Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Scuba Santa

After Santa's all done delivering all of his gifts, he heads back to Guam to scuba dive with the turtles and sharks.

USDA Brown Tree Snake

We had to set the record straight. Many people have heard about the brown tree snakes in Guam. In fact, recently there have been several facebook posts by people on- and off-base who have found snakes on their property. Our family friend, the pediatrician for the base, even hacked the head off of one that was hanging around his dog's food bowl outside their sliding door. One scary post was of a snake coiled around the door knob, with its teeth embedded in the child-security knob cover.

So, with snakes on my mind, my friend and I loaded up our strollers with three kids each and walked to the USDA building, about a mile from our home. We heard that they keep snakes there and that they allow visitors to take a peak. When we got there, we were greeted by one of the directors who kindly chatted with us about the snakes. The record breaking year of snakes caught on base was about 4400. They estimate there are several million snakes on the island. The snakes are only mildly venomous, and the only life-threatening danger is if a snake constricted around a very small baby. No human deaths have ever been reported. The main problem is that it's wiped out entire populations of  birds. Basically, there are only two or three native species of bird left on the island, and they are endangered. The other birds here either been introduced or are migratory. 

After our introductory chat, we went outside to the "The Snake Pit." The USDA only catches snakes on base, and because of the holiday, they only had two days worth of snakes to show, so they only had fourteen! The snakes were very feisty, in spite of being sleepy. (They are nocturnal.) The worker explained that these, having been freshly caught are more aggressive than the few large snakes that they keep in captivity there permanently. They took out one of these snakes. It was about six feet long. The smaller ones that they had just caught were about three to four feet long. They have large round creepy eyes, and are a greenish-grayish-brownish on the top and reflective yellow on the bottom. Some have a subtle striped pattern.

The snake traps were interesting too. They keep cages with a single mouse that is sustained by one potato for water, and a feed block. The cage is attached to the inside of a trap that has one-way doors. The snake slithers in to catch the mouse, but it cant because it's in its own cage. And the snake can't get out because of the shape of the entry. Then every few days the traps are checked, and the snakes are taken out. The USDA uses their catches to train their K9's. (They have trained dogs that check incoming and outgoing cargo for stow-away snakes in order to prevent introducing these snakes to other populations.) Some of their catches go to a biologist for studies. But in the end, they are all euthanized.

USDA's purposes are to contain the snakes to the island, keep them out of housing, and prevent them from disrupting the mission of the base. (ie, no snakes inside of airplanes.) They said to eradicate the snakes entirely would be nice because then the birds could be reintroduced, but that would be a massive and extremely difficult project for a variety of reasons. (The dense jungle being one of them.) But they recently  experimented with an interesting plan down at the Naval Base. They called it the "parachuting mice." Apparently, acetaminophen is quite toxic to the snakes. So they put a bunch of Tylenol into some mice, then they took up these mice in helicopters and tossed them out, letting little parachutes prevent them from getting too damaged as they landed in the tree-tops. The snakes, which live in the trees, would then come along, eat the mice, then die. Incidentally, the mice were dead before the snakes found them. I don't know if they killed the mice first, or if the drugs and free fall did it. Interesting idea... I just don't see that as a viable island-wide solution. Tossing thousands of dead, drugged mice out of airplanes sounds like a terrible practical joke... on the mice and on the unsuspecting passer-by when the wind suddenly turned south.

The visit was very informative and very cool. And we were really grateful that they would take all of that time out of their day to show us their snakes and teach us about what they do. We may have to go again to show Dad, since he had to work today and miss all of the fun. Davy really enjoyed touching the brown tree snake. Havah thought it was pretty funny to see the fresh snakes striking at the side of the cage, and smashing their noses. Zanna liked the rocks.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Poem for a Christmas Plate

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A Poem for a Christmas Plate

Our family tries to keep this small tradition each December-
To make a special, yummy treat for dear friends we remember.
Chocolate fudge, banana bread, cakes, and cookies, too,
Decorated red and green with sprinkles, not a few.

These last few weeks, the Shwalbs have been on the receiving end
Of sweet desserts to make us grateful for our many friends.
Mom planned to bake some tasty goods for all her friends to savor.
Plates and tags and bags were bought to seal in all the flavor.

But Christmas Eve is now quite near, and Mom’s a basket-case.
She has not made those scrumptious treats for friends on- or off-base.
“Now, I wonder,” Mother mused, “Is baking realistic?”
She ran the numbers, scanned the pantry, went through the statistics.

“It’s impossible!” She mourned. “But friends should know we care!
“All these plates with pretty tags can’t be delivered bare!”
“You’re too stressed out. Now, just forget treats for the holiday,”
Was Father’s kind response to the conniption she portrayed.

Regretfully, she knew that there was brains in what he said.
Epiphany occurred! She thought, ‘I’ll send sweet thoughts, instead!’
So here’s a poem. It’s custom made- just for your family.
You cannot eat it, but, at least, it has no calories!

The Torgesen’s are quite a crew. They fed our fam’ly dinner
Our first night here. That Sunday night, lasagna was a winner.
Camden, Ashlyn, Allie, Kelsey, Russ and Aspen, too:
We’ll not forget the kind inclusion we all felt from you.

We know the Douglas’ are up for any kind of trip.
From hiking, swimming, baking, singing, even cracking whips.
Janette and Brigham, Afton, Meara, even little Rowan,
Help make this island and the world feel like it’s all a’glowin.’

For hiking mountains in the mud, we’ll call on the McDonough’s.
Dear Matthew and Teresa have made life here much more funna.’
Little Charlotte makes us smile, and Micah’s a sweet guy.
Thanks for the chats, and, maybe soon, you’ll relocate close by?

