Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cue the Ugly Cry...

I don't know what it is about this week.  I'm being pelted by emotions in regard to teaching.  If you didn't know, before I became an island housewife, I was a middle school band director.  Yes, you read that right.  I *did* say Middle School and I *did* say band.  Was I crazy??  Yes probably.  But I was crazy in love with those crazy kids.  I still am.  I still quote their silly sayings, funny stories come to mind and I still laugh out loud sometimes, I see pictures of them on Facebook doing amazing things from time to time and my heart just soars (and sometimes it breaks because I can't believe I've got kids who will be seniors next year who were at one time my middle school babies!...they're growing up WAY too fast...).  Teaching at Keller was my first job.  I started that program from the ground up under the direction of my amazing boss, Diane, who honestly trusted me way more than I trusted myself to do that job.  I was a brand new baby teacher having to make decisions about how to spend a $60,000 budget to start up a band program.  I had no idea where to even begin!

That first year was rough.  It was the year of a new president, the swine flu, and hurricane Ike.  The learning curve was literally STRAIGHT up.  It was all I could do to keep my head above water...I was racing to try and keep up with my students!  I worked my tail off.  Put in 12 hour days 5-6 days a week sometimes.  Somehow, by the grace of God alone, I survived that year.  And even better than that, my principal was thrilled with the end product I had created and was so encouraging about what she was expecting for the next year.  So, weary as I was, I tackled another year.  And then another.  And it got better every year...

Each class of kids brought it's own challenges.  In every class there were those very special students who are literally imprinted on my heart forever.  They weren't always the "best musicians" in my class. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren't.  The kids who had profound impacts on me were the ones who were full of heart.  And let me tell you, I had a TON of kids with heart.  I taught in a Title I school in a low income community.  And before I got there, the mentality was "Well, it would be nice if *those* kids could do a little band.  Something's better than nothing.  But they probably won't compete with the other middle schools in the area."  HA!  In 4 years, I raised the bar on performance with those kids.  I had 6th graders competing against 7th and 8th graders in All-City tryouts and holding their own.  One even made alternate...he beat out 8 other 7th and 8th grade tubas to get there!!  My groups went to solo and ensemble and pulled I's!  They went to Concert and Sight Reading and kicked butt and took names.  We played a very advanced program my last year and we had a curmudgeonly old band director (who was RARELY "blown away") blown away.  She was actually flustered when she came up to talk with the kids because she couldn't believe they'd pulled off what they had just played.  And then in addition to that, my first big class of kids to hit the local high school were snagging marching spots over upperclassmen!  And they were killing it!!  

So if you can't tell, I'm sort of like a proud mama.  Me and those crazy kids went to war and back man. I kicked their butts and they rose to the challenge.  I threw things at them that they shouldn't have been able to handle and they killed it.  I take NO real credit for any of that, though, because I believe whole heartedly that I was just a woman blessed to be in the right place at the right time with the world's best bunch of band kids.  It's just unheard of.  Really.  And my heart can't contain the joy I feel when I see them succeeding now.  I saw a picture of my illustrious tuba player carrying his tuba off the stage after a performance not too long ago.  And I couldn't stop the tears.  Proud doesn't really describe it...

I've got a student who has undergone surgery for scoliosis.  She is the picture of grace and strength and she has grown into a beautiful young lady.  And yes, she's a lady.  No longer a child.  I wish she, and all her classmates, would slow down a minute...I can't keep up!  God really did overwhelm me with blessings while I taught those little monsters.  I'm a better woman for it!  My sweet little Emily (that *lady* I spoke about) posted this on my wall today:


"I went to Keller today and went to the band hall, and took a picture of this qoute in the hallway before they demolished the building .... then I walked into my first ever band class and so many memories came back to me. This is were I learned to play my first and only instrument the flute. I learned from the best band teacher in the world and that was Mrs.Womack! I am so thankful to have had this woman as my first ever band teacher. She was more than that honestly. And I really really miss her. Even though I'm not in band anymore I will still be forever thankful for all that she taught me. Love you Miss!"



