The Power of Disconnection

When we moved to Valencia, everything was different. I felt so bombarded by the differences that any subtlety or shades of grey were completely missed. The things we were dealing with were all primary colors and right in our faces.

Now that we’ve lived in Spain for 16 months, I notice other things. Jeff talked about some of them in his one year recap. Things like not being blasted with advertising. We really do find we don’t seem to want as much stuff, because we don’t know about it. But it goes even deeper than that. I still read news from the US, but I also watch the local news on TV in Spanish. And something struck me & it all comes down to ‘Fear’.

When I watch the Valencian news on TV, the stories can be about social injustice – there is plenty of protesting and there should be. And sure, there are the crime stories, and stories about the politics and government. Sport, human interest and fiestas loom large. Boilerplate stuff. But there are a lot less stories about the number of things that will send you running for the hills, or to your doctor or therapist.

When I read CNN or BBC or Reddit on my phone, the number of stories that ask ‘Could this be the next thing that…a) destroys your career? or b) kills or maims your children or yourself? or c) causes you untold financial ruin?’ is jarring. And those that just generally create a low level anxiety boggles the mind. And they do it sometimes by asking questions that you know you don’t have the answer for, so you read it. And then, often it turns out, they don’t actually have the answers either. Just more speculation. And even if you don’t read the click-bait, you’re still left wondering what you don’t know. My favorite story recently was ‘Is your Anxiety life-threatening?’ That question alone would ratchet it up a couple of notches. I don’t hear things like this except on English speaking media.

Living in the US, I had never really noticed this before. While living in Valencia, I never see that stuff because generally it doesn’t appear to me that the social fabric of Spanish life is based on fear, like it is in America or the UK. Anglo cultures seem to bucket everything in terms of ‘Winners or Losers’, but you can’t be both. Growing up, we had ‘The War on Drugs’, ‘Zero Tolerance in Schools’ and ‘Three Strikes You’re Out’ policies for criminal justice. None of that has worked and some of it has done immeasurable harm to real people, and secondary harm to our culture. It’s scary.

Fast forward, this summer, we’re about to go through the the process of college/scholarship applications for Emilie. But even in that there are ‘Winners and Losers’. The incredible stress every American and British parent/child feels in getting them into a top school, while competing against millions of other kids and their parents, doesn’t seem to be a thing in Spain. And I know a fair few parents with kids the same age in Valencia.

The recent highly publicized college admission cheating scandal involving rich and famous American parents hasn’t helped. Privileged people who were so stressed out and afraid for their children’s futures they would commit felonies on their behalf, might make any regular parent think ‘If they’re afraid for their kids future, I should be too.’ So, many parents or their kids will go practically bankrupt – taking on unimaginable debt for fear of falling behind in the race. Higher education here in Spain is first rate and won’t break the bank.

I get 10-20 emails a day from universities all around the US who are trying to get Emilie to apply there. And some of them are frighteningly alarmist in their digital messaging. Almost threatening me to prove I care about her by sending her to them, Top Notch University X, for four years. And if I don’t? Well, then what does that say about me as her parent? Now, don’t get me wrong – she’s an excellent student with the perfect set of extra-curriculars (Yes, I just used that horrible phrase); but if she said she was going to a Community College for the first two years I wouldn’t bat an eye. Although, the message seems to be I should be very stressed out about it. But me being me, I’m naive enough to believe her success or failure in life will not be decided between the ages of 18-22.

This type of social brinksmanship seems to permeate our lives in the US from preschool to the workplace, thru retirement, where the specter of running out of money in old age is waved in your face weekly on every news site. ‘How much is too much to save for Retirement?’ ‘Will you have enough?’. If I had to sum up the general mood of so many I know in the US it would be perpetually worried. Because if you’re not, you might miss something.

The US is the largest single consumer economy in the world. If we get a Wall Street sniffle, the rest of the world gets a cold. But it’s not just about selling us products to make us more attractive or a luxury car to make us feel more powerful. Its the whole package. If we’re always on edge, afraid all the time, we’re continually trying to look for a solution to alleviate that anxiety. A shopping trip, a pill, a bigger house, a new boat, a self-help guru, a vacation. ‘Select sports’ this, and an ‘Ivy League college’ that. It’s got to be exclusive or we won’t feel special. And if we’re occupied with those things then we’re distracted, and, Whew! – we’re spending money. And the economic engine churns. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve made a career out of it. I struggled to get off that hamster wheel.

Then I walked the Camino two years ago, and when I entered Santiago, 36 days after leaving St. Jean in France, in my back pack I had:

  • 2 sets of well worn clothes
  • flip flops
  • a sleeping bag
  • a rain poncho
  • sweatshirt
  • my trusty Swiss Army knife (my most cherished possession now)
  • and some personal products

I needed nothing else in the world. I’ll admit, initially I had brought a lot more because of the advice I had gotten on social media and most of it was ‘What if this happens?’. Fear again. But I left most of that stuff at the monastery in Roncesvalles after the first 2 days. I couldn’t carry anything more than I absolutely needed for another 780km.

Day One. Camino Fances – St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Orisson (French Pyrenees)

The entire time, except for the occasional text interruption, I stayed off my phone, news apps and social media. I didn’t read a news report or of any new studies definitively confirming that dark haired women who walk the Camino at aged 50, are 1500% more likely to be hit by a meteor than those who just stayed home and shopped at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. In other words, I didn’t know to be afraid – so remarkably, I wasn’t. It was the best gift I ever gave myself. They say ‘knowledge is power’, but too much information can be crippling.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t things to be concerned about in the world. Climate Change is top of mind for me. This should, very seriously, concern us all. But now that I look back, one of the biggest things I took away from my Camino was the sense of peace. And I think a big part of that was being disconnected. Not disconnected from those around me. I’ve never felt more present or the deep sense of connection than I did with those I met. But a large part of moving to Spain, I see now, was about continuing that feeling.

I’ve spent this last weekend (other than sleeping) polishing and finishing the final edits on my book. I had to cut out more than 25k words so it’s been quite the exercise over many months, but its nearly across the finish line. It’s a story set on the Camino Francés (I was in Burgos exactly 2 years ago today). And editing requires you read and re-read the MS so many times you could recite it from memory in your sleep. But another thing its done for me is that its helped me get back in touch with those feelings, and one of my most important lessons from 5 weeks walking in the hot Spanish sun. The awesome power of disconnection.

