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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Camping in your own Backyard

When my kids were small, we would set up a tent in the backyard, or even the family room (if it was cold outside) and we would get out the sleeping bags and ‘camp’. They loved it – all cozy in the tent with just the things we needed to survive an overnight – complete with indoor plumbing and a refrigerator just steps away. Flash lights and snacks, a thin requirement. Those were good days.

But I was in my 30’s back then. Sleeping on the ground or an air mattress wasn’t a big deal. I popped up in the morning, and rarely felt the effects. Today? Yeah – not so fast. What a difference more than 20 years makes. Yoga. Definitely a yoga day.

Yesterday, Jeff had a great idea. ‘Lets pack up everything we’ll need for the next 6 weeks, just like we’re getting on a plane tomorrow. We’ll live out of those suit cases and find out what we can’t live without, while we’re waiting for our stuff to arrive in Valencia. Since we have to get by without it all for as long as 16 weeks.’

I thought this was great idea. Our bed is already gone. The dishes we’re taking are in carry on suit cases. Our pots, pans, cooking utensils, etc. are in a checked bag. That just leaves our clothes, shoes toiletries to make sure will fit into our two bags each. So we got to work – seeing if it would all fit. And Surprise! For me it did. Turns out, I am evolving as a human being.

The garage/yard sale is scheduled on some garage sale apps and Craigslist for next weekend. The goal by sunset on Sunday of next week? We’ll just have the boxes & couch we’re shipping in the living room + a TV we will donate before we go (gotta have my new found Spanish shows), a few odds and ends dishes, mugs and cookware in the kitchen (again, we’ll donate when we leave), our bags that will go on the airplane with us – including the air mattresses we’re sleeping on now. And that’s it! We will be camping – just like the old days.

It’s good our kids aren’t here. I can hear the eye roll and head shakes at how crazy this all is. I mean – who spends a life time amassing ‘Stuff’ and then in the course of 6 months, gives it all away? Maybe we’re fools, but we’re happy fools. Yesterday, as we made decisions about a ton of stuff, we both felt lighter. I had my doubts at times too. How could we get it all done? But I think we’ll make it. Until then, we’re camping and enjoying every minute of it.

The Review

Today, I woke up bone tired. It could be the fact that we’re now sleeping on an air mattress, but we’ve been going for days, and I needed coffee. So I made a café con leche from the precious beans I have left, and I reviewed the list I made back in September of all the things we needed to do to move to Spain.

Back then, the list seemed like it was never ending. On a daily basis I was adding, rather than checking off. But the excitement was palpable. I was optimistic and, of course, we had 6 months to do it all. Plenty of time – Easy Peasy!Countdown

The review today revealed just how much we have gotten done since then. Something to celebrate! All the visa hoops, sure. But also, renting an apartment, getting a lawyer, etc. None of that was on the list when I started it – and all of it has been done. They’re painting our apartment in Valencia this week and the appliances are being ordered. Even our utilities are being hooked up in our name. Check, check, check.

And now the list has only 12 things left unchecked. Sure – they’re some big things, like our consulate appointment, doing our taxes and selling two cars. But 12 lines nonetheless. I added a calendar count down app to my phone and it’s just 42 days away. That’s 3.5 days per item. Of course, that means nothing. Things don’t get done that way, but it feels better reducing it all to math. I can touch and feel numbers, and the abstractions of ‘to-do’s’ starts to feel less nebulous.

This week, our international shipper will do a FaceTime inventory so we can get a realistic and final estimate. And I’ll try to work out how we’ll get rid of the odds and ends we have left in the house – maybe an old fashioned garage sale! Checking all my alerts, the cost of plane tickets for the 28th of February have plummeted, so I’m itching to book those after our consulate appointment February 5th. Today we paid our translator and by Monday of next week, all our translations will arrive. Then I’ll make photo copies of our packets and put them into snazzy folders. Tick tock.

I just sent the whittled down version of what we have left to do, to Jeff at work. I haven’t heard back from him yet, and I’m not sure he can see how far we’ve come in the last 6 months, but I thought it was important for him to have visibility into where we are. The final 42 days will not be a walk in the park, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I believe it’s not a freight train but will open up to a bright future!

And She’s Rounding the Corner

We have officially entered the home stretch for all this visa falderal. We flew back from my parents house just now, and what was in the mail box? Oh yeah. Our Apostillized FBI background checks, with the official stamps and all the whoozy-whatsits, was waiting for us in the mail box.

What? With a pending government shut down, our documents are actually in my hands?How is this possible that government documents that were mailed last Friday are actually here on a Tuesday – with the MLK holiday yesterday where they don’t deliver mail? I know how – we delivered all that stuff to my parent’s house this weekend, a drive of 1380 miles.

I have heard monks and others talk about how we carry too much stuff with us in our lives. Material things, emotional baggage, the garbage that plugs up and blocks our lives. But this weekend we gave away a bunch of stuff. This weekend, we made a huge effort to make the lives of others we love a little better. And the universe rewarded us with a simple yellow envelope and the key to crossing the finish line.