How could I not bawl after reading that??  This tattered old quote is what you see when you walk out the door of my band hall.  It was painted by the first art teacher at Keller in an attempt to make our "gently used" building (that was built in like 1954) a little more homey while we waited for the bond to be pushed through to build us a new building.  They are in the process of demolishing that building now and building a new one in its place.  That room, full of so many good memories, will be rubble in a few months.  That seriously makes my heart hurt.  There was something magical that happened in that room those 4 years.  I'm blessed to have had a part in it.  And I can't contain my excitement for what the future holds for all my babies.  Yes, they're my babies!  They saw me through some rough times, they held me up, made me better, challenged me.  And I wouldn't be the same today if I hadn't gotten the amazing opportunity to call myself their teacher!  I always told them that in my room they would learn to work as a team, how to set goals and meet them, how to challenge themselves...and I hoped they'd learn how to play an instrument along the way too.  It was more important to me that they become upstanding men and women...it was just a HUGE fringe benefit that they were also spectacular musicians that made my job look easy!

Once a Keller Ranger...Always a Keller Ranger!  To say I am *proud* of all of you is the understatement of the century...

SO MUCH love to my crazy band kids!

Mrs. Womack


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Authenticity At Its Finest...

Lately I feel like I'm being left behind...

I feel like I'm smooshed under a giant weight that I can't shake.  I can't wiggle from beneath it.  I can't even push it off my chest for a minute to gasp for air.  I feel like a dog tethered to a pole...mere feet from the most delicious steak I've ever seen.  I want it so badly.  I can taste it.  But I just can't get to it.  Even if I got the world's best running start, that darn pole and the chain restraining me would whip me painfully back into reality the second I got too close.

I. Want. A. Baby.  How many times can I write about it before you stop choosing to read my sobs?  The want sucks the very life from me sometimes.  There are hours that I lie in bed or sit in my chair and float off to dreamland where my sweet angel is in my arms.  I am rocking my baby so sweetly and quietly just waiting for Daddy to get home.  It's peaceful, serene, and I feel complete.  It's more than a daydream.  That picture gets more vivid every day!  And I can't help but wonder if, instead of that picture being a truthful reality in my future, I'll just spiral into some psychotic fugue state where I don't know which end is up.  Am I crazy?  Will this want *make* me crazy??  It's not as though I want something completely ridiculous or inconceivable (well I guess so far it's been technically inconceivable...).  I. Want. A. Child.

A dear friend of mine recently had a sweet baby boy.  He's beautiful.  And the day he was born my heart just soared for her!  My first question: How does it feel to be a mommy?  Her answer:


Oh my gosh it was the most overwhelming feeling I've ever had. As soon as I felt them lift him out and showed him to me over the curtain I just started crying from all the emotions I was having! It is amazing!  It's such a blessing and confirmation of who I'm supposed to be as a person...

In one instant after reading that text I had two VERY intense feelings.  First, an overwhelming excitement for my sweet friend.  A blissful happiness for the beauty she is experiencing.  I told her "It's what you were created for after all!", to which her response was, "You were too!".  

And in that same instance, the breathe was sucked right from my body.  I couldn't breathe.  Not a single muscle in my face moved, but an avalanche of tears began streaming down my face.  It wasn't because my dear friend acknowledged my want.  She knows what Jonathan and I have been through trying to conceive and she knows me at my core.  No, it wasn't because of the acknowledgement.  It was terror.  Overwhelming terror.  Because even though I can say until I'm blue in the face that I'm "trusting the plan", my poor ignorant human heart is overwhelmingly influenced by the idea that maybe, even though I believe to the core of my being that I was indeed created for motherhood, I will never feel complete in this lifetime.  Because lets be real.  It's certainly a possibility.  I can't see the future...can you?

I think I've been saying for the last 2 years that I think "our time is near".  Every month I tell Jonathan with a sweet smile that "this could be our month".  When the middle of my cycle comes, I think "Could this one be Maggie?  Is this egg my Greysen?".  And even though I'm grateful to be having a normal cycle for the first time maybe ever, and I'm actually ovulating thanks to 0.25mg of a "magic pill" once a week, when that fateful "Day 1" starts, I am crushed.  Can you imagine?  I have been crushed somewhere in the ballpark of 50 times in the last 4+ years.  Back to back to back.  Crushed.  And I stupidly am at it for more immediately after.  I brush myself off, Jonathan helps me dry my tears, and we start charting that BBT again.  Nearly every morning for the last 4 years I wake up thinking about conceiving while taking my basal body temperature.  I stumble to the bathroom and take my prenatal vitamin which makes me mildly queasy all day long.  And I've spent hours on the internet calculating possible due dates, ovulation days, luteal phases, and doing more research on reproduction, pregnancy, and labor/delivery than I care to share.  I could write the book by now...

