Making the List

This New Year’s Eve, its time for our annual tradition. Its not just on Thanksgiving that we acknowledge what we’re grateful for. Every New Year’s Eve, for more than a decade, we’ve looked back at the year and remembered all the things we’re grateful for.

For years now, I’ve used this as the moment in the year to think about what I personally want the next year to look like. What do I want to change, improve, restore? I write it down and seal it in an envelope. Sometimes I add to or update my daily mantras.

Then I open last year’s envelope and look at what I wrote 364 days before and marvel at either all of the things that have come to be. Or ‘what a difference a year makes’. Sometimes, what I thought I wanted to become reality is no longer the priority. It’s a good reminder that sometimes things that we think are important, are really transient. And we need to let them go. This year will be no different.

As a couple, Jeff and I also make ‘The List’ every New Year’s. This is what we want to accomplish together – adventures, or home improvements or personal goals we need each other’s help with. Jeff swears by the power of ‘The List’. Some of the as yet unrealized things on the paper that has hung on our bathroom mirror for the last year, will come over to the new list. Other items will make their debut. But looking at The List daily helps us keep on track as we go through the year.

Another tradition that is a must every year, is the New Year’s cake. Usually it’s a simple yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But I bake in dollar gold coins and we cut it at midnight. The ones who get a gold coin have good luck for the year. This year I’m going to bake a banana bread with butter cream frosting to house the coins. Who says old traditions can’t be refreshed?

But no matter what, this year will be low key. Jeff has the plague I had for all last week, and Emilie is still recovering from having her wisdom teeth pulled. I knew there was a reason I got it first. Now I am healthy and well enough to take care of them. I’ll bake in a little extra love into this year’s cake – just in case.

I have a lot to be grateful for. This time last year, I was in a job I didn’t like. This year we’re preparing to move to Spain – and that wasn’t on anyone’s list from a year ago. Our world has shifted on it’s axis in the last 12 months. And the next 12 months? Well, I think we’re in for some adventures. And I’ll be grateful for each of them when we’re ringing in Ano Nuevo this time next year.

Pulling Teeth

Yesterday, was going to be another milestone on my quest. On Dec. 26th, the assistant I hired in Valencia Express mailed me our certificates of insurance. These are very important in getting our visas. In fact, we can’t get visas without these. Our health insurance must have certain components and this certificate will say the words they need to hear to check that requirement off the list.

I stayed home all day yesterday because DHL required a signature for the Express envelope. That was fine. I had a tracking number. I looked it up and saw it had made it to LA and it would be here by the end of day. It’s the holidays, so that’s a relative term. We’ve gotten things as late as 9pm.

So I waited and told my daughter, that if the door bell rang or she heard a knock, to answer it, because it would be important. It sounds strange that I had to tell her that but for my children’s entire life I had told them never to answer the door (stranger danger) so I felt like I needed to be explicit. She gave me the requisite ‘eye roll’ and a sarcastic ‘Got it.’

At around 8pm last night, I refreshed the DHL website to see where this very important, crucial document might be and found an interesting surprise. It was in LEIPZIG, GERMANY!!! Yes, they had sent it back to Europe from Los Angeles. Huh?! I called my husband over and he looked at it.

‘That can’t be right.’ he said.

To which I started laughing like a crazy person. He looked at me concerned.

‘Of course its right. This is the force field that surrounds me where these visa documents are concerned. They can’t actually see me. I don’t show up on radar.’

He shook his head and walked away.

Early this morning I called DHL and was told that ‘in the sort, sometimes this can happen’ like that makes it OK. But he gave me some good news. My document has made it to Cincinnati, so yeah. I’m sure it will find it’s way here eventually. I sent their CEO a nice ‘Happy New Year’ note to make myself feel better.

Now I’m sitting in the oral surgeon’s office while my daughter has her 4 wisdom teeth extracted. And again, I have to laugh. This whole process has been like one big dental appointment. ‘Pulling Teeth’ is the right metaphor and now I’m in a place today where they actually do it. Perhaps the gods in document HELL will see that and give me some sort of dispensation. But I’ve decided I just have to laugh. There is no other choice.