And sitting at the airport tonight, waiting for our Uber to come, I got an email from our translator. She has completed all our translations, except the Apostilled background checks – that came back in English. I just sent them to her via email and she’ll send them to me tomorrow – completed. We have rounded the corner and we’re heading for the wire – race horsing parlance.

But clearing out all the stuff and taking it to my parents isn’t quite as easy as it might seem. Sure the drive there was never ending. But getting there wasn’t the real work. Unloading boxes of photos and memories was hard enough. But leaving our cats, Lucy and Clubber would break my heart. I love both of those little gray fur balls.

After three days of driving, Jeff and I pulled into my parent’s driveway in our U-Haul truck on Sunday afternoon after speeding through deserts, old growth forests, and over the Cascade Mountains. At times, Jeff forgot we were driving an 18 foot truck and drove  the American bi-ways like we were in the Ultimate German Driving Machine. He took some of the corners right to the edge. I discovered there is no brake peddle on the floor of the passenger side. He encouraged me to stop trying to find it.

We unloaded the truck right away and the entire family came over to have dinner and wish us a bon voyage. And then it was time to go to bed in my childhood bedroom. This is the room where I dreamed the dreams that only children and teenagers can. It’s also the room that never had a boy cross the threshold in the entire time I was growing up. It still freaks me out a bit to sleep with Jeff in that room. It has hard wood floors and a floor vent that is above my parent’s bed.

But there was also the knowing we are leaving the country and my parent’s are getting older. In the past, when I’ve ‘gone home’ to visit, I always knew I would be back ‘Hasta Pronto’. But this time, it was different. I’m not exactly sure when I will be coming back. Sure, we are thinking October, but we have a lot of ground to cover before then.

I said ‘Goodbye’ to our cats. And then I went down stairs to say goodbye to my Dad. We both had tears in our eyes. He’s pretty much wheel chair bound now and he couldn’t rise to hug me so I went to him. At 89, he’s survived so many health scares, it’s hard to believe he won’t live forever. He looked great – having slept 12 hours last night in the new adjustable bed we gave them.

My Dad was one of the first people who told me we should go move to Spain when I broached the subject. ‘Go – Have adventures. Live your lives before you’re old and you can’t.’

I knew he was thinking of his own life when he said it. But I also know my Dad is incredibly practical and if I said I wasn’t going to go because of him, he would get very angry. He and my Mom love to hear about the things we do and the places we go. I know this moving to Spain will be no different.

Then my Mom loaded us in the car and drove us to the airport. She cried harder than I’ve ever seen her at the curbside. Sitting in the airport afterwards, I thought about our decision to move halfway across the world. Was it wise right now? If not now, when? And then I heard my Dad’s voice. ‘Go have adventures.’ And we will. Just because it’s hard on so many levels, doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.

Road Trippin’

Oh, how I love a road trip! It’s an American tradition. Since back in college, road trips represented freedom. You drive and you eat at random places. Seeing tourist signs for things like ‘The worlds largest ball of twine!’ or ‘The Corn Palace’. You stay at the closest hotel when you’re tired of driving. It’s awesome and unpredictable! And tonight, after Jeff gets home from work, we are heading to my parent’s with our UHaul truck full of things they can use, and boxes they’ve agreed to store for us. I feel like we’re in college again!

Last night, we loaded our king-sized adjustable bed into the truck – that was fun – and a couch for my son, and other boxes and treasures we are planning on storing there. Things I don’t want to go on a ship that could be lost forever.

This morning, I’m buzzing with excitement! We are driving to Portland in January. So the weather might present challenges. But Jeff will do all the driving, so he’ll swear and clutch the dashboard a lot less. And I get to look out the window at the scenery like a Golden Retriever! It’s going to be fun.

The last real road trip Jeff and I took together was when I took a job in Phoenix. But that trip was filled with nervous anticipation as we hadn’t yet found a place to live. Our SUV was full of all the stuff I thought I might need, until he moved down when the house was sold – with the rest of our stuff, the cats and the kids.

I had brought 9 large suit cases of clothes and a few other things. At one point, in Salt Lake, we were stopped by the police who were doing random searches for drug cars on the highway – seemed strange.

‘What’s in the back?’ asked the cop to my husband.

‘Those are her clothes.’ explained Jeff

‘That’s all your clothes?’ he asked – completely skeptical.

I leaned in to help smooth the way.

‘And shoes too.’ I clarified – just so he would understand. ‘I know. Just the essentials.’

My husband gave me serious side-eye. I wasn’t being helpful, apparently.

‘She has a new job in Phoenix, so we’re moving her down there to help set her up before we sell the house in Seattle.’

The cop looked at me like I was an alien.

‘Who are you working for in Phoenix?’ he asked me.

I told him, and then he asked who I worked for in Seattle and BINGO! the light went on.

‘Ah. OK I get it.’ he waved us away to head back to his car.

‘Wow! I never realized being in possession of too many clothes and shoes was a crime.’ I said to Jeff.

He looked at me in disbelief, and for a long moment he said nothing – then he sighed and shook his head before starting the car.

We won’t have that same problem this time. We’re just two people in a Uhaul – like probably hundreds of others on any given day across this country. Moving our stuff, complete with our cats – Clubber and Lucy. Heading off to new horizons. I’ve got the drinks in the cooler and the road food ready to go on the front seat. Now all I need is my driver!