The Crossley’s are the kind of people everyone admires.
They’re funny, smart, and beautiful, and their faith’s on fire.
Paige is lovely, and we love kind Leah’s helpful hands.
Tanner’s one gigantic smile. Their parents must feel grand!

Sharlae and Matthew Lund exhibit blessings all alive.
Savanah, Soren, Maren, Daniel, Gavin make all five.
They’re busy as a family gets, yet that will never stop them
From helping out a friend in need. We’d never want to swap them.

We haven’t met the father of the Miller family.
Yet, from his charming wife and kids, we all love Jeremy.
Christina is amazing, seeing all she can accomplish.
May Katy and her brother Cody receive every Guam-wish.

It’s great to hang out with the Vines. Their girls could both enchant.
To Kenzie and our Gilly-bean, we’re like Uncle and Aunt.
From running races, writing papers, even doing math,
The short time that we have with them just helps us on our path.

The Petersons look like the Cullens. Wouldn’t you agree?
They claim that they’re not vampires, in spite of their beauty.
Cecily and Heath are sweet, and we’ll miss Brittany’s singing.
But Germany will be a blast. May basketballs keep flinging!

If science questions stump us or our vision gets a’blurry,
We know that we can call upon the Hardgraves in a hurry.
Their silent service, mowing grass, brings tribute to their home state.
Let’s hear it for the Okies. And their baby, Keegan’s great!

Whenever Candance Stanstrom is around, you can’t be glum.
And dear Malia always makes Activity Days fun.
Baby Eric is so cute, and Brandon’s growing tall.
But if he caught up with his dad, I’d be so shocked, I’d fall.

Ginger Johnson is a spark of spunk and energy.
Perhaps it’s her red hair that shapes her personality?
Her two boys, Corton and Dresden help her while Dan’s away.
We’ll all be glad to see them reunited soon someday.

It would take up one full line to name each Stutzman child.
There’s Ashley, Alan, Daniel, Thomas, Baby Christian mild.
We’ll miss this family that Becky and Alan created.
But stateside bound, they are, and I know that they are elated.

With all of these great friends, we Shwalbs sure feel extremely grateful.
Thank you! May this poem be counted as sweets, for a plate-full.
And let us not forget the purpose of this Christmas season.
Our Savior is our greatest Friend. Lord Jesus is the reason.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Palm Trees

Keeping up with our Thanksgiving tradition, we put up some of our Christmas decorations this weekend. Davy was excited to really do it up this year for some reason. (My theory: it doesn't feel or look like Christmas with sunny 75 degrees and green grass and trees, so you have to dec the house with boughs of holly even more to get into the spirit of the holidays!) On Saturday, I thought we were going to The Home Depot to get a new Christmas tree. We ended up carting out two Christmas trees, 900 lights, three extension cords, three light-up outdoor Christmas presents, a sparkling red bow, 6 battery-operated candles,12 gigantic palm tree ornaments, three bags of fake snow, a six-foot light-up snowman, [and a partridge in a pear tree?]. And, he's not done. =) 

Actually, the snowman purchase came from a very convincing argument made by Havah. She explained that we really should have a snowman because it doesn't snow in Guam, and without this snowman, we'll not be able to build a single snowman this year. How can you argue with 5-year-old wisdom like that? So, she got to build her snowman this year after all.

Davy really did some beautiful (and labor-intensive) work outside. We have two tall palm trees in the front of our house. They are probably about 30-40 feet tall. Davy wanted to have lights spiraling all the way to the top, and to hang the giant ornaments from the palms. Our one ladder is only about four feet tall, so he had to come up with a pretty clever plan to make it work. He tied some fishing line to a plastic bottle filled with water. Then, while Havah held the reel, Davy lobbed the bottle over the tree. It took a few throws to get it exactly where he wanted, but he did it. Then he cut the line near the reel, and tied the lights to the end of it. Next, Little Davy pulled the waterbottle side of the line all the way past the neighbors' house, to hoist the lights to the top. Davy secured the end of the fishing line to a few nails that were driven in near the base of the trunk - remnants from a Halloween spider web I built. Finally, Davy, Little Davy and Havah performed the Dance of the Palm Tree. It's like the Maypole Dance, except instead of many children weaving many ribbons down a pole, two children and one dad spiraled one line of holiday lights down a palm tree. They had to swing pretty wide to keep the spiral tight, but it actually worked, and it looks fantastic!

To get the ornaments into the palms. Davy took hangers to make sturdy hooks. Then we tied a 24-inch piece of yarn to the end of the each hook and to each ornament. We happen to have an extension rod that just barely reached the palms as long as Davy stood on our four-foot ladder. Davy scotch-taped the hooks onto the rod, then he led the hooks over the palms. Once the hooks were in position, he yanked the pole down hard, securing the hook, and breaking the tape. Again, it took several tries for a few of the ornaments, but it worked. It's really pretty to see the glimmer of the balls along the tree line as you stroll down Mango Drive. He plugged in the glowing red-bow to the base of one of the trees and will buy another bow for the other tree.

Once he's completely done, I'll post the completed project. In the meantime. I hope everyone else is finding joy in preparing for this holiday season!

Happy Halloween!

For those of you who know Little Davy, you'll know that anything very creepy or very powerful is also very appealing. This year I finally agreed to let him step a tiny bit into the horrific side of Halloween costumes. He and his Dad were Grim Reaper Sr and Grim Reaper Jr.

The girls and I made up for the frightening pair by being three cute little insects. Mama Ladybug, Havah Butterfly, and Zanna Bumblebee.

Happy Halloween!

Toss your cares and curls away

 Isn't she gorgeous?

And if you're like her parents, don't be too worried. Without a blow dry there are still remnants of those beautiful curls.