If you've spoken with me personally about my struggle with infertility, chances are you got "Resilient Rachel".  You probably got the rehearsed response of, "We know God has a plan and we are holding fast to that.  It's going to happen in His perfect timing!" <---insert exclamation points and smiley emoticons.  What you haven't heard is what I'm really thinking behind that porcelain resilient outer shell.  When you say "I'm praying for you!  I know you're going to be a mommy soon...I can feel it!", I'm really thinking this:

"Can you really feel it?  Please tell me you have some sort of direct line and that you're getting something that I'm not getting.  Because each month I swear I hear Him say 'Rachel, how much more will I bless you my child?', and yet each month it's a hard and fast no to my heart's most deep seated desire.  So I'm beginning to think that the 'still small voice' I'm hearing is just my ridiculously intense desire to be a mommy manifesting itself into some sort of weird subterfuge.  I could spend my life saying 'I think our time is near' and draw my last breath with empty arms.  Then what?  What does my life look like then?  A mask of happiness and content worn over a defeated and empty me.  A life not fulfilled.  A soul incomplete for the entirety of my time on earth because I never got to feel what it feels like to wrap my arms around my baby.  I never got to do what I was created for..."

And even though on the outside it looks like I'm doing a phenomenal job of keeping the faith, when that self talk starts, I lose it inside.  That plastered on smile has become second nature to me.  Because really what I want to do when you tell me that you know I'm supposed to be a mother...is break into an ugly cry and wither into a puddle on the floor.  I want you to feel how much my heart and soul hurt when I think that maybe this will never happen for me.  Adoption is a no, we have yet to be able to conceive, and fertility treatments are astronomical for a double income family...let alone a single income family living off of little more than student loans.  All the doors are shut.  It will take nothing short of a miracle if we are to become parents.  I know, I know.  Conception is a miracle in itself.  But seriously.  When you've been trying for 4+ years, when you've suffered an ectopic pregnancy and had to sign papers to snuff out the one life you managed to miraculously conceive, when you've been through countless prodding and invasive (yet unsuccessful) fertility treatments.  When all of those things happen and you're still right where you were 4 years ago...  You get the picture I'm sure...


Some days I feel like I'm becoming hardened to this.  Like maybe what's really happening here is I'm morphing into this sad shell of myself.  I sometimes feel like I'm in danger of losing who I am in the midst of this struggle.  Because who I am right now is a longing mother.  I am a mother without a child.  A mommy without a baby.  Is that who I'm fated to be forever?  The unfulfilled dreamer?  The sad shell of Rachel Womack whose dream never came true for real?  Oh that hurts my insides.  Surely that can't be true...

And yet...

Even if it makes me a masochist, I go right on hoping with every fiber of my being that one day my eyes will see those two pink lines again.  I go on clinging to this dream I have for me and Jonathan.  And there are days that I drift off into that dreamland of my ghosted future and I think, "Well...if God grants me this, happy just doesn't cut it as a describing word.  I seriously might just explode."  And I might.  I might just explode.  I'm not sure my heart could contain the joy.  There would be nothing fake or inauthentic about the plastered on smile you would see on my face.  Deliriously happy.  Deliriously. Ecstatic.  You might just see that glimmer of the old Rachel Womack coming back into clarity...

Wait With Me,






Saturday, November 2, 2013

30 Before 30

Today is my birthday!  I turn 29 today.  Today marks the last birthday of my 20's.  So I decided that since this year is certain to bring lots of big things (i.e.-our move back to the states, Jonathan starting clinicals, etc.) I should really make it a big year and check some things off my bucket list.  I'll be honest, I've never really written a true bucket list.  I totally copied the "A Walk to Remember" bucket list when I was a teenager, but lord only knows where that is now!  I think I've got a bit of a unique opportunity living where me and Jonathan live now to do this.  I can blend my "Dominica Bucket List" with my "30 Before 30" list!

Just so you know, though, this is not some lame list with things like "Learn to Forgive Yourself" on it.  They are tangible things that I can actually check off.  So here they are in no particular order:

1) Night Time Dip at Screws Spa -- If you're here in Dominica, you know what this is.  If you're not here, don't get too thrown off by the "Screws" part.  It is NOT what you think! ;)  But it IS a natural sulphur spring and I've heard its incredible at night!