Detour around the Comfort Zone

OK – I’ll admit it. I almost forgot. I’ve never lived in the Comfort Zone. Not for 5 minutes my entire life. In nearly every instance, in the last 50 years, when something could have become routine or I could have done whatever it was by rote – I shook it up.

As a kid, I was always challenging myself. Climb a taller tree. Build a bigger fort in the woods. Fly off a higher jump on my bike. Modification after modification – forever tweaking. There always seemed to be another mountain to climb. I would lay in bed in my room at night and dream of big adventures.

Back then I wanted to be an archeologist and lead expeditions to far away place – discovering things yet unseen. Or a journalist, who would travel the world to uncover injustices and report on them so the world would see them and ‘fix it’. Was I an idealist? Sure – but that’s what kids are supposed to be, so they believe they can actually change the world for the better – and then go and do it.

I was the only teenager I knew who had Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’ as a poster on their wall. Back then, I operated without fear and I was only limited by my own imagination. When I went off to college, my parents encouraged more practical pursuits, so I didn’t become either of the things I dreamed about in the dark – turning the shadows on the ceiling into deserts and jungles across the globe.

But I still have always lived my life just beyond what anyone thought was possible, or even prudent. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. But this week I forgot all that. This week, I was down and I forgot that ‘boring’ and ‘routine’ are like poison to me. And that the whole reason I want to go to Spain is because it’s just beyond my reach, right now. That it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. The two things that drive me every moment of every day.

When I wake up in the morning, every morning, I say three mantras. The first is to state what I want in my life. Some of it I have and some of it I don’t yet. The idea that ‘Energy flows where attention goes’. ‘The second is to state those things as though I already have them. And the third is to express gratitude for what I have and all that I want to have.

I’ve done these things for a long time and it grounds me and focuses me for the day. Sometimes I say it out loud while reading it. Sometimes I say it while I drive from memory. It’s like muscle memory. Except this week I didn’t do them one time. I just took more cold medicine when I woke up and went back to sleep. And it wasn’t long before I lost sight of what I am doing and why.

So today, after my Pep talk last night, I made sure that I did my mantras. And I recommitted to focusing on what matters. I took my daughter out for her birthday lunch and a little shopping. And because of that, I thought up a way to solve some of the tougher problems I’ve been encountering with the visa requirements.

But ultimately, getting this visa isn’t the goal. It’s what comes after that matters. I lost sight of that for those 5 minutes. But I remember it now. The archeological dreams I have of spending hours in the circus in Tarragona, or the Alhambra in Granada, or Malaga are a huge part of why I want to live in Spain. None of those place are any where near my current comfort zone – and I’ll choose the detour every time.

The Pep Talk

Tonight I required a pep talk from the coach in our family. Yes, I’ve been sick with the flu that’s been hitting the US hard. They say that cases this year are up 800% over last year, so I was bound to get some form of it. But it went beyond the fever and coughing and sneezing. I needed an attitude adjustment.

Jeff came home tonight and asked how my day was. Well, needless to say, it wasn’t good. I told him my tale of woe. All the road blocks and seemingly impossible tasks. Then I did the unthinkable. I suggested that maybe we should just stay here – in the US. It would be easier. I could just STOP all the stuff I’ve got on this list to get to Spain.

No more phone calls, no more begging for signed pieces of paper from US financial institutions. No more lost documents in the mail. No more explaining to people on the phone seemingly ridiculous, impossible requirements that we don’t do in the US, just to meet some sort of standard that no one I speak to can comprehend. It all flowed out of me and then I stopped to cough, blow my nose, and breath, which was Jeff’s opportunity to jump in.

‘We have almost all the documents. Let’s just present them in the form we have them in.’

I sighed. Oh how naïve he is – I thought. He’s not spoken or emailed anyone at the consulate.