Guest Blog: Feliz Primer Anniversario – El Jefe’s Perspective

We have made it a whole year! I have a lot of stuff filed under “If only I knew then what I know now” and I’ll help Kelli out now and again with a guest blog post sharing my observations of living here in Valencia.

Do I need one of those?

I think living in the US conditioned me to the never-ending stream of advertising telling me that I need this or that.  There are ads on TV telling me that I should consult with my doctor to see if whatever medicine the pharmaceutical company happens to be selling at that moment is right for me.  There is a constant stream of messages telling the listener to be dissatisfied with what they have.  Ooh look at the new version of X! You need a bigger Y.  How have you lived without Z in your life?   The advertising is relentless. 

When we lived in the US I noticed it, but I never thought too much about how it influenced me.  Here in Valencia the only advertisements that I’m exposed to are either the 5 or 6 billboards in the Metro or the daily text message from Vodafone trying to get me to buy something new.  As a result of the absence of marketing I am not feeling like I’m missing out for not having the latest and greatest of everything. 

I had forgotten how much advertising there was in the US until yesterday.  I decided to tune into my old favorite radio station in Seattle by streaming their broadcast over the internet.  Why hadn’t I thought of this months ago?  It was great hearing the familiar voices and even the traffic reports of places I had been countless times.  One thing that really annoyed me though was the sheer quantity of ads.  After listening for about an hour I began to record how much time was spent on advertising.  It works out to about 20 minutes per hour!  It was quite an eyeopener.  Back in the states I would have just assumed that was normal, because it is. Here in Valencia I mostly listen to music on Amazon or we watch Netflix. Very little advertising and I think I’m happier for missing out on it.

Take my money,please!

When I shop, I like to do ample research so that I know exactly what I need.  There have been several examples over the past year where I was sure I knew exactly what I wanted only to find out that the “latest” model available in Spain is 2 years older than what is available in the US.  This is perhaps my biggest frustration shopping here.  Even Amazon fails to fill the void as not all products are available everywhere.

My second biggest frustration is the pace at which the shopping experience advances. Once I’ve figured out what I want, then I need to figure out how to get it.  Where to shop, online or a local store? Even when I’m able to determine that a local store has the item I want, there is a good chance it will not be open when I get there. We are still getting the hang of the holiday schedule here. Some days are still just a mystery as to why everything is closed.  Sometimes even when you arrive at the store on a non-holiday between the posted opening and closing hours the shop will be closed. We have no idea why. This wouldn’t happen in the US.

There have been a few times where I think I’m being perceived as more trouble than I’m worth to a salesman, rather than to try to understand what I’m asking for.  There is a bike shop around the corner that comes to mind.  Both times I’ve been there I have been turned away without being able to purchase what I need. Maybe it is because I don’t speak Spanish, but I always come prepared with either a picture of the item I need, or a Google translated paragraph of what I am looking for. Both times I’ve walked out feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman thinking “Big mistake, I hope you work on commission” as I end up placing an order online. 

Overall though, I would say that most people that I try to communicate with are willing to give it a try. My broken Spanish and their broken English – usually better than my Spanish – and we work it out.

Today we were out visiting car dealerships.  The steps to the car buying process is like buying in the US.  Visit the showroom, pick out a car, test drive the car, pay for it and go home. I’ve purchased many cars or motorcycles in the US.  I go in armed with all my data and negotiate a fair price as quickly as I can. I mean who wants to spend an entire day at a car dealer? I think my record was when I purchased a Range Rover on Christmas Eve a few years ago. I stopped into the dealer as they were opening on my way to work, and the whole buying process only took a little over an hour and that was because I had to wait for them to wash it. 

The steps are roughly the same here but instead of using a stopwatch to keep track of the time, you had better bring a calendar…seriously.  You need to make an appointment to test drive your selected vehicle.  If you want to drive a few different cars then that will require a separate appointment for each vehicle, hopefully all on the same day but not guaranteed if the cars will be available. Then once you have picked out the one you want it is time to pay for it. Like many things here this next part doesn’t make much sense to us. 

The dealership we visited today told us that we had to finance the car.  It wasn’t a large sum of money but in order to buy the car we couldn’t just pay cash even though I could. The salesperson told us that the upside is that they will give us a discount on the price for financing. (as if I have a choice)  And the punchline was that it would take about two weeks for the finance company to get us approved.  Once we are approved then it will take about another 4-5 days to get our insurance set up. We already have a quote but the turnaround time is so slow in them responding that getting the car attached to the policy is a chore.

So, I’ve learned that it takes roughly just under a month to buy a new car in Valencia. I’ve heard that buying a used vehicle is quicker but that comes with its own set of potential issues. For instance, the previous owner may have some unpaid tickets and somehow, they get transferred to the new owner as if the car was responsible for them and not the owner. I’m sure there are ways to protect yourself from this and I know I still have a bit of learning to do. 

Overall my experience here has been a positive one. From day 1 there has been something new to learn every day. What seemed almost impossible and intimidating just a year ago is now easily accomplished. I’m an introvert but I’m slowly being forced out of my shell due to necessity.  Well, that and Pokemon Go.  (They are fanatical about the game here, but I’ll save that for another blog post) 

Sure, there is still a huge language barrier for me, but context is everything. I may not always know what the cashier at the grocery store is telling me but somehow, I just know what she is asking and can respond accordingly.  “No, I don’t have a loyalty card.”  “No, I don’t need validation for parking.”  “Yes, I’d like a bag.”  It probably sounds a little weird to a bystander.  The cashier talking to me in Spanish while I respond in English, but it seems to be working so far.  And with each day that passes the language barrier is not quite so tall.  Want to order a beverage?  All you need to say is “una cerveza” or maybe “una pinta cerveza” if you are thirsty.  But I’ve learned that ordering a “una grande pinta cerveza” while gesturing with my hands may be a little overkill, as I found out the other day. 

Now that’s a beer

Would I give up all my worldly possessions and move to another country again? Maybe. But one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t need nearly as many things as I thought I did two years ago. I’ve traded them for experiences.

Time to Circle Back

When we moved here last spring, the furniture I bought for our living room was more stop gap than what I really liked. My sofa was on it’s way from the US – it’s took the long way around –  and I was going to build around that when it arrived. But for those who read this blog back then, you know it was 3/4 of an inch too large to fit into our apartment – by any means contemplated, and I contemplated them all. So, I sold it to some people we know from Seattle. Boo hoo. But this means our furniture ‘stop-gap’ has leaked into the Fall, and we’ve been making do with stuff I was OK with when we spent most of our days outside or on the other side of the world. Now? Not ideal.