The Dump Run


These days, I am obsessed with Garbage. My happiest day is when the rubbish trucks come to our house and empties our recycling and garbage cans. Most of the time, they’re both completely full again, 5 minutes after they’re picked up. I stage the trash and recycling so that when I hear the trucks, I go out and get the cans and immediately fill them up with all the stuff I’ve not been able to fit into it from the previous week.

It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but its a necessity. Every day, on top of the bags of shredding we’ve got this week, I’m going through cupboards in the garage and in tops of closets. I have all of Emilie’s room to deal with too.  If it can’t be donated, sold, given away to family or friends, or recycled, it is being rehomed at the local land fill. Don’t worry, I tend to be super green, so this is the absolute last resort.

Our garbage service only has ‘big item pickup’ once every two months. It’s a nice service and they’ll take a couch and crush it with a special truck and take it away. I know this because they took one of our couches that I tried to donate but it was rejected by the donation truck driver.

‘Well.’ he said after looking at the couch. ‘It has a couple of small snags.’

I looked at him, incredulous. I was donating a couch that had cost thousands at retail.

‘It’s chenille.’ I explained. ‘Its bound to have a couple of small snags, as you say.’

He rubbed his chin. ‘Yeah, we don’t take couches that aren’t pristine.’

My eyes rolled in my head like a slot machine. What?? The Salvation Army doesn’t take anything but perfect furniture for DONATION? I was giving it to them for free.

‘So you only pick up from the Crate and Barrel warehouse directly now – cut out the pesky retail customers?’

He was unmoved. So I had no choice. I put it out on the curb and watched as the big truck with the crusher came and took one half of it. There is a size limit to what they’ll take on ‘big item pick up days.’

So tonight, we loaded the other half of our couch into Mary Jane. Jeff will do a dump run on his way to work tomorrow, along with some old tires and a bunch of other miscellaneous crap. And today the garbage man comes to empty our cans. Its like waiting for Santa Claus, but in reverse. He takes away and leaves nothing behind. My new definition of Christmas!  I am over joyed that more stuff will be leaving our house.

And my car is full  up for donation too.  The guys at The Goodwill drop off location and I are buddies now. They come running our when I pull up.

‘Another load, eh?’

‘That’s right. And there’s some good stuff in here. You might want to take a look at a handbag for your wife.’

He winks at me and gives me the donation slip.

Tomorrow will by the best day of the week. And I’ll only have to wait 7 days to do it all over again.

A Gift Horse in the Mouth

My Grandmother always said ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’. I think this stems from her childhood when horses were still a viable mode of transportation. Part of buying a horse is examining it’s teeth to help determine it’s health, and thus value. This I learned from my grandfather who owned a sheep farm. Today, no one born after 1970 would probably understand the reference, except people raised on horse ranches.

Essentially, the old euphemism means that if someone is giving you something for free, you don’t ask too many questions. You just accept it. A free horse was something to be valued – no matter what his teeth looked like. The old truck in our garage is the Gift Horse in this case. I’m sure if I raised the hood and looked at the engine – it wouldn’t pass anyone’s dental exam.

Jeff acquired this hunk of metal when I relocated to Phoenix for work and he was still in Snoqualmie, WA closing up our old house. He needed be able to take things to the local land fill and he was struggling with a renting truck to do the job. It was expensive on a one off basis, so he decided to buy something to make it easier.

‘I’ll just sell it afterwards.’ he assured me.

But he never sold it, he and drove it down from Seattle to Phoenix in June of that year, in 125 degree heat with no A/C, towing his beloved motorcycle behind him.  It took him twice as long to make the 1700 mile trip, as he overheated quite frequently. He finally showed up at our house in the middle of the night because he had to wait for the sun to go down from just north of Las Vegas. I had little sympathy for him. And when I saw the truck? I had even less.

To say I disliked this truck is an understatement. Our neighbors like it even less when it’s parked in the driveway. Jeff bought a new truck bed ‘So it wouldn’t look as bad’ and was going to fix it up to teach our daughter how to drive. It would be her first car, he announced. I did wonder if he knew her at all – she would rather walk for the rest of her life than drive that thing – but I let it go.

Now, I have to admit, I’m developing a fondness for that rusty bucket, during our march to close up this house. The truck is coming in handy. We can make dump runs to get rid of stuff. We can make large donation runs so that I don’t have to take 20 trips to Goodwill in my car.

‘It even has a CD player.’ he proudly pointed out on one of our first adventures in it.

‘Wow. It’s living in the 90’s already.’ I quipped sarcastically.

It has just one CD in the player. Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. ‘Free Fallin” and “Last Dance with Mary Jane’ playing over and over. So I’ve taken to calling the truck ‘Mary Jane’.  Mary Jane is a 1986 Toyota – with windows you hand crank. Emilie didn’t know what they were when she rode in it the first time.

Jeff had coveted it in high school. He was raised incredibly poor and I think his thoughts of ‘Someday, I’ll have a truck just like that’ finally being realized, was too much for him to resist. And, ironically, we already have a buyer for it when we leave. Jeff smiled when he told me he would be selling it for more than he paid for it. Wait for it – $200 more. The look on his face was no less triumphant than a Wall Street hedge fund manager who had beat the market for a billon dollar gain. Money is money, I guess. But I’m a believer now. Our gift horse is pulling her own weight, so no need to look under the hood.