2) Own a Pair of Manolos, Jimmy Choos, or a Coach Purse -- Ok so this one is going to take some sacrificing since we are on a budget y'all.  But it's happening.  Seriously...  Done and Done!  My mama bought be a Coach for Christmas!!

3) Get a Tattoo -- For those of you that are hyperventilating right now (Mom, Bernice, Pa...) don't freak out.  I'm not gonna go crazy.  But I've been mulling this over for a REALLY long time.  Like years.  And what better time to pull the trigger?  Seems like once I have kids it will be ridiculous to get one.  I promise it will be tasteful.  This is kind of an example of what I want:

It may or may not be on my foot, but it will definitely be inconspicuous.  Possibly in white ink.  Because it will really just be for me!  If you can't read it, it's the last line of the Footprints in the Sand poem that says "It was then that I carried you..."  I probably won't get the silly looking footprints, but I think that quote is so apropos for what this experience has been for us.  The 2 years we will have spent in the Caribbean that changed our lives forever!

4) Buy Stock and Learn About the Market -- I thought about doing this last December when the stock for my dad's company started doing really well.  As far as I know, it's still fairly stable.  So I want to buy some and see what happens... Done and done!  Jonathan and I bought into the bit coin market!

5) Run a 10K -- Ok, so maybe this doesn't seem all that ambitious.  I would LOVE to put "Run a Marathon" or at least "Run a Half Marathon" on this list, but I have to be a little realistic I think (feel free to bust my chops and try to convince me otherwise...).  I've already run a 5K, and I'm planning to run another one in December of this year (that could possibly turn into #5 being checked off and I could bite the bullet and do a 10K instead).  Running the 5K was really gratifying and I want to run another (or maybe this 10K) with my hubby.  I don't think I could appropriately train for a Marathon/Half Marathon in the time that I have since I'm working full time and moving inernationally this year, but there IS an outside chance I could make it happen.  But in light of my current circumstances, I think a 10K is a reasonably challenging goal...

6) Go on a Random Road Trip -- I want to pack up the car, grab my puppy and the hubs, and then drive until it feels right.  And just stop wherever, stay wherever, and do whatever.  No plans.  Just a weekend getaway where the only thing on the agenda is to GO.  Maybe even roll the dice to decide which direction we go!  Now THAT could make for an interesting blog post...

7) Quit Drinking Soda Pop for 365 Days -- I really need to do this anyway.  Maybe this will help me lose that last pesky 10-15 pounds to get me to my "healthy weight"!  And crap...this starts today... o_O Fail.  $30 to RESOLVE... :-/

8) Write Letters to My Immediate Family Telling Them Why I Love Them -- Better get on this one...I've got my work cut out for me!

9) See an Opera -- Seems crazy that this would be on my list.  Especially since I was a music major in college.  But can you believe it??  I have NEVER actually watched an opera!  Yes, yes, of course I've HEARD one...from the pit that is.  I've played at more operas than I can count or that I can remember.  But I REALLY want to actually see one.  La Traviata is my most favorite opera...would love to see that one.  But really any opera would do!

10) Travel to 2 States in the US That I Haven't Been To -- This eliminates every state in the south and much of the midwest and northeast (since I've lived in all those places).  The states I'm lacking are: Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Hawaii, Alaska.  Welp...guess I've got my work cut out for me on this one since NONE of those states are anywhere near where I call home...

11) Paint a Painting -- And yes, I'll count it if I FINALLY go to Painting with a Twist or something similar since I'm lame and have never done that either.  So Sara...I think you're employed to help me with this one... ;)

12) Make a Baby -- Yep.  I'm putting it here.  It's a bit risky...since clearly I don't have a lot of control over this.  But it's time...it's past time.  We're gonna make a baby or get a REALLY legit answer as to why this can't happen within this year.  Hoping and praying that my last year before 30 sees the creation of our sweet Greysen or Maggie!

13) Eat at a Restaurant Where Someone From Top Chef is the Chef -- Tim Love doesn't count (though I'll be visiting him hopefully in December/January).  I want to eat at a restaurant owned and/or operated by someone from Top Chef.  