I have very specific requirements for a sofa (my previous one ticked all the boxes) and I’ve had my eye out for a new one that meets most of those. The most important requirement being that it fits into the apartment. Miraculously, I have found just such a sofa, tailor made for me, and it will arrive next Tuesday.

It’s funny. I was trying to get them to deliver it by Thanksgiving. I’ve done this before with a new dining room table back in the US – squeaking it in before a big Thanksgiving dinner. But then I remembered, Thanksgiving is an arbitrary measure. There is no ‘Thanksgiving’ here. And it’s never been my favorite holiday, anyway. So it’s more important that it actually arrives before we leave for Ireland in a few weeks.

I also ordered a new arm chair and a buffet for the dining room – Yay! More storage. And even more important that those things, a console for the entry way. We have been managing our house keys by leaving them in coats and jeans. I find them in the laundry and we hunt for them before we leave the house each time. All because we haven’t had the wooden bowl in the entry hall to pop them in when we come through the door, like every other house we’ve ever lived in. 

Its funny. I love living in a smaller space. We have what we need and no more. It’s weirdly zen, and there’s freedom in that. But it requires us to ensure our storage/organizing systems are, well, more organized and more systematic, apparently. Jeff has been all over that lately.

We went to El Corte Ingles at Nuevo Centro. They’ve got a great kitchen department and we needed some things for the kitchen. I had a list and started making my selections. I wasn’t going crazy with the superfluous. But I noticed Jeff in front of one shelf in particular as I finished up my selections. He looked into my basket and shook his head.

‘What are you getting? It’s all mismatched stuff.’ He pointed out with disdain.

I looked at what I had chosen. ‘I got each item for a purpose. I know what I need and what we’re lacking in our small kitchen. I don’t care about matchy matchy.’ 

He shook his head. ‘But it’s not a system. Look at these.’ He indicated the containers and jars on the shelve. ‘Now these all go together. And they open with a half turn.’ he demonstrated and turned the lid so I could see the inside. ‘And they have a gasket. They’re not going to leak and moisture isn’t getting inside. It’s an actual system.’

I looked down at my hodge podge of jars and what-not and shook my head wondering how many times he could possibly use the word ‘system’. Of course, he was assessing the engineering quality of kitchen storage. But it was more than that. It was all designed to go together. The pieces were interchangeable and the care and thought that went into it appealed to his sense of order. So we bought his system and now my kitchen is perfectly organized, and he feels a small sense of accomplishment when he opens the jars of coffee beans and cardamon every morning to make me my cafe con leche.

But I get it. We all have our things. And my ‘thing’ will be arriving on Tuesday, when I’ll be stretching out on my wide seat sofa, drinking said coffee. And finally, the world is back to normal; for which I am very Thankful this year.

Surfing the Equinox

We made our way home. It was a long trip – of course. Over hill and dale. Or mountains and an ocean and the city of Amsterdam. Our goals for the trip were met. We saw family, did a little business and took care of some shopping. This trip was all about Jeff getting the things that someone who is exceptionally tall and has big feet needs to feel comfortable in a country where the population is a foot smaller.

I bought nothing. Seriously – I restrained myself through some sort of personality metamorphosis – and I bought not one article of clothing or shoes. My list was along the lines of allergy medicine and deodorant.  My favorite deodorant lasts exactly 6 months. And my face cream and mascara was right there with it. So I bought that stuff, but that’s just a restock. Even explorers to the Antarctic would understand purchases like that.

We had stored some luggage at my parent’s house when we made the trip in January to drop off our bed and other things we wanted to keep but didn’t want to move to Spain. We just did carry on on the outbound, but it became very clear that the luggage we had at my Mom’s wasn’t going to cover all that Jeff had ordered in advance and purchased while we were there.

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We went to purchase an additional suitcase, found out that they had a two for one situation going on, and purchased 4 suitcases for the price of 2. This meant donating our old luggage and heading home to Spain with some bright green (Seahawks colored – or ‘Soilent Green’, as I call them) suitcases that attracted so much attention in every airport, taxi and train, transcending language or culture. But no one in Valencia airport baggage claim wondered if these were their suitcases.

The temperature and the humidity has entirely changed since we were away. The mornings and nights are cool. The air feels more like Seattle did. During the day, it’s in the 70’s, just like back in the Northwest of the US, you need a jacket leaving home in the morning but by mid morning stripping layers off is the only way to make it through the day. And like ducks flying south for the winter, this weather has triggered my bi-annual closet flip. Home just in time to make it happen before the really chilly coat weather sets in.

In every home we’ve lived in for the last 15 years, I’ve had two closets and lots of storage. So the swapping closets was easy. I just rotated them like seasonal groceries on the shelves of my parent’s grocery store. Or on the floor of a department store. New stock in front. Old stock in the back. Simple approach. But here in El Compartimiento? Not so simple.

When our things arrived in July, I didn’t even bother unpacking our winter clothes. I stacked all those space bags in the top of the closet and forgot about them. I had other issues to deal with, like my overflowing emergency shoe situation. But our early morning walk trying to shake off jet lag had my brain thinking it was perhaps time to open the bags and perform the task of swapping things out.

Before I started the exercise, I had congratulated myself on how much I had given away before moving here. And my creativity on finding the secret storage for my greatly winnowed shoe collection. It was short lived.

How many coats did I needed here? Rain coats, from formal to others for camping or walking the moors. Over coats for every 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature variant possible before fading into full on arctic outwear. And my vest selection is impressive. Except I have no where to put them and I hadn’t even started on the fall and winter clothes yet.

‘Oh well’, I thought to myself, ‘Jeff will be in the same boat. He’s got loads of winter clothes and he loves coats too.’ Turns out, not as much as I do. Surprise! It’s all laid out in the living room now. Holy Moly! And a lot of it is work clothes. It’s like my closet is telling me to get a job.

Now I have to clean out the drawers and the hanging areas, and see how much room I can make. Spring and Summer will go into the space bags vacated by Fall and Winter. I wonder if I’ll be able to hear them cry out to me.

‘Hey! We don’t do bags. We just head into the second closet or under eave storage. What’s going on here?!’

To which I will reply.

‘Oh little tank tops and open backed dresses. We don’t have a second closet anymore. Our life isn’t like it used to be. We don’t live in a house where you could go for 24 hours without seeing the other inhabitants. We live in El Compartimiento. And The EC – as I call it now – doesn’t stand for wasted space. So hop into the space bags, enjoy the sucking sound and stay quiet until we see each other again next April.’