The Seal of Approval

Today was the day we needed to accomplish two things. Especially since Emilie is still here and she’s a driver. If there is something that needs doing, she’s all over us to get it done. It’s a great trait when we have a hard deadline – like we do now.

The first thing was to tackle what Jeff has in his closet and drawers, and to pitch with extreme prejudice. This included the suit he wore at our wedding, and the list goes on from there. He’s a big souvenir t-shirt guy. Some he actually wears but most he acquired as a remembrance that he went some where or saw something. Usually, it’s an experience he had on his motorcycle. [Deep breath. Heavy sigh.]

Then there are all the old ski pants and hiking boots that he’s kept over the years, for whatever reason. He’s still fighting the last remnants of the plague I gave him, so he laid on the bed sniffling, while Emilie and I ‘helped him make decisions’. Spinning it like we were doing him a favor. I took things out of the closet and then we voted. The hanging things were easy. The drawer things were harder.

‘Wait – I got that in XYZ when I went to ABC.’ he pleads.

The shirt is truly hideous. Em and I try to avoid eye contact.

‘Yeah, but the tags are still on it. It’s been 3 years.’ says Emilie logically.

‘You guys are killing me.’ he grumbles.

‘I’m fine if you want to pay money to move it more than 8,000 miles away.’ I say generously, knowing this will be the downfall of this item.

He points to the ever-growing donation pile and Emilie gives me a little smile and a knowing nod.

Two large lawn bags later and we’re down to three piles. What he’ll move with him in a suit case when we leave. What he needs now for work. And finally, what I’m putting in space bags to ship in boxes that will arrive at our new home in 8-16 weeks. Progress!

The second thing we need to accomplish is setting aside what he will wear to the interview at the consulate. I had already put aside a couple of outfits for myself, which Emilie had judged to be suitable for public viewing. She immediately went to work from the ‘Ship it’ pile and had him trying on nice jackets, dress shirts and trousers. She started with the shoes and built the rest of his options around it. She is my daughter – whether we share DNA or not.

After getting Jeff to patiently work with her, she came up with an outfit that is coordinated with mine.

‘You want to look like you’re together. You know – like you thought about it, but not too matchy matchy.’ she coached us as though we’re children who can hardly dress ourselves.

Em really should be a celebrity stylist. She’d make a zillion dollars doing it. She has a crazy memory and can pull things out of your closet that you forgot about or didn’t even know you owned. When she was little – like 5 years old – I would come down the stairs to take her to school and she’d look me up and down and make suggestions.

‘I think you need to wear the other shoes. And you have a handbag that will go better with that outfit.’

And I would got back upstairs and do what she said. Once, I took her to ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day’. I worked at the Corporate office of a large retailer in Seattle and they had the kids come to see the what the buyers were contemplating buying for the next season. Emilie had chosen her outfit (she was 8) very carefully that day. Complete with accessories.

The buyers had all the merch on rolling racks and the shoes and accessories out on tables. The other kids were running around and screaming. Emilie walked the racks quietly like a pro and then headed to the tables. She picked up product and felt the hand of fabrics.

The buyers asked all the kids to sit down and then asked each of them to tell them what they thought of what they saw. Emilie had taken notes. I watched as she got up from her chair and started organizing the clothes on the racks.

‘Yes, Yes, No. Definitely No.’ as she flipped through them while standing on a chair.

She went through all the racks in the room and moved on to the tables. Everyone else was now taking notes. She had the entire room eating out of her hand as she concisely answered questions as to why she did or didn’t like something. She wasn’t fooling around and took it all very seriously. Afterwards, they pulled me aside and asked me if she would be willing to come back and look at samples for future seasons.

So we are lucky to have our own little, ‘Devil Wears Prada’, Miranda Priestly in our family. It’s Em’s super power and she’s definitely made editing a lot easier. We can leave here with the confidence that everything we’re taking is Emilie Approved.

It’s Getting Real Real

It’s January. Yup. That month that seemed so far away in October, is actually here. The days are like water slipping through my fingers. Time that used to drag on is now speeding up. I am sure there are only 12 hours in every day now. So I’m not wasting any of them.

My daughter, Emilie, goes back to school Sunday on a 7am flight so I need to use the precious time I have with her, and her two hands and expert fashion sense. Before she got home, I had put all the clothes I wouldn’t need in the next two months into space bags. I had inventoried them and put them into boxes. I was ahead of the game.

Then Em came home. She started going through things and piling up things that I needed to get rid of. This was in the kitchen and some of the closets. She’s a very opinionated and decisive person. Huh. Wonder where she got that. So I thought, maybe I had been hasty in my bagging of my clothes. Maybe I should have her take a pass at the stuff I was thinking of bringing with me across the world.

I opened up the boxes and the space bags and she sat back and directed.

‘Hmm. I’m not sure. Try it on and I’ll tell you.’