14) Start "A Small Metal Box" -- Check out THIS blog to see what this is about.  The money we save will be for me and Jonathan's 10th anniversary trip (which I would LOVE to be an Alaskan cruise!) Done and Done!  And we are making some serious bank... ;)

15) Learn How to French Braid -- Elise, you and Solveig might be employed with this one.  It is ridiculous that I don't know how to do this, but I'm determined to learn.  I think once I figure out how to do it on someone else's head, I'll be able to figure out how to do it on my own head...Oh I am SO excited about this!  Thanks Solveig and Alex!

16) Photograph My Grandparents Together -- So I saw this on someone else's blog and I LOVED it.  You know, photojournalism has only really come out with any popularity in the last 8-10 years.  I would venture to guess that there are very few of us older than 15 whose grandparents have pictures of them being themselves.  Candid.  In love!  Oh how I wish I had pictures like that of my Gammy and Daddy Ronchal or of Jonathan's Grandaddy and Grandmommy.  My sweet Mimol and Pa just celebrated 57 years of marriage and Jonathan and I will be seeing them in December.  I want to get my hands on a fancy camera (or a great photographer) and take the two of them somewhere and take some candid photos of them just being in love.  I want some black and whites, some sepias, I want some pics of them dancing, of my Pa kissing Mimol on the cheek...the works!  This is SO happening...

17) Take My Husband Sailing -- Oh I'm sure he's smiling right now reading that one!  Yes, he's wanted to for years and I've been a stick in the mud about it.  My only stipulation is that I want a super cute sailing outfit with shoes to match... We went out on a catamaran around the bay in Dominica where we live on 5/16/2014

18) Actually Start AND Finish Either P90X or Insanity -- Sheesh...that's a bit heavy Rach...are you sure??  Yes.  I've been saying it way too much and I need to put my money where my mouth is.  Again...Sara...you may be employed to help me check this one off... o_O 

19) Finish Turning My Blog Into a Coffee Table Book -- I'll count this one as long as it's finished...even if it's not printed.  Cuz I kinda think I'll want the final follow up to this list to be in there too...

20) Learn to Crotchet and Make an Afghan to Prove It -- If you're a crocheter...I will need SERIOUS help with this!!

21) Go Wine Tasting For Real -- We've done the "amateur version" of this a few times, but I want to go to an actual winery, even if it it's Haak or something like that, and do a wine tasting.  For reals...

22) Swim Through Titou Gorge -- Part of my Dominica Bucket List, but this place is seriously cool!

23) Get a Palm Reading -- Cuz...well...why not??

24) See the Baby Sea Turtles -- This should have already been done, but kidney stones got in the way.  I've got one more shot at this next spring and I'm TOTALLY doing it.  I don't care if they stink to high heaven...

25) Dress Up Like We're Just Married -- Jonathan and I have actually talked about this before, and I think it would be fun.  So in order to check this one off I'll have to go purchase a dress that can pass as a wedding dress (or wear my own wedding dress) and go for a night on the town with my dreamboat.  Maybe we can get some free stuff! ;)

26) Go Parasailing -- This is another one I've been talking about for WAY too long (try high school!) and I need to just pull the trigger and do it...

27) Read 30 Books -- I'm a reader, but this one will be difficult.  Any suggestions of quick/good reads are most definitely appreciated!
Bossy Pants
The Longest Ride
Charlotte's Web 
Matilda
Believing God
James and the Giant Peach
Reconstructing Amelia
Island of the Blue Dolphins




28) Do a Color Run or a Mud Run -- Been DYING to do one of these so I'm gonna do it!

29) Get Matilda Certified and Take Her to a Children's Hospital for "Rounds" -- Oh it would make my heart melt to see her do this.  I know she would be a total champ and those kids would LOVE her!



30) Give Blood for a Blood Drive -- Shocked??  If you know me, you probably are.  But I figure as much blood as I've had to give in the last 4 years with our struggles in infertility, I might as well give it up to save someone's life.  So I'm gonna do it.  Who's coming to hold my hand?? ;) 


So there it is!  I'm starting today...wonder which one will be checked off first??  Also, on another 30 Before 30 blog I saw that someone had committed to donating $30 to a non-profit organization for every item on their 30 Before 30 list that was NOT completed.  So that's what I'm going to do.  For each item on this list that does not happen before November 2nd, 2014, I'll be donating $30 to RESOLVE.  It's a national non-profit organization that supports men and women in infertility, champions for legislation regarding infertility and health care options, and advocates for swift and accurate diagnosing.  Obviously something that is near and dear to our hearts!  So if you're "employed" to help, get ready!