I am looking forward to a night when I can put on my favorite duffel coat, wrap a scarf around my neck and smell wood burning while we walk. Then it will feel like home.

 

 

Doing a Little Shopping

Never mind the fact that we are heading to the US for most of September. Jeff is shopping for real estate. Well, why not. We have nothing else going on. We have been married for a long time, so I know him well. For all those years, if there was ever a gap in Jeff showing me properties or market potential, I don’t remember it. So when he started saying things like ‘Look at this’ and the screen showed apartments or maps of available properties, I was not surprised.

When we went on our little mountain excursion a few weeks ago, he pulled up Fotocasa and we sat in a cafe in a micro village and thought about the commute, vacation rental potential and charm factor. I am resigned to it. It’s just how it’s going to go.

So this past week, when he’d set up an appointment with an agent here, I didn’t bat an eye. He’s ready to start the process of finding a home. I guess I should take that as a good sign that we’re staying in Spain. I don’t say ‘Valencia’ in particular because he’s looking at things in other parts of the country too. But this first appointment was local.

Jeff knows my weird adoration for Benimaclet. I can’t explain it, but he’s willing to go with it. We have talked about buying something and doing ‘Reformas’ or remodeling. I have dreams of finding something old and gutting it. Breathing new life into a forgotten gem. Improving the neighborhood and setting down roots. Kind of giving back. Jeff is ok with my romantic dream. But he sees the financial upside and the possibility of ALOT more space than El Compartimiento can provide.

The first property was the top floor of a three story building over a cafe. It’s 5 bedrooms and it has a nice large kitchen terrace. But what makes the property so appealing is that we get the entire roof with a 360 view of the area. Well, maybe blocked by a couple of buildings at certain points but we could entertain up there 8 months out of the year. The downside – holy moly, the roof had leaked and it is a total mess.

So now we’re doing research on the costs of ‘Reformas’ and gauging our tolerance for ‘disaster recovery’ as I am now calling it. Jeff showing me this property is challenging my stomach for construction project management and just plain waiting – not my strong suit. How many walls can you knock out and how long will it take? But I’d get to work with engineers. I love engineers!

The agent had lived in LA for 5 years. He seemed to be a keen study in human nature watching me walk around and examine the leaking roof and peeling paint.

‘I have another property. It’s a 15 minute walk and has been completely reformed. We can go now if you like.’

So we walked. And it was gorgeous. Already done up and in a secure building with a 24 hour doorman. The complete opposite of what we were thinking and it’s not in Benimaclet. I touched the shiny fixtures in the two large bathrooms. And stood on the terrace looking down at the lush courtyard with the fountains and the blooming bougainvillea.

We walked home and on the way we stopped in at our local El Chino for a few things. He’s been closed for some of August and he greeted us with a smile. We’re good customers. At check out, I got my ‘Mystery Gift w/ Purchase’ as he often includes. This time it was Tomato Sauce. So random.

And then it hit me. If we move out of Benimaclet, I wouldn’t have this El Chino. It’s like a coffee shop in Seattle. When you move to a new neighborhood, you think you’ll go back to the one near your old house, since they know you and call you by name, but you won’t. It’s not convenient. You find a new one you can walk to. And I’d never again get cans of free anchovy stuffed olives that I’ll never eat. Or a random can of beer.

So now I have some thinking to do and luckily we’re leaving town soon so I’ll have a month to do it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hear ‘Look at this’ as I’m trying to go to sleep in one hotel or another over the next 4 weeks. Jeff is on the case like a bloodhound, and I have a feeling that by the spring, where we call home here won’t be same as it is today. I need to decide if that makes me happy or sad.

What if we ever needed…3/4 of an Inch

Hell froze over today. Well, since it’s so bloody hot and humid I sort of wish it actually did, but our stuff ARRIVED at 1pm today. It actually came with a phone call and three guys who could not have been nicer. I paid for their lunch afterwards. I’m not a person who has ever held a grudge. Don’t have time for it so all that nonsense was in my rear view mirror 30 seconds after the first dolly load crossed our door step.

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They found parking and unloaded in record time. As planned, we had them bring all the boxes and bikes up to our apartment and we put the sofa in our parking space in the garage. We needed to measure it before I schedule the crane service. I was on cloud nine watching them go back and forth. Emilie stayed down by the truck to make sure no one made off with any boxes while the guys were filling the lobby.

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Seeing our things again was like reconnecting with old friends. And unpacking was so much fun!  All my kitchen stuff that was of such interest to US Customs and Border control made it with only one glass pot lid that was shattered.  All my Le Creuset – check. More of my Crate and Barrel dishes – yup. All our flatware and my box of odds and ends kitchen stuff. My beloved Vitamix made it. Jeff checked the amperage (I don’t even pretend to understand it) and it works on the electricity here. We just have to take it to a local place to get the plug/cord swapped out.

My pans are here too! And our golf clubs and bikes. Jeff’s computer stuff and his keyboard that he’s been waiting for. All the tools for his first love – the motorcycle. We spent the day unpacking boxes and washing things. Our bedding from home – sheets and towels that we could have bought locally but we loved them too much to leave behind. Then there were the more sentimental things. The things that, when you surround yourself with them, make you feel like you’re truly home.

Our refrigerator magnet collection from trips we took as a family. Jeff always hated how junky it made it look in an open plan kitchen. I loved the reminder of all the things we did together. Tonight, I put them all on the fridge and he came home and smiled. Emilie and I had fun reminiscing about each one and telling funny stories about where they were purchased and some crazy thing that happened.

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The pictures came. Our wedding photo and some of the art that we had on the walls. Emilie unpacked the boxes in her room and it’s just about like it was in the US – only 5 times smaller. Her books, photos and all the small things that mean so much to her.

I unpacked the vacuum packed bags of our clothes and it seems we brought more than I remembered. I appears my ‘What if we ever…?’ philosophy might have gone a little too far. OK, if we ever go to Iceland again I have my Canada Goose parka and Jeff’s Mountain Hardwear parka. But living here I don’t think there will be a day that we’ll need either of those.

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My most egregious and embarrassing miscalculation was my discovery that I had 5 full boxes of shoes that were just for me. Luckily, Jeff had run an errand when I pulled them out of the pile in the dining room. Yeah, I knew I had a problem anyway but today it was in my face and before Jeff got home I needed to find somewhere for 5 boxes of shoes in El Compartimiento. But where to put them? The only place I had to spare was in the kitchen Gabinete and I knew the minute he got hungry I’d be ratted out. Emilie just shook her head but she wasn’t one to talk. She had 2 boxes of shoes for herself – OK, I’m a baaad influence.