‘They need stamps and signatures and stuff we don’t do here. And I can’t get people to even sign them, let alone stamp them – because there is no stamp – and they think it’s stupid. And even if I can eventually get them, they have to be translated. It all takes time. Time we don’t have before we are supposed to go to our appointment.’

He stopped me. ‘Do you remember why you wanted to move to Spain in the first place?’

‘Of course.’ I said, ‘I love it there. The people. Learning the language. The culture, the history and the food. And its beautiful. I missed it every day when I came back after the summer.’

‘I remember.  So you don’t want all that now?’

‘I do. But they’re never going to give us a visa if I can’t get everything I’m supposed to get in the way they want it. They even say it on their website and in emails.’

‘Let’s let them tell us ‘no’. If you’re the one who decides, it’s ‘no’ right now – giving up – then it’s for sure. We don’t know what they’ll say when we get to the consulate appointment with all stuff we have.’

He was being too logical. I was stubborn in my defense.

‘They aren’t going to care that it’s hard or that people refuse to cooperate. They can go to Spain any time they want and they’ll be perfectly happy if we aren’t there too.’

Yes – I admit I was whining.

‘Maybe. But I want to hear it from them.’

He hugged me and suggested perhaps I needed a glass of wine. But that, and the Nyquil I’ve been taking for my cold, don’t mix very well and I’d like to wake up tomorrow NOT in a coma. He’s right, of course. I can only do what I can do. Nothing more. I guess I’m just used to pulling rabbits out of my hat and today I reached in and there weren’t any more rabbits. And my top hat has a nice big hole in it.

But tomorrow is another day. I am feeling like I’m finally on the mend tonight, and with a little sleep, and my coach to keep me in the game, I may just get through it.


The Visa Slalom

Skiing is an apt metaphor for trying to get all the documents ready for our visa appointment, arranging to ship our goods overseas, navigating Spanish banking and all the rest. It’s winter, after all. But just like tackling the giant slalom, it’s tiring and about halfway down the hill, one wonders if one will make it to the end without breaking a leg or my neck.

The background checks weren’t done by the FBI when they predicted so we were able to get them done by a company called IDVetting. It cost a ton of money but we had little choice and now they’re out to the State Department getting Apostled. I hope to get them back next week.

Then there is the fact that our bank in Spain refused our wire transfers using a universal currency service every expat uses, that saves us tons of bank exchange fees and wire fees. No one has ever heard of this before. So I’ll need to figure something else out there – most likely just paying the exorbitant fees our banks charge.

Getting our US banks and investment firms to sign and date our statements, verifying that they are actually our statements, has also proved so incredibly challenging, it boggles the mind. And once they finally agreed to do it – somehow the US mail screwed it up and I didn’t receive them and have to call back and explain it all over again – to a new set of people who are baffled at the request and are not sure they are willing to do it. I’m in an endless loop and without these we can’t hope to get our visa approved.

Then there is the apartment lease that has taken 6 weeks to get to the point where we have something to review before we sign. But then I guess if we can’t get a visa we won’t need an apartment.

And finally, the overseas shipper we were going to use that turned out to be total flakes. I have finally found another that will pick up our stuff from our home in US in February, some time – if our visa is approved, and deliver it the our apartment – as soon as we sign the lease, in Valencia.

Until we get these documents – we can’t get them translated so we can meet our Consulate appointment. Each of them requires time, patience and persistence. And continued follow up. It’s crazy making and shouldn’t be this hard.

Everyone I know who has gone through this process has shaken their heads at how hard every step has been for us. I finally turned to my husband the other day and asked if it was all worth it? Is the universe telling me to stop with all this? Why is EVERY SINGLE THING like pulling teeth? Why has no one else ever encountered road blocks with each step required? Even then, we’re not ensured our visa will be approved.

He shook his head.

‘Maybe its so we will really appreciate all that it took to get there.’

I’m not so sure anymore. But maybe I’m down because I’ve been battling the flu. Then again, maybe I have the flu because I’ve been battling all this document HELL!! Chicken and Egg. I haven’t given up yet, but I’m close. I’ve got the towel in my hand and I’m almost ready to throw it in.