  Here's to a year of very purposeful living...Happy Birthday to me! ;)




















Sunday, October 27, 2013

When We Fell in Love With Dominica...

This has been an eventful week.  Friday was Creole Day in Dominica.  It's the day that the locals commemorate their heritage by dressing up in Creole attire, speaking Patois, and singing and dancing to traditional Creole music.  It's quite the celebration.  Creole attire consists of brightly colored plaids called madras, head wraps, white duster skirts, waistcoats (what we would call a vest), and red sashes.  I even sported a madras myself!  Here's a picture of me with my favorite red head here on the island:


Doesn't he look so precious?!  All the kids at the school were dressed up in their madras and a local school came to do a program for us.  It was just so great to see all the Dominicans just loving their culture.  They all love showing off their heritage and helping other people appreciate their history too.  They really commit man!  

Then Jonathan and I decided to take a weekend away.  Next weekend is my birthday, but unfortunately there won't be much of a celebration.  It's the weekend before Jonathan's mini 2 and the actual day of my birthday is the spouses banquet.  So he wanted to have a nice weekend away just the two of us since next weekend is going to be a little crazy.  So we stayed at a place called Jungle Bay.  They gave us a special rate because Jonathan is a student and I'm a Ross employee.  So off we went to the southeastern side of the island.  A place we had never driven before...

We stupidly started our trek around 5:30.  What we failed to take into account was the fact that the sun goes down around here around 6:45.  And once the sun is down, it's PITCH black.  There's no ambient light.  And we had really no idea where we were going.  We drove for 2 hours.  Up SUPER steep hills, on unpaved roads.  Along the ocean where there was no guard rails.  Through villages we'd never been through.  We drove straight down until there was no more island.  Literally.  We drove right out onto the gravel jetty that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea.  I had a flashback of a trip Sarah Schwarz, Courtney Lawrence and I took to Waco way back in the day.  Except this time it actually WAS an ocean we were driving into!  Here's a little perspective for you:

On the right is the Caribbean Sea and on the left is the Atlantic Ocean

Here's a birds eye view of what we drove up to:





So needless to say, we had to turn back and find the right jungle road to turn on.  We were finally on our way.  And I feel like we literally just drove straight up until we couldn't go any higher.  And then we stumbled upon this sign in the middle of the jungle:


Hallelujah!  We found it!  We had been scared to death on the drive up.  We both literally thought we were gonna have to spend the night in The Juice (which for those that don't know...that's what we lovingly refer to our Dominican car as...) while taking turns keeping watch.  We were among the peaks of Dominica in a literal rainforest.  We drive in to the resort and we are so warmly welcomed by a friendly staff and escorted to a restaurant straight out of Swiss Family Robinson.  We had amazing food and then were whisked away to our Jungle Cottage.  Here's what welcomed us:







Now mind you, it's pitch black outside.  This little cottage was warm and inviting and we could hear the waves crashing, but we couldn't see anything outside of our bungalow.  When the light of day came, here's what we saw:












I woke up around 8:00 and got in the hammock and snoozed to the sounds of birds and the ocean.  It was pretty perfect.  Then enjoyed a nice hot outdoor rain shower, a beautiful Caribbean breakfast, and the most spectacular Sunday drive in history.  Just see for yourself:















Dominicans headed in to church






See...I told you!  It was a nice Sunday drive with the hubs.  Made us remember that we're living on a pretty spectacular little island in the Atlantic.  It's got waterfalls, mountains, rivers, ocean.  It's simply lovely and untouched.  With the windows down we could smell freshly cut lemongrass, plantains roasting on open pits, fish smoking in hand built smokehouses.  We could hear birds chirping, waves crashing, rivers gurgling, waterfalls rushing.  It was beautiful.  Today we fell in love with Dominica...




PS-Next post will be my 30 Before 30 list!



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bananaquits, Albert, and Jaybirds

Ok, so after much coercion by several people, I've decided to post this story.  It happened way back in April but I didn't want to post it.  I'll explain more later about that.  For now, enjoy the saga of our friend Albert...