So I started pulling out drawers and cabinets. I was sweating and panicked. What the hell was I going to do? I looked around and then I remembered we have drawers under the bed we bought. And those drawers are mostly covered by the duvet. I knew Jeff was barely using his closet so he wouldn’t even think about the drawers under the bed. Sure enough, they were empty. But as I placed my shoes, boots and sandals lovingly into their new, hidden home, I started counting and, well, I’m just ridiculous. Who needs 5 pairs of high suede boots here? I brought 3 pairs of rubber boots!  What was I thinking?

But that isn’t the capper. Tonight we went down to the garage after I was done unpacking the rest of the stuff and putting it away. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my ability to cram things in every nook and hidden crannies. Organizing things for easy access later. Winter closet, stored. Yup, I was at the top of my organizational game. I hadn’t over packed afterall. I was a ‘just enough’ goddess.

I got into the elevator with a confident smug swagger that only a truly organized person pull off. Then we measured.

My beloved couch is 43 3/4 inches deep. I don’t care about the height because it passed that test. Our living room window is broken up into sections that are 43 inches. Not 44 inches – 43. And they can’t get any bigger, even if you take the windows out, because of the custom shutters that come down in tracks. So my couch won’t fit. So we went down and took all the wrapping from the move off and I actually talked to the couch.

‘Please couch – I know you’ve been through alot in the last 5 months but I need 3/4 of an inch – that’s all. Please give me 3/4 of an inch.’ I begged and pleaded.

Jeff measured again. I don’t think the couch was very forgiving after spending months in a container ship. It didn’t give up a millimeter. There will be no couch (at least not one from the US) inside El Compartimiento. With every victory, there is also defeat. I had gotten a little cocky with the shoes.

Tonight, Jeff is sporting his Keens, he’s smiling in a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt he hasn’t worn since February. That’s good enough for me.

The Home Stretch

At looong last – after over 4 month since they picked up our stuff in Phoenix, our only worldly possessions have cleared customs in Rotterdam and are making their way to the moving company’s storage in Alicante. That’s only two hours from us. It hardly seems real.

When I reached out to our shipper in late April asking for an update, they told me our stuff would be here in Valencia by May 23rd. But I just found out that it didn’t leave the US until May 3rd, so it would have been a miracle if it had. Then when they missed that by a week and I asked for another ETA they said June 12th. On the 12th, they emailed me and said it would reach Rotterdam on the 19th. It did but with some hiccups and holds.

In my typical fashion, our stuff had been ‘randomly selected’ by customs (or the Universe, I swear it!) and we had to pay $450 to get it out of ‘on hold status’. Making this payment proved a challenge since our US shipper (agent of origin) is a complete bunch of nincompoops (always wanted to use that word and, in this case it’s too appropriate not to). It took them two days to figure it out. Eventually, I just paid the customs clearance guy in Holland and got it done.

I can hardly believe that our things are on European soil. Sure they’re several countries away but they are making their way south, across the continent. I’m crossing my fingers that bandits don’t hijack the truck, it doesn’t catch fire in a lightening storm, it doesn’t roll off the mountainside in the Pyrenees (why they would go that way I have no idea), or one of the other disaster scenarios that keep me awake at night.

It sounds far fetched. I mean, how could any or all of that happen to one little shipment, for one little person – me? It’s because I’m me, that’s why. If all our stuff has been invaded by the dreaded ocean going water termite (yes, I made that up) it wouldn’t shock me in the least. So now we have other stuff to concern ourselves with.

Once the stuff gets to Alicante, they will call me and arrange a date of delivery in early July. I will then reach out to a guy I know here in Valencia who will – crossing my fingers – go with me to the town hall and arrange for a permit where I block off the sidewalk of cars for 48 hours in preparation for my delivery. I will not yet arrange for the crane until the couch is actually here. We will put it in our parking space in the garage, measure it 10 times. Then measure our living room window on the 7th floor 11 times, and then either call the crane company, or locate some storage and move it there.

What will I be happy to see in all those little boxes? Well, all my summer clothes that I thought would be here (yes, they promised me they would be) two months ago. I’d like some variety and some other shoes. Jeff is looking forward to wearing more than just the two pairs of shorts he currently enjoys. He wears one, I wash one. Ugh.

I’m looking forward to pictures. Photos and a couple of paintings. We may have actual art on our walls. Towels and summer sheets. Our bikes and sports equipment – golf clubs. An omelet pan! It’s all coming! It will be like Christmas in July – literally JULY!! I’m chewing a little glass over that.

But we’re in the home stretch and our focus will shift to the one final thing we need to tackle before winter. Getting our driving licenses. But Jeff is on the case – I can only worry about so many things myself. And he’s located a couple of schools in English in the area so we can investigate further and get legal before October 31st rolls around.

But before that, I’ll be unpacking boxes soon. Hugging my precious shoes and handbags, saying a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I forgot I had this’ and ‘Why the hell did I bring this?!’. But it’s all good. I figure it’s a lot like having a baby. Once it’s here, you forget about the pain, the swelling and bloating and just enjoy your 325 square feet of joy. And with any luck, I’ll be sitting on part of it in my living room enjoying a cold glass of sangria very soon.

No Really, Where’s my Stuff?!?

Oh yes. Back in the dark ages – well, the end of February, the movers came and took our stuff to Los Angeles. They had promised to put it all on a boat that would sail across the sea. How do I know this? Because I gave them a pile of money and signed a contract to that effect. What day is it today? Hmm, oh yeah, it’s June 7th. And where is my stuff? A question not even the Oracle at Delphi could answer lying in her sulfur fog in her stone mountain top temple.

The first indication that we might have an issue was about a month after arriving here in Valencia, the shipper in LA contacted me and asked me ‘for an inventory list’. WHAT?!? I asked them why they would be asking me for that since the movers made a list of what was in each box – because I had already numbered said boxes and made an inventory list for them. Well, they didn’t have it. So I sent them another copy and pictures of each of the number items I had taken with my cell phone before allowing them to be loaded.

Yes, I’m just that organized. Ok – paranoid. But it was our stuff. And we cared about it enough to ship it half way across the world, across oceans and through canals. You can see how my blood pressure might have gone up a bit. I conveyed my displeasure to the person who was doing the asking. ‘Was this what I paid all that money for?’ She never directly addressed the question but assured me that now she could ship our stuff.