I would do as I was told and she would make a judgement that was final. It wasn’t exactly binding arbitration but I treated it as such. Large, separate piles began to form. My husband, who cares not at all for fashion, became interested in the exercise and sat down to watch and – wait for it – actually gave an opinion. This man who I have asked for his take on what I’m wearing on any one of a million days in the last 20 years, had an opinion today. In fact, he had multiple opinions.

After this exercise, I filled up 4 full lawn bags of clothes to give away – both from what I had already packed in boxes and what I had kept back to wear for the next 2 months. Crazy. I let go of that much more stuff – and Emilie scored a couple of things that she had coveted in my closet for quite some time. Things I really don’t need.

Inspired, I kept going. All the pictures are off the walls and have been de-framed. The big tapestry we bought in Greece is now packed away safely, too. And I have enough for a car load to take to the Goodwill for donation.

Tomorrow – I’m going to have her help me further pair down the kitchen. She’s more practical than I am in that area, and I think we can make a bigger dent than before. What a difference a week makes. This time last week, I was sick and overwhelmed. This week? I’m inspired and motivated. It will all come together in the final 55 days to go.


The Dance of the Overseas Shipper

Now that we’re almost in the home stretch for the visa, we need to secure our overseas shipper. This has proved interesting. I’ve learned a lot about the process and a lot about the business. There are brokers, there are actual shipping companies, there are third party contract movers, there are consolidators and there are customs clearance agents on both ends. Then there is the storage side of things – both in the US and in Spain. All of these can vary in cost and all of them can COST ALOT.  Everyone has their hand out in this relay race to get our stuff to Spain.

I started early – like months ago. Almost no one wanted to even talk to me that far out. The first bid I got was for $1600. This seemed low and in subsequent conversations and other quotes told me it was ‘stupid low’. This is what is known in the biz as a ‘low ball’ and then they jack up the price after you’ve gone with them – because, well, at that point you have not time to switch shippers.

Then there are brokers who will contract out with other companies. These third parties can go rogue and hold your stuff hostage until you basically pay a 3X ransom to get it back. Now I know where the term ‘a Kings Ransom’ came from.

There are partial loads, 20ft containers, 40ft containers and the rest. There is also weight as a consideration. There is load at our house and seal. There is load at our house and transfer, then seal. Its a learning experience. And you learn to spot bullshit when you hear it. It’s funny, but I’ve had some shippers try to pull stuff I’ve read about and when I call them on it they change their tune. Most start out acting like they’re doing you a favor, bringing your stuff across the world. The true professionals aren’t like that. So it’s easy to weed out the riff raff.

I’ve read reviews on Google, Yelp, and asked for advice from those on some of the Spanish Expat forums I belong to. And the stories would curl your hair. So I consulted Jeff; floating the idea that maybe we should just skip the shipping. Maybe we just pay a little extra in baggage fees and call it good. We went for our usual 6 mile nightly walk and discussed it. We weighed the shipping/replacing the small amount we’re bringing. Then we thought about how we will feel to have a few things from home.

Oh, and there’s his beloved motorcycle. Jeff goes out in the garage nightly to wish it goodnight – So very many adventures they’ve had together. Prying that from his grasp as we leave the US, might prove a bit of a challenge. It doesn’t have name but it should; a specter that looms large in our lives. One wonders if he was forced to choose between me and that BMW adventure bike if I would be the winner.

I tolerate this piece of equipment after he was nearly killed a few years ago in a motorcycle accident. He got the helicopter life flight and the whole nine yards – on our son’s 17th birthday. Went out for a ride, promised to be home by noon and didn’t come home. When he pulls out of the driveway now, I have a little PTSD moment. And when he puts on the gear, I always hug him tighter and make sure I tell him how much I love him. If he got rid of the bike it would make me happy. But it’s part of who he is. I can’t deny him that.

I can tell you that if a shipper tried to hold his bike hostage he would go full commando, gather a posse of dark clothed friends, and find a way to break it out of whatever dark, dank prison they were holding it in. Ultimately, we decided that we would ship what we had originally planned. It’ll cost us, but we’ll have our stuff – about 98% less than we started with 18 months ago. Jeff is excited for it.

‘It’s like being in college.’ he said ‘We essentially have nothing. No ties to a place. We’re totally mobile.’

‘I am not having cider block shelving in a studio apartment.’ I assured him.

‘Cinder block? You could afford cinder blocks in college?’

I rolled my eyes and got back to work.

I was told we need to get a ‘Change of Residence’ from the Spanish consulate. They won’t give us this so we’ll have to pay some duty. But it will be worth it when it all arrives. Until then we’ll be sleeping on an air mattress and showering with the one bath towel we’re each packing. But in a months time – it will feel like home. We’ll be riding up the coast of central Spain on his motorcycle, with the wind in our hair. (Well, it would be if we weren’t wearing helmets). Jeff’s right, we will feel free.

In with the New

I look back at 2017 and I see a year of massive upheaval. I’m not just talking about our country and the globe, but personally. This time last year, I woke up in Versailles. We celebrated the coming year with our good friends, Peter and Martina and their boys in France. We had a great time – but I knew that something was missing. But how do you remain grateful for what you have, while knowing it’s not what you want?

I’ve spent the last year answering this question. I’ve learned a few things along the way.