One day, while I was home at the treehouse and Jonathan was down on campus, I decided to surprise him with some freshly fried plantains.  Yummy!  We had been living in our new apartment for a few weeks now and I had designated a large basket on my kitchen counter as our fruit and dry veggie basket.  So I bebop over to the basket to pull a few plantains from the bunch.  I had just purchased these plantains at the local market and was so pumped to use them!  As I peer down into the basket, this is what I see...


Scratching your head yet?  Oh it gets better!  So I examined the ONE plantain that had been...well...munched.  And I think, "Hmm...if it were a rodent, I should see pooplets around right?  No pooplets.  And it's so precisely munched...maybe something was inside and ate its way out..."  Because there was not another fruit or veggie in that giant basket that had been touched.  Nonetheless, I threw out everything that was in there.  I didn't want to risk it.  And then I did a little looking around the house to see if I could find some clues as to who our plantain muncher might be...

At the time, we were leaving our windows open to get some good crosse breezes.  The windows have screens and bars on them, so it's no big deal.  But I look at one of the windows in the living room and I see this...


Now the picture is a close up, so you can't really tell.  But this hole is no more than an inch tall and less than 2 inches wide.  So I immediately rule out any rodent because 1) If it's a Dominica style rodent it's WAY too big to fit through that teeny little hole, and 2) There is still not a single poop nugget anywhere to be found.  But now I'm confused.  What in the world has munched my plantain??  And then I have it!  It's GOT to be a bird.  We have these little guys flitting ALL around our treehouse...


They're called bananaquits and they have a really pretty little song.  I've seen them clinging to our screens upside down and hopping in and out of the bars of the windows.  I've also seen them do a number on an overripe mango on the tree outside, so at this point I'm convinced that's what it is.  Some cute little chubby bananaquit pecked into my screen, hopped into my basket, had a little snack, and then left the way he came.  Since Jonathan's office is in the back of the house and literally "among the trees", I decide to go back there to see if the little birdy pecked through any of the screens back there.  All the screens were clear, but his desk was not.  Here's a little glimpse of what I saw there...



Ok so now it is absolutely a bird right??  HERE was the poop I had been searching for this whole time.  And it was definitely NOT a pooplet.  Not a rat raisin.  This just HAD to be bananaquit poop.  So I decided to close all the windows in the house and wait to tell Jonathan about my sleuthing skills when he came home.  So he comes in the house several hours later, gives me a kiss, and promptly says "Hey come back to my office, I want to show you something..."  And he drags me back to the office and stands there puzzled while pointing at the poop smear on his desk.  Apparently I was NOT the first to discover that little gift from our treehouse visitor.  He says, "You know I studied back here last night and this was definitely NOT here when I came to bed.  And then this morning when I was packing up my stuff, I looked down and saw this crap stain on my desk.  What the heck??"  And I just die laughing because I'm picturing him standing there scratching his head trying to figure out how his perfectly clean desk could turn up with doo-doo on it the next morning and nothing else is touched.

So we decide to walk down and grab a new bunch of plantains to fry up tomorrow night and get some dinner while we are down the hill.  We come back up, I put the plantains in the basket, and I go to bed.  The next day, I decide to fry up my plantains again.  I go to the basket and I find...another freakin' plantain is munched in exactly the same way!!  Ugh!!!  So now I'm irritated.  So I go back to sleuthing. And I notice it and want to smack myself.  I missed a window.  Yep, left it open.  And this is what I saw...

This time there's a MUCH bigger hole.  So in my mind I think, "Yep.  That little bird told all his birdy friends about our delicious plantains, rallied the troops, and planned a sneak attack overnight all Home Alone style...".  I was just picturing this little army of yellow birds hopping around my kitchen, munching my plantains, and leaving the way they came while me and Jonathan slept in the other room unaware.  Because again, there were not toots anywhere to be found.  What to do, what to do.  This little jerk ripped me off of TWO whole bunches of plantains!  So me and Jonathan decided to MacGyver the situation.  We laid out flour and kernels of corn (birds LOVE corn right?) in a pathway from the pecked window to the basket.  And we went to bed with the window open.  The next morning we both sprang out of bed to see what had transpired.  To our GREAT dismay...this is what we found on our countertop...

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Ok, so this time I was REALLY confused.  It was definitely not a cute little bananaquit or even a bananaquit army.  But this was bigger than a mouse or a rat.  Those footprints are each about an inch to an inch and a half long.  And they have thumbs for Pete's sake!  So we start researching footprints and poop patterns to see if we can match something up.  I'm convinced it's some sort of ferret or mink or baby opossum.  None of which I want in my kitchen.  We finally zeroed in on this bad boy...