What?!? They had picked it up a month before. Where the HELL had it been, if not in a container rapidly steaming it’s way towards me with dolphins riding the bow wave guiding to Valencia?? I was pissed. They said it had been stored until it was put on the boat with other containers. What could I do? Nothing – so I decided to drink a glass of wine and take 10 deep breaths. It worked for awhile.

Before we went to pick up Jeff’s bike in Germany at the beginning of May, I reached out to them again and asked when our stuff would be getting here. I didn’t want it to show up while we were in Germany. They assured me that it would be arriving on May 23rd to Valencia. The customs people would contact me and arrange the paperwork and delivery. Ugh – but fine. We booked our tickets to Germany and off we went.

The timing was good because Emilie was coming on the 19th. That would give her a couple of days to settle in before her stuff got here and we could spend days unpacking it all. The 23rd came and went – no call. So 7 days after the due date, I reached out again. No response. So, in my typical fashion I did a little digging and found the CEO’s email address and cc’d him on my next communication showing the string of untruths I had been told in the emails with these people going back to February. Voila! I got a response telling me our stuff was going to now arrive on June 12, saying they were sorry for the delay and all would be well. You can tell I felt much better. NOT!

Then an email came from a nice guy in Rotterdam in The Netherlands who told me he would be handling the customs paperwork for me when the shipment arrived in Rotterdam. AGAIN WHAT?!? I quietly asked my the HELL my stuff wold be arriving in Rotterdam since I live in SPAIN. And I paid to have my stuff shipped to VALENCIA. When was my stuff going to show up at my door in Valencia, since it was going to be all the way across Europe?

He assured me that they were going to truck it across the several countries between me and Holland and that process would start after it arrived in Rotterdam on June 12th. He as very cheerful. So cheerful that I couldn’t be angry at him because he had nothing to do with the entire thing. And because I need him  – a man with so many vowels in his name that when I email him I have no idea if I’m actually spelling it correctly.

So I filled out the forms he sent me and sent them back. Now I’m waiting – hoping – praying, that our stuff will actually get to Rotterdam. A city I never wanted it to go to. And that the richly voweled guy will take care of it and get it here, so I can discover whether my couch can be craned into the living room window on the 7th floor.

Here’s the lesson. If you move to another country – store you stuff in your old country. Put it in storage and happily pay for it. Because, when you get to your new country, you will have to buy stuff to get by while you’re waiting for your old stuff to arrive – thus creating duplicate possessions, like a tea pot and a frying pan. So when your stuff, after making it, apparently, through every port between Los Angles and Rotterdam, finally arrives you won’t actually need that crap cause you’ve already bought that crap – again.

After all this, I swear if that couch doesn’t fit through the window I’m going to put it out on the sidewalk and just sleep there. It will be summer – if they’re not lying and it gets here by July 1st. I could live off the orange trees lining the street. The weather will be lovely, and I might just meet more of my neighbors and make some new friends. I’ll put my feet up, watch YouTube videos on my phone and drink some Sangria on the sidewalk. The street cleaners can wake me in the morning when they come around. But I’ll have earned it. I will have waited 4 months for that couch – too large though it might very well be. But its mine, and perhaps, like me, a little worse for wear but still, all mine.

Last Dance with Mary Jane

The shippers got the moving truck back to our house around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. I almost cried when they left. Our house is empty, except for the life raft (air mattress) in the bedroom and it  echos. Jeff can no longer mutter under his breath on the other side of the house without me hearing exactly what he’s saying. How do I know this? Experience.

All 14 computers are being recycled today and Mary Jane is en route to her new owner. Our goodbye in the garage was brief, but I did acknowledge how much she’s helped us get ready for today. Jeff drove off with the Bill of Sale and the title clutched in his hand. I’ll collect him from his office at the end of the day.

Today, there are only a couple of things I need to get done. A sweep with a garbage bag to open every cupboard, drawer, closet, cubby, and ensure that they’re clear. A guy is coming at 11:30 to take the last of Jeff’s tools, so I’ll let him into the garage to take them away.

Jeff was happy this morning. A man who has spent his entire life gathering stuff, feels lighter letting go.

‘I think everyone should go through this process. It feels good.’ He said at 5 am laying in the dark.  ‘Even if the boat sinks with all the rest of our stuff, I would be OK.’

If there had been any light in the room, he would have seen my jaw drop. Jeff has had a much harder time with this process, than I have. Shucking all he’s worked so hard for. But it seems he’s turned a corner. I relate, because I feel the same way.

Yesterday, I paid our rent for March in Valencia. It made us both feel better that we’re good to go when we land. It’s been a long process, but the time has been necessary. Evolutions take time. Growth can be painful, but it’s always good. We’re ready to go.

Wait – What?!?

The truck showed up at 7:15 pm tonight and then they told me – ‘Yeah, sorry, but we don’t have enough room in the truck for your stuff.’ Am I kidding, you ask? No. Were they kidding, I asked? Sadly, No. Deep breath.

They promised – after spending two hours wrapping our couch and bicycles and inventorying our boxes – to be back ‘Some time tomorrow after we drop off a ‘big load’ 15 miles away.’ Aka – They have no idea what time they’ll be coming back.

I just stood there and looked at them. What can I do? Nothing. I have to let them go away with their big truck and pray they will come back. How this happened, I have no idea. But I did have an indication that it just wasn’t my day.

Jeff got home while they were wrapping our couch. He was late getting home from work and was hungry and ready to go eat. But we had to wait until they left. Finally, we headed down to pick up some Kung Pao chicken and came back to the house to eat off our paper plates.

I dished it up and then I decided to look at my fortune in the cookies in the bag. My philosophy of eating desert first kicked in. I reached in and selected one and SURPRISE!! there was no fortune in mine. Nothing. Apparently, my future is a blank slate upon which, I can write whatever I want. OK, I made that up, but I’m trying to remain positive about everything.

I reviewed my contingency plans, but ultimately, when I wake up tomorrow we will have just 4 days before we fly out. I know it will be just fine, because it has to be.

The Shippers are Coming, The Shippers are Coming!!

Just like Paul Revere of Revolutionary legend. Yes – we got the word. The shippers are coming today! Everything is ready to go – labeled, numbered, and on the inventory sheet I created. I’ll just hand it to them and off they’ll go.

