t include pumpkin squash… It’s been incredible. I actually got to a point this weekend where I would have done almost anything just to sit on the couch and have a simple bowl of Captain Crunch cereal. We are so blessed to have friends and family fighting for the time to take us out to eat. My father-in-law has actually been keeping a list over the past months of places and foods that I’ve mentioned craving (which reminds me, never mention something unless you are one thousand percent sure you have to have it).

We are so incredibly blessed and happy to be home. Our first Christmas evening is tonight, with the rest of the Mister’s family exchanging gifts tomorrow and then meeting up with my side of the family starting Christmas day around dinnertime. It’s been a fantastic break so far and we still have almost two weeks until we return to what the Mister has been calling “the island of misfit toys.”

Meera, for those who’ve been wondering, is doing fine. She’s got a big yard and a half-dozen new friends to cause havoc with, so I’m more concerned about the girls watching her than I am about her. (And about the state of our old house, which has two dogs sleeping unattended in it until we return.)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

There’s no place like home…

Being home at long last has been nothing short of fantastic. Everything from the crowd of family waiting for us at the airport to the naked trees to the easy turn of the wheel in my Honda to the quick and courteous service at various restaurants and shopping centers across middle Tennessee. I had finally adjusted to island life before we left, and now that I’m here I can’t believe what we have grown accustomed to.

I mean, when I walked into Firehouse Subs today in the ‘Boro a half-dozen people shouted, “Welcome to Firehouse!” I almost fell over in fright. If somebody yelled at me when I walked into Rituals Coffee on the island I would automatically start looking for whatever I had just done horribly wrong.

We’ve been to Cracker Barrel and Olive Garden and I’ve been eating myself almost sick since we got off the plane. The mother-in-law and I went grocery shopping today and the tremendous amount of fresh foods everywhere, in their fabulous array of bright, not-rotting colors, made me want to buy and cook everything in the store just because I could. And the cashier had a CONVERSATION with us! It’s unheard of; doesn’t she know you’re not supposed to acknowledge the existence of the person in front of you until it’s time to demand their payment?? The nerve of her.

Anyway, we have lunches and dinners booked with various family members throughout this week, and I’m sure the same will happen once we get to the ‘Boro starting Christmas day. It’s just such a good feeling to be home and sleep beneath heavy piled blankets and wake up to hot chocolate and the fluffy little dogs barking at the birds in the feeders.

Oh – and something else I’ve learned since we got home – it’s apparently much easier to ski on Wii sports if you do it with your butt in the air and don’t look at the screen. The Mister now holds the family high-score, but we’ll never let him forget how he got there…

Super Seven Saturday

Wow, I’m not even sure where this Thursday went. Did we have one? I have absolutely no recollection of a Thursday this week at all. So I guess this is Top Ten Saturday; or, to keep with the whole same-letter thing I’ve got going on there, Super Seven Saturday.

So here we go – for this blog’s first even Super Seven Saturday, here are seven not-often-thought-about reasons why we are excited to be going home tonight. (The obvious ones are family, friends, the holidays, etc. but I feel like everyone knows those.)

1. It’s cold where we’re going. And not that that is particularly exciting – in fact we are scared to death, since the 73 degree low last night felt freezing to us – but it does mean that all the mosquitoes are dead, which is legitimate cause for dancing in the streets.
2. Christmas music will be playing on the radios and store speakers, and it won’t be the reggae version on steel drums either (which is just really weird).
3. We’ll get to sleep past 6:30! Yes, we love Meera to death and will miss her very much, but she’ll be having a blast in a big yard with a half dozen other dogs and we’ll get to sleep without a sudden wet nose in our faces very early in the morning.
4. I’ll finally be able to prove that I can physically get a tan! Granted, it’s not very much of one, but the fact that there is even the faintest color difference under my tank top straps is a big deal for me.
5. Home looks like Christmas. The Marriott is the only place I’ve seen a tree anywhere, and our old house is the only one I’ve ever seen with lights on it, although they are sad, droopy lights that have been there for years and no one can figure out how to turn them on. Or take them down.
6. We’ll get to pass out the awesomely cool, tropically-inspired gifts we’re bringing back. You’d be surprised the sorts of things people can make from a coconut. ­čśë
7. We’re going to get three whole weeks where we don’t have to worry about if the car is going to start, if it’s going to stay running, if something is going to fall off or if it is going to stop fast enough. We won’t have people zooming around playing chicken with oncoming traffic until they can slip three-wide back into their lane. We won’t have people stopping in the middle of the road, holding up long lines of traffic to have personal conversations with their friends. However, we will have to remember to drive on the right side of the road. And we haven’t seen a traffic light in eight months, so that could be interesting too.