  1. It’s OK not to covet the trappings of the American Dream. In the past 18 months, we’ve sold a home and downsized like crazy. And in the next 60 days we will have 30 boxes, 2 bicycles, 2 sets of golf clubs, one motorcycle and a couch to our name. Shhh – don’t tell, but my Louboutins will be hiding in one of those boxes. Some semblance of civilization and order must be maintained.
  2. It’s OK not to want the career you’ve worked so hard to achieve. It was a long time coming, but I had not only become bored with all the corporate speak, I wasn’t doing what made me happy – writing. These days I carve out time every day to write and I’m wickedly happy doing it. This past year, my creativity has blossomed and I love it! I wake up every day and hop out of bed – most days I’m ready to take on the day.
  3. Gratitude is essential, but it has to be real. I spent so much time before 2017 telling myself I needed to ‘just be grateful’ for the things I had, even though they were just ‘things’ and they didn’t make me happy. I was happiest traveling light and seeing the world. Learning new things, making new friends and being open to new experiences. I like looking around corners and getting lost!
  4. Sitting in a conference room is like a slow death. No kidding, I would rather break rocks in Alcatraz than sit in a conference room discussing retail trends, Ad nauseum, with an unimaginative American executive team. It’s not that I don’t like corporate innovation – that was my biz, after all. But I’m innovating in a new way now – my own life. And I find I like that focus a lot more.
  5. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable takes practice. It’s always easier to migrate back to what we know. It doesn’t take any effort. The wind will blow you there if you just let it. All of a sudden you’re discussing taking a job like the last one you had. And you do discuss it for a couple of weeks with a friend who has something that might be interesting. And then you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t get back to sleep. And all of a sudden you realize what you’re doing. You’re stopping your forward progress. You’re moving away from what you really want. And it takes a conscious ‘No’ to get you right again. Whew! That was close!
  6. Sometimes you gotta burn the house down. People say ‘less is more’ and they’re so very right. As I’ve inventoried my life in the last 4 months, I don’t need most of it – except the Louboutins (OK, and maybe my black Celine tote) – and I’m lighter than before. Carrying all this stuff created stress. The stress to maintain it all. And I’ve watched the joy on people’s faces who come to our house to take our stuff. I’m thrilled for them. And I bet they’ve seen the joy on mine that I don’t own it anymore.

Last night, we added some rituals to our annual New Year’s celebration. We ate our 12 grapes for good luck, like they do in Spain. Emilie struggled with this one since she’s still recovering from her teeth pulling. And I opened the back door and let out the old year, and opened the front door to let in the new.

It’s funny, in the past I’ve often been happy to see an old year pass; looking forward to a better year to come – praying that this was the year I’d find the answer. But as I opened the back door last night, I felt a little sadness for the first time ever, in saying good bye to the previous year. 2017 was very good to me. I learned more this past year than any other 12 month period in my life. It’s the year I learned to choose authenticity and happiness – in all its forms. A great foundation for 2018.

So, my friends, here’s to a new year for all of us. Filled with new horizons, new friends, and continuous learning. Here’s to getting my book published and seeing the world. Here’s to scrumptious food, good friends – old and new, and toes in the Mediterranean. Here’s to traveling lighter through this world and to living the life we love. This year, what I’m most grateful for, is that you’re all on this journey with me as I figure it out. Happy New Year – Namaste.


Culinary Surprises

In an effort to waste as little as possible, I’ve been focusing on eating the food we have. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever go to the grocery store, but when we have food in the freezer and pantry – why not eat that first?

In the beginning of this commitment, it was rather easy. I had frozen spaghetti sauce or lasagna to fall back on. Being that we had 3 kids, I only ever learned to cook in large portions, so we’ve always had left overs, even though they’re all off to school. Over time,  this decision has gotten more challenging.

I’ve made smoothies, from small remnants of frozen fruits, that even I had a hard time choking down. And Pasta ‘surprises’ that included some small portions of frozen vegetables and multiple types of pasta. I’ll concede it was a dish that was visually challenging. Then Pancakes for dinner – to use up some aging pancake mix. Jeff has eaten it all and rarely complained. Although, he’s cagey in his critiques.

‘Interesting pasta.’ he said, after one particularly creative dinner. ‘Are we having that tomorrow night too?’

‘Why? Did you like it?’

‘It was unusual.’

‘Unusual bad or unusual good?’

‘Neither – just different.’

”Different’ in Jeff speak is the kiss of death. If I bring home new shoes and he says ‘Hmmm. They’re different’ those shoes are going back to the store. Unfortunately, there is more ‘Different’ in Jeff’s near term culinary future – as we get down to the wire.

Tonight, he’s enjoying ‘Potato Surprise’, and later this week I’m making a multi-bean soup with mystery spices from packets, where I’m not quite sure of the contents. That should be fun!

In this process, I’ve discovered that we had stocked up on stupid things – things I don’t remember buying and never eat.  I’ve got so much chocolate pudding in the pantry, I’ve started freezing it in the Popsicle forms I had from my kids when they were little. Jeff has dubbed them ‘Poop Pops’ because he says they look like frozen poo. But he eats them for desert. What choice does he have, really?