Again, this is a prime example of how much communication is key to a happy life. I have been begging them for the last 10 days for the exact date and time window they might be here. Apparently, not knowing is ‘very standard’ in this business, until the truck is leaving the stop before yours, to pick up your stuff.

If they had told me that they wouldn’t know anything until 24 hours before, I would have felt less sick to my stomach, and my nightmares and contingency planning wouldn’t be so far along. But they let me know late yesterday that the crew will be here between 5:30-6:30 pm today to get it all. I just spoke to the driver. Blood pressure, officially lower.

Last night, I picked up a rental car at the airport and today I’m all over the last odds and ends. I have wheels now, so going to the post office to ship some precious photos I forgot, to my Mom’s house is easy. And sending our accountant our tax stuff is a piece of cake. And arranging some banking things? No problem, when you can drive. I’m checking it all off the list.

Last night, before getting a car, we weighed our bags. Yeah. They needed more editing. So we’ve made some tough choices, again. I know they have clothes and shoes in Spain or I’d be freaking out right about now.

The assistant I hired in Valencia is setting up our internet, and we’re virtually looking at plans and megabytes and features together. Thank God for WhatsApp.

Friday, Mary Jane (our old truck) will go to her new home with one of Jeff’s co-workers. Then I’ll drop off some of our cups, vacuum cleaner, etc. at Goodwill. Sunday, a guy named Guillermo is coming to get our last TV, which means I’ll miss the finale of ‘Victoria’ on Masterpiece. Ugh. But for all our scheduling and rescheduling – I’ll take it!

Jeff just remarked how much happier I seem, not being a shut-in anymore, with my one fork and coffee mug, and a desperate need to communicate with him when he walks in the door at night. We’re essentially living in our bedroom now – like we’re college students, minus the homemade white lightening and patchouli. But it’s kind of fun. 5 days from now I’ll be picking him up at his office and heading the airport for leg one of our journey to a new life via LA.

Moving Voo Doo

Ok – My international shippers are giving me acid reflux.  They gave me the estimated window for picking up our stuff about a month ago. Promising to refine the estimate to an actual day, and then further to an actual time. I have neither in my possession right now. I have emailed repeatedly. I’m trying to stay away from my inbox for a few hours to calm down.

Everything we’re shipping is stacked our dining room, so Jeff stops hitting his 6 foot 3 inch head on the light fixture. This includes our bicycles and our couch wrapped entirely in plastic. I lamented that we no longer have anything to sit on, other than our two air mattresses in the bedroom. Our last TV is on a cardboard box in the bedroom until the guy comes to get it on Sunday.

If I had actually met the ‘customer service’ people from our shippers, I would be crafting Voo Doo dolls of them with the old cat hair in our vacuum bag, and some paperclips and old string I found in a drawer. I have no straight pins left, but I found nails in the garage, so I figure this would work in a pinch. Their back pain and migraines would force them towards their inboxes to email the information I require.

Jeff has assured me that we can still use the couch.

‘It’s gonna be moist, but my grandma had her couch covered in plastic for like 40 years, so I”m pretty sure we could sit on it for a few days.’

I declined, since it’s pretty sweaty in Arizona and I’d like to keep the skin on the back of my thighs for later. My confidence in these people isn’t as high as I need it to be. They’re going to be in possession, of all our possessions, for up to 16 weeks. I think my favorite boots actually cried when I closed the box.

I’ve learned to trust strangers on two continents in the last 6 months. I have no choice, I have to. But I don’t have to like it. Those shippers better watch out. I’m a woman with ALOT of time on my hands, until that truck pulls up – please let it by by Friday. And I’m feeling particular crafty in my doll making skills.

Check, Check, Check

Yesterday, I sat near our open front door and waited all day for the overnight package from our translator so I could turn around and send it to the Spanish Consulate. Our mail carrier is flakey – a looong history of creatively avoiding bringing packages to our door and just leaving the ‘Sorry we missed you’ slip on the door when I’ve been home. Never ringing the bell and forcing me to go to the post office to collect them.

This time, I was going to outwit him. I sat on our only piece of furniture facing the door with it open. He was not going to get by me. Like any flu sufferer, I hit refresh on my laptop as I watched it get ever closer to our house. And then it stalled. Where was he? It’s like he fell off the radar. Refresh, Refresh, Refresh – Nothing.

Where could my Oh So Valuable package be? Where could this man I had to battle through high package delivery seasons like Christmas and Valentines Day? My postal nemesis was outwitting me and it wasn’t just the cold meds. Finally, I decided to walk up to the mail box and there it was. He had avoided coming to our door again and hadn’t put in the delivery status and it had been there for hours!

I grabbed it and like a wide receiver in the Super Bowl, I headed straight for the goal line a half mile away at the UPS store. Sure, I was still in my PJ’s and my hair wasn’t combed so when the UPS guy saw me come in the door wild eyed, he just shook his head. He and I know each other well.

‘Where are we sending this today?’ he asked, fingers over his key board. ‘Spain? Colorado?’

‘No. To the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles.’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘Weren’t you just there on Monday?’

Yes, the people at the UPS store have seen me so many times for copies, notarization, overnight parcels that they know my schedule and visa milestones.

‘We were, but they needed one more set of bank statements.’

‘Seriously? You gave them like 1000 pages already. I copied all of them.’

‘Yeah – but they wanted more. This is the more, and it’s all been translated.’

He shook his head and put together the label and the envelope. We worked together to put it in and seal it.

‘I hate to say this, but I hope we never see each other again.’ I said

He smiled and nodded. ‘I know what you mean. I’m too emotionally tied up in your visa process. I’m going to need a break.’

I paid him and waved goodbye, trying to smooth down my hair with some sort of dignity – wandering home in my PJ’s after the adrenaline let down. Happy I could finally shut the front door and take a nap.

Today, we delivered our Audi TT to the Dealer who purchased it.

‘We have no car now.’ I lamented to Jeff tonight.

‘Yes we do. The truck is still in the driveway.’

I pulled a face.

‘Like I said, we have no car.’

‘We have one, we’re just ashamed to go out and drive around in it.’ he conceded.

He’s not wrong. We will technically be able to convey ourselves around these final two weeks – before someone who actually wants Mary Jane (our old truck) comes to pick it up – but we will not enjoy it.

On Sunday we’re heading down to Tuscon and visiting Jeff’s Mom, for the last time before we leave. I want to see her face when we pull up in it. Its not lost on me that we gave away or sold nearly everything of value. And now, the final vehicle we own is something from 1985.  But the list is smaller. Only a couple more things to check off and we’re outta here.