Yep.  My worst nightmare.  This revolting creature is what we call a Caribbean Roof Rat.  You have to use the Caribbean part because a normal roof rat is about 6-10 ounces in weight.  Caribbean roof rats are about 12-17 ounces in weight.  Observe the stinkin' thumbs on that bad boy.  Gross with a GIANT capital G!  Right then and there we shut those windows tight, vowed to leave them shut forever, and we promptly call the landlord for some d-CON action.  We hung out in the house all day.  Jonathan studied, I caught up on blogging and what not.  We decided to watch a movie in bed around 8:00...

Once the movie was over, Jonathan leapt out of bed to use the bathroom.  He shuts the bedroom door behind him, flips on the living room light, and I hear "OOOHHHH!!  It's a rat!".  Now there are two things I must mention here.  1) Because we have watched the movie Ratatouille about a million times, Jonathan's 'It's a rat!' was totally in a French accent, and 2) Because we live in the Caribbean and it's 90 degrees on a cool day, we were both scantily clad.  Ok, ok fine.  We were neked (yes I spelled it right) as jaybirds.  Out of morbid curiosity, I leap out of bed too just to see this thing.  Which was a giant mistake...

This rat is the size of a baby opossum.  Maybe bigger.  He's got a huge badonkadonk (ahem...butt) and a tail that is easily 6 or 7 inches long.  He is scurrying around trying to find the way out.  And Jonathan I are screaming like babies.  Jumping from chair to chair with brooms in our hands all sorts of naked.  This sucker is FAST!  And what is more disturbing is that HE KNOWS WHERE BOTH OUR DOORS ARE!  He has clearly visited more times than we care to know.  He is trying desperately to escape.  At some point he leaps literally up the wall and I've had it.  I run screaming into the bathroom and shut the door.  I hear Jonathan yelping and saying "Stay in there babe!" and he's sweeping and scuffling and yelping.  Finally I hear the door open and shut and a sigh of relief from Jonathan...

So then we are confused.  Thoroughly.  ALL the windows are shut and have been since this morning.  Wait...oh no...that means this little turd has been in our house ALL DAY! Noooooo!!!!!  And we clearly find evidence of him having tried to escape.  There are chew marks under each of our doors and wood shavings all around.  

For a teeny moment I feel sorry for Albert.  Yes, I named him Albert.  It's better than rat bastard.  He has been coming in and out of our house eating what, to him, seem like perfectly picked plantains left especially for him.  He is tidy.  Only once did he have that unfortunate mishap in the office with a poo-poo accident.  And he leaves the same way he came.  Now these hospitable new tenants are chasing him around naked while screaming and trying to shoo him out the door!  It must have been a sad day for Albert.  Annnnd...scene.  I am no longer sympathetic.  I want him dead.  REALLY dead.  I want him dead NOW!  So we call the landlord and he plans to come d-CON during the week next week...

Flash forward a few nights later.  We hear this munching sound.  Persistent.  We think "You have GOT to be kidding me...".  We sneak out into the living room and realize the munching is coming from under our back door.  Jonathan goes and looks and there are tiny little rat paws trying to dig their way into our door!  And periodically a scaly rat tale comes swooping under the door.  So Jonathan snatches up his machete and proceeds to try and amputate this tail.  After a few unsuccessful swipes, he just jams the machete under the door.  No luck.  But darned if we didn't find a whole hoard of wood shavings under BOTH our doors from the outside, and LOTS of chewed up window screens from Albert.  Not nice man.  

The happily ever after here is that after Albert's date with d-CON, we have never seen or heard from him since.  No more rodents.  Not bananaquits.  Just two happy little naked jaybirds livin' in a treehouse!  


PS-I chose not to write this for some time because I didn't want my Caribbean friends to never want to come to my house again.  I swear, y'all, there are NO MORE ROOF RATS AT THE TREEHOUSE!

PSS-No, I did not get a picture of Albert himself.  Are you kidding???  We were naked.  And screaming.  With brooms...

PSSS-I apologize to any of my neighbors who may have confusedly peered into the treehouse to find two pasty white naked people screaming with brooms.  We're usually very quiet and appropriately dressed neighbors...





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