By my calculations, we should be able to eat through our pantry, with very little left, by mid-January. Then we’ll only purchase food that we’ll immediately consume, but that’s a ways out. We did invite Jeff’s Mom over for Christmas dinner.

‘No ‘Surprise’ dinner that day, right?’ he asked. ‘I don’t think my Mom would care if you made lasagna or something like that – but don’t add in old random pasta or dried squash or something. Let’s just make it a regular food day, like normal people.’

I was a little offended that he would think I wouldn’t make our Christmas dinner special. I did have my eye on two old boxes of Rice-A-Roni and was wondering if I could conjure up something festive with the two cans Cream of Chicken soup I have left. But I’ll hold off on that. Rice-A-Roni Surprise will have to wait for another day.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Roll Your Own

This week has been filled with lessons. Some are more clear – like don’t believe the FBI when they say they’ll get to your fingerprints when the promise to on their website. Others are a little different and more experiential.

My first lesson came after we located many, many jars, old Gatorade bottles, zip lock baggies and piles of coins in the bottoms of drawers, boxes, coffee mugs holding pens and the list goes on. The sorting by denomination came next – taking out coins of other nationalities – and then stacking them in logical piles.

wrapping papers

Banks used to have coin machines onsite – where you took your bag of random coins and the machine counted them for you for free. But they don’t offer this to the public anymore, so businesses like CoinStar sprang up to fill the void. CoinStar owns RedBox too. They charge 11.9% to count all your coins in less than 5 minutes. Then they print you a receipt to take up to the store’s customer service counter and redeem it for cash. But you see, I looked at all my new found loot and decided I wasn’t sharing 11.9% with anyone – let alone a big corporation.

So I headed to Walmart, and here’s where the first lesson I learned was born. Lesson #1 – Don’t approach a Walmart employee and ask where they keep their ‘rolling papers’. I had visions of stacks of my treasure at home, floating in my head. They had visions of me rolling joints in my pajamas surrounded by bags of bar-b-que potato chips and baggies of little green leaves. My husband quickly corrected the misunderstanding.

‘She wants to roll the coins we have at home and put them into coin sleeves.’

The bored employee told us where the office supplies were and for 94cents per bag, I had rolling papers! I mean, coin sleeves.

The next lesson was even more profound. When I was done rolling my coins, I put them into a small black REI duffle bag and then drove to my local bank to deposit them. It’s not millions but I just felt like I had accomplished something. Stacking, counting, recounting cause I lost count, and finally, putting them all into those sleeves.

Lesson #2 – When you enter a bank with a black duffle bag, you have everyone’s attention immediately. Tellers, bank manager, other customers, both in the bank and in the parking lot. EVERYONE.  I smiled and lugged the very heavy bag into the bank and got in the queue. Customers in line with me seemed fidgety and nervous. Maybe it was the fact that I still had my sunglasses on – so I took them off.

Finally, a guy in an Army uniform asked me what was in the bag. I smiled and told him that we are moving and found all my husband’s change jars, etc. (some from as far back as his Air Force days because his ribbons and rank pins were in that jar too). The man laughed.

‘Dude, you freaked me out with the black duffle bag in the bank thing. But it’s cool you found all that money. Like getting a bonus.’

‘I know, right?’ I looked around and noticed the other people were a little less tense. ‘I didn’t even think about bringing a black duffle bag into the bank.’ and I smiled at the woman standing 10 feet behind me. She smiled back and shook her head.

I went up to the counter and the teller asked me what she could do for me. I hoisted up the duffle bag.

‘Please tell me there’s money in there.’

‘Yeah. It’s full of all the change in our house.’

‘You rolled it?’

‘Yes. I went to the Walmart and got rolling papers.’ Duh.

She laughed and shook her head as I piled it on the counter.

‘Maybe next time skip the black bank robber bag. You about gave me a heart attack when you walked in here.’

I agreed that I might modify my approach next time. Then $300 was swiftly deposited into my account, which will pay for our hotel in Los Angeles for our consulate appointment. And the gas to get there. Not that I’m counting pennies – haha. Sure it took a little effort but anything worth doing usually does. And just like that we’re one step closer to our view of the Mediterranean.


Renaissance Man

My husband, Jeff, is a man of many hobbies. Since we first met, I’ve been amazed at his breadth of interests and his ability to master nearly anything he sets his mind to. He’s smart and unconventionally, athletic. An unbeatable combination that ensures he will be successful at whatever he tries, with some effort and focus. Both of which, he has in abundance.

office clean up

A software engineer, by trade, he started teaching himself to code at an early age, using dial-up modems, Compuserve accounts, and early AOL (yes, children – we’re just that old) and he’s continually kept his skills current. To do this in previous decades it meant he was always buying books – thick books – on new versions of this language or that. New tools that would help whatever employer he had at the time, or just peaked his interest. Our house is full of these books, but luckily in the ensuing years, all this has become open-source and readily available online.

I’ve spent weeks cleaning out our office as much as I could. But I didn’t feel comfortable disposing of old hardware or any of these old computer books. Who knew if they might be needed. So I’ve been waiting for Jeff to sort through them and make decisions, all the while profoundly aware that time is starting to speed up and we need to tackle it.