What do you look forward to most when you’ve been away from home for a long time?

I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.

So it’s Monday again. Those things seem to come around every week, don’t they? But this Monday is special. This Monday is the last Monday we will spend on this island for almost a month! Hooray!!!

However, it’s also the Monday of finals week, which sort of puts a damper on the whole thing.

But, so far the Mister has been studying hard and seems to be feeling good about most things, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it all goes. Results should come out this weekend and we’ll be able to say whether or not we’re moving on to third semester by the time our plan lands in Nashville on Saturday night.

Nashville. Country music. Winter weather. Hot chocolate. Driving on the proper side of the road. Southern hospitality. Olive Garden bread sticks…. I’m just so excited I can hardly contain myself. (Southern Florida television has been showing an awful lot of Olive Garden commercials this week, thus my craving.)

It’s so close I can almost taste it.

The Mister has three more exams to finish between now and then, though, and Friday will be a day of relaxing for him and packing for me before we head to the airport early Saturday afternoon to fight two hundred other Rossies for the seats I paid for back in April. Yes, I paid for them. Yes, I have tickets. No, we are not 100% guaranteed to get on the plane. Welcome to St. Kitts and the wonderful efficiency with which everything works here. BUT, I promise you all now, I will be on that flight. I might be in an overhead bin; I might be zipped into a suitcase in cargo, but I will. be. on. that. flight. Or there will be blood in the streets.

It’ll be 1 a.m. Basseterre time when we land on good ole Tennessee soil, and we’ll be exhausted, stiff and sore, but dog gonnit, we’ll be home.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Because I just saw this and I love it so much

It could have been me. It could have been you.

Aren’t you glad it wasn’t?

Your baby can have a rich, vibrant life, even if it’s with someone else. Give it that chance.

**Disclaimer: My mother would like for me to mention that this would not literally have been me because she would not have made that choice. Just in case anyone was concerned.

Top Ten (Friday) – Ten things I want to tell people when they say, “Oh you’re living in the Caribbean? That’s like an awesome vacation every day!”

Don’t ever say that. Ever. Really. I may hurt you.

Yes, I can see how a Caribbean cruise would be fun. Even spending a week on an exotic island, basking in the sun and sleeping on posh beds in a nice hotel with an ocean view. But it drives me CRAZY when people tell me that I’m just on a really long vacation. Visiting a place like this and living full-time in a place like this are two completely different things. The main tourist attractions may be pretty and shiny and exciting, but this is still a third-world country and when you get down to the nitty-gritty aspects of everyday life, it’s not as shiny as you thought. Here are ten things I want you to think about the next time you feel the urge to tell me I’m on vacation.