 

You’ll come and visit, right?

Jeff says it’s stress and that I ran myself down. I don’t know if it’s that or what – but I have the flu again. Started yesterday and now I’m in the fever and chills phase. Cold then Hot then Cold again.

Maybe it’s that we went through three climate zones in 48 hours, each with differing humidity and 30 degree swings in temperature. But I’m down for the count, except when our translations show up in that overnight envelope I expect today from our translator. Then I’ll be walking a half mile to the UPS store to overnight them to the consulate. That should be fun. I’ll have to warn the UPS store personnel to fumigate their store after I leave.

Yes – we are down to one car. This means Jeff takes it to work and I’m home bound. It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t have to get this important last set of documents to the consulate by tomorrow, but suddenly I realize how much I miss my car. That zippy little thing that took me where I needed to go.

All this is just a reminder how much we’re giving up. It’s all going away. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘Oh my God – in less than three weeks we’re homeless!’ But then I remembered that I have already rented an apartment in Spain. So we won’t actually be homeless. When we push off the dock on this side of the world, we’re rowing to a new dock on the other.

Sure, our stuff won’t get there for a couple of months, but we will have a place to lay our heads and shower, that isn’t a hotel. We will be fine. I know that. But I think it’s actually harder than I thought it would be. This letting go.

Sitting at the consulate on Monday, it hit me. We don’t know how to be anything other than tourists in another country. Suddenly we’re going to have to find out how to be locals. But we know nothing. And we will be at the mercy of new rules and customs, and my favorite boots will be on a boat going through the Panama Canal. If they lose those boots I’m gonna be pissed off.

OK, I’m free associating now, in a downward spiral. Deep breaths. I think Jeff is doing better now, than I am. He had to sell almost all his tools and he had his moment about 2 weeks ago. After spending nearly all his adult life putting together the shop of his dreams, it’s all gone now. I saw how hard it was for him and I’m there today.

Intellectually, we both know we’re going to have adventures, and that is exactly what we want, so that’s not the issue. It’s more the idea of losing control. We visited our friends over the last few months – in multiple states.

‘You’ll come visit us, right?’ I implore them in my most needy voice. I mean, we’re moving to Spain but I don’t want to lose my friends.

‘Well’ they say, ‘Sure, when the kids are out of school or maybe when such and such happens, we can come.’

Now I’m not stupid. My friend’s lives are full and they don’t revolve around us. But sometimes I wish they would just lie. We do have some friends who are already in Europe and we’ll see them right away. And our friends, Tom and Laurie are taking a Mediterranean cruise and will be in Valencia in October. She made me put it in my phone so I don’t forget the exact dates.

This is the intersection between dreaming and doing. We’re committed now but like any cross roads, it takes tremendous resolve and a lot of faith to take the leap at that last moment, believing you’ll be OK. Until that overnight envelope shows up today, I think I’ll take a nap and try to restore my energy for what’s coming.

 

Down to the Dregs

We are down to just what we want to keep. The boxes and the couch. The two bikes. And our 5 checked bags and two carry-ons. The Garage Sale worked and the dump runs and donations to Habitat for Humanity are complete.

We were making food the other night  – I won’t call it dinner, because, well…my skills being what they are, it was just food. Jeff looked into a cupboard and then another cupboard. And then the dishwasher. He held up a plate.

‘Who gets the plate?’ he asked me.

‘What?’ I was confused.

‘We have just one plate left in this house. Which one of us gets it? Or do you eat, wash it, then I eat?’

Oops! I’ve already packed up the good dishes that are going with us. OK, so my timing on liquidation is a little off, but we can buy disposable plates at the grocery store. They’ll go well with the disposable forks and spoons we’re using now.

So, we’re down to the dregs. Like the bathroom drawers that just need to be gone through. And while I don’t need expired cold medicine or 5 – just started bottles of Advil, I am sitting here looking at my collection of airline toiletries and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

Growing up, we had no money. I mean, NONE. When I was small, I played on a rug that smelled like smoke – it had been purchased in a literal fire sale and was the color of vomit – I wish I was kidding. It wasn’t until my parents mortgaged everything and bought a grocery store, when I was 12, that we had two nickels to rub together by the time I graduated high school. So vacations in our family? Yeah, there was never a vacation. I’m not sure my Dad understood what leisure was.

The one time I flew on an airplane, before I turned 18 and purchased my own ticket to NYC, was from Portland to Los Angeles – one way on Western Airlines (out of business for 40 years now). My uncle died and left my Dad his car, so we had to fly down and drive it 1000 miles back home.  I remember boarding that plane at 10 years old, walking past the people in First Class and thinking ‘Someday I want to be rich so I can fly First Class!’.

When I grew up, I longed to travel to far away places. And I was lucky, my career paid for a lot of travel – domestically and internationally. Domestically, I had status on several airlines so I got bumped up about 50% of the time. And when ever I flew internationally, I flew business or first class. It didn’t suck! And every time, the carrier would give me a little ‘Travel Toiletry kit’ so I could be comfortable and stretch out, as the seat became my bed – waking refreshed on the other end of a 10 or 14 hour flight.

My favorite airline for travel kits is Emirates. They give you Bulgari lotion and a bunch of other stuff. I’m surprised its not crammed with money and diamonds, or something. But the award for Best Eye Mask goes to Iceland Air. I covet those eye masks. It’s worth paying for the upgrade to Saga Class – believe me. Delta gives you Tumi, and when you get the Tumi Hard cases. Well, those are collectors items.

So I have saved them. Each and Every One. And today, they’re all piled on the counter. They represent adventures (and some boring business meetings, I’ll admit). The 10 year old girl, boarding that plane in 1976 with her jar of half dollars to spend at Disneyland, really did make it out of those circumstances. When I would come home from business trips, my kids would rush me to get the gifts I always bought them – think rugby ball on Portobello road (don’t get me started). But they never got to have the travel bags – those were for me.

I sit here now, and open each one. Every airline has emphasized something different in their little pouches. Some partner with other luxury purveyors to upgrade the experience. Others are more generic. But each speaks to me. “Don’t throw me away! Remember when we went to Dubai together? ‘ or ‘I’m what you got when British Airways bumped you from Business to First – that was a fun trip with premium champagne, wasn’t it?’

I can’t take them all. It’s not practical and Jeff would kill me. And I know it’s ridiculous, but I think I’ll sneak my favorites into my checked luggage – how much can they weigh, really? And the Tumi hard cases are definitely making the cut!