Today was that day, and we filled two recycling bins and a full, large garbage can with office schlock. We found other nonsense things from old white elephant parties. But as we speak, Jeff is spending this afternoon digitizing our old videos, transferring important documents from a pile of old hard drives, and scanning photos. I was thrilled that once he got started going through drawers, shelves, cabinets and the closet, he wasn’t resistant to pitching stuff. He just quietly dug out a couple of terabyte drives and got started.

His work resembled an archeological dig. Layer by layer, he unearthed change jars from over the years – old Gatorade bottles filled with money. While he continued his exploration in pith helmet and shovel, I rolled coins from around the world. Money from some of our adventures – Iceland, The Philippines, Mexico, and others. Over $300 USD later and those little coins will start working for us rather than performing as a paper weight or living at the bottom of old boxes in a closet. The office looks amazing – and empty! And my blood pressure has gone down significantly – one less thing,

Now, we just need to start on the garage. Jeff has lived an adventurous life where in his spare time he’s become an experienced white water kayaker, river guide, fly fisherman, off road motorcycle enthusiast, and he has built jeeps and trucks from the ground up. He can weld and machine his own car parts. And he sews his own gear for camping and his motorcycle adventures – like the one he took to Alaska and the Arctic Circle.  He even bought a piano to teach himself how to play.

Jeff is the kind of guy who, I believe, can do anything. This has caused friction in our house at times. Like when I suggested he build us a new deck or that we roof our own house.

‘I have no idea how to do either of those things.’ he said, like I was crazy.

‘It’s OK. We’ll buy a book. We both know how to read.’ I replied – knowing he can actually do anything.

We bought the books and together we did both of those things, and they turned out great. Afterwards, he admitted he was a little scared about tackling big projects, not knowing where to start. I laughed.

‘I knew you could do it – I wasn’t worried for a second.’ And I wasn’t.

So our attention is turning towards the garage, filled with the remnants of all of these activities – including a truck in a state of half repair, kayaks, rafts, motorcycle, camping/fishing equipment, and tools. Lots and lots of tools. But its late Sunday. And I’m declaring it a win. The office is done, the books are in the recycle bin. and we’ll leave the garage until next weekend. It will be interesting to see how Jeff edits his interests in moving to Spain. But I know one thing that makes me very happy. The truck won’t make the cut, but I’ll be taking my Renaissance Man with me – guaranteed.


The Cloak of Righteous Indignation

ALL the shredding is done. At last. The boxes and boxes of paperwork we have dragged with us from house to house is no more. If you’ll recall – I bought an industrial shredder to do the job. A job that took me longer than I would have hoped. What’s left fits into a small fanning file folder than I can take on a plane.

These papers needed to be sifted through in detail to ensure that we didn’t need any of them or that titles to cars, birth certificates, etc. weren’t tucked between pages. I’m glad I did, because our son’s savings bonds, gifted to him from his grandparents were in those piles.

Some of what I discovered brought back painful memories. Court documents from my husband’s first marriage – long before I came along – and some from after we were married, that surround custody hearings and ugliness. Years of stomach churning ulcers wondering what was coming at us next. It was all there in black and white – depositions, email rants. I reread them and the pain came back. My hand hovered over the shredder asking myself, ‘Should I keep this stuff? Would we ever need it to defend ourselves about the craziness we went through?’ But it got me thinking.


There is an old story about a wealthy man who visits a Buddhist monastery to learn some wisdom. He is greeted by the head monk (I’m not sure what head monks are called) and the man is invited to join him at a low table.

The monk hands him a tea cup full of water. Then he asks the man if he would like some tea. The man responds that he would, but his cup is already filled with the water.

The monk smiles and tells him, ‘You are like your cup. It is filled with things you do not want. To have what you want, first you must empty it of what no longer serves you.’

I thought back. For years, we wrapped ourselves in in the cloak of righteous indignation. Hoping it would keep us warm, in what seemed like a never-ending nuclear winter. We were the victims of injustice or outright slander. We were ‘right’ and someone else was very ‘wrong’. It wasn’t fair. And these documents I held in my hand proved that. But proved it to whom?

We were no longer in that fight – these papers no longer served us in any way. ‘Being right’ didn’t matter. So, I fed them into the shredder and watched them become little, tiny pieces of nothing. They held no value or power over us any more. We would never show them to our children or anyone else. People don’t even want to look at your vacation photos, let alone old court papers over wine at a dinner party! In the immortal words of Ilsa, of Disney Princess fame – It was time to just ‘Let it go!’

For years, I have kept a small empty bowl near my sink in the bathroom. While brushing my teeth every morning, it’s something that helps me remember to start the day with an empty bowl (representing my life). To let go of negativity and past things and to be ready to receive – filling my bowl with all the things I want. Positive things that will benefit me and the world.

Today, seeing my bowl, I found that with all those old hurts in tiny pieces in the recycling bin, I feel lighter. My bowl is well and truly empty – no longer just a metaphor.

Moving to Spain has ensured that we will go only with what we truly need. The things we want to take up precious space in the cup that is our lives. It’s funny, I find that when I look at it that way, I’m very stingy about what makes the cut. And our cloak of righteous indignation has gone officially in the give-away bin.