1. I pay 17% tax on everything – groceries, restaurants, clothing, trinkets, household items… Literally everything. And that’s in addition to the 12% service charge at any establishment with “customer service,” which, no, is not the server’s tip. That’s extra. And it’s not just for my one-week stay; that’s every day for two and a half years.
2. When was the last time you got an electric bill? Beginning of this month? That must be nice. We still haven’t gotten any bills from September. Electric bills are 4-5 months behind, and when they come in they are a bulk sum for several months, due in full immediately or they shut your services off. And another thing, how much was your bill? Try having $300-400 a month (for a one bedroom apartment) for five months all due at once.
3. People seem to think I live on the beach. I haven’t been to the beach in months. It gets old really, really fast, I assure you. You can only do a thing over and over again so many times before it loses all significance and becomes a chore.
4. The last time you went to the grocery store, did someone ask you how you were doing? Did they offer to help you find something? Did the cashier smile, make small talk, or even tell you your bill total? Lucky. The last time I went to the grocery store (and actually every time I’ve been to the grocery store for a long time) the clerk I asked for assistance looked me up and down and continued the conversation she was having with a friend. The cashier snatched my shopper’s card from me, did not respond when I said hello, and then held her hand out for my payment without telling me my total and seemed exasperated when I asked how much I owed. That’s normal. It happens everywhere. You get used to it.
5. You have to count your items when you start to leave a grocery store, not because you may have left one on the counter, but because sometimes the person you thought was a bagger wasn’t a bagger at all, but a local townsperson picking through your groceries and bagging what she wants for herself and walking off with it, leaving you the rest. It’s happened before.
6. We have several problems with our car right now, including fuel pump issues and a bent rear wheel that wobbles when we drive. People from home tell me, “just take it to a repair shop and they can fix that sort of thing quickly.” But what you don’t understand is that there is no such thing as a real repair shop here. There are men with “shops” on the side of the road and in back alleys who work on cars, some of whom are pretty well recommended but many of which pop up overnight. There is a dealership that does repairs, but only on certain items on certain types of cars, and of you don’t fit that criteria you’re out of luck. And no matter where you take your car, you are not going to get it back quickly. So we prioritize, or, in other words, we drive it until it will go no more, then we worry about the repairs.
7. Do you have free access to your bank account? Do you have a debit or credit card with your name on it that you can use anywhere? That must be nice. I don’t have access to anything because I’m not a student – and therefore not as important – and I can’t jump through the ridiculous hoops to fulfill the bank’s other requirements (a letter from a doctor or lawyer to show my upstanding character, a letter from our previous bank detailing the type and number of my monthly transactions and average balance, an account record of two years or more with the same institution, and a long list of other things). So I have to use Matthew’s card and hope no one contests me and have any money I might make made out to him, since I wouldn’t be able to cash or deposit a check with my name on it.
8. There is nothing for children here. Nothing. Granted, we don’t have children of our own, but I am a nanny for two toddlers and there is nothing for them to do here. No parks or playgrounds, no public walking tracks, no children’s centers and few houses with suitable yards. When was the last time your kids got to go play outside? Did you take them to the playground? Did you turn them lose in your yard so they could work off some energy while you took a few moments of peace to drink your coffee and make a grocery list? Kids can’t do that here, so obviously this is not a good permanent-vacation spot for you.
9. Tourist stuff is great when you’re a tourist looking for “I heart St. Kitts” T-shirts or beach shorts, novelty shot glasses, key chains or Christmas ornaments, but when you’re living here full-time and just want a new pair of pants, it’s incredibly annoying. I haven’t found a store here yet that sells normal clothes for normal, everyday people. I guess the true locals must get clothing somewhere, but I have yet to find it (and people here seem to have missed the memo that the ’80s are over, anyway). Everyone I ask just tells me to order online from Target and wait until I get home to try it on.
10. Did you work hard for a degree and a job? Did you jump through all the appropriate hoops, climb all the acceptable stairs and pass through the conventional doors to get an adult career? So did I. And now I’m a babysitter, like I’m back in high school working for extra spending money so I could go to the movies on the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love Thing 1 and Thing 2 (usually) and I’m grateful to be bringing in a bit of money, but it does create a bit of an identity crisis. I am an adult and I want to be treated like a grown woman with a family of my own – an equal with the parents and on a first-name basis. Yet I’m working an adolescent job, something young adults back home would do for free as a favor to friends and that only teenage girls get paid for, so that makes me feel like I have to be “Mr. H this” and “Mrs. H that” and be younger and subservient all the time, which in turn leads them to treat me like a teenage babysitter rather than a grown woman. I really haven’t figured out how to resolve that yet. Suggestions?

Anyway, just thought I would provide some food for thought on this particular topic, especially since we’re about to head home for the holidays and I’m sure I’ll encounter this statement many times before we return. Feel free to pass this along and maybe save me some of the explaining time.