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.

Gift with Purchase

Happy One Week Anniversary to us! Alot of ground has been covered so far. Setting up house is exhausting business and it makes quite the dent in the wallet. We spend our free time shopping.

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I’ve always been a savvy shopper, but even I am weary of it.  After a week straight of foraging in the wilds of Valencian shops, I want a day off. But we don’t have some of the essentials we need. I realized this yesterday when the guy who hooked up our internet asked for a glass of water and I had to give him a litre bottle because we have no glasses from which to drink. Jeff and I had just been claiming whole bottles for ourselves and drinking directly from them. Time to get a bit more civilized.

The printer we had delivered yesterday had a shattered glass copying surface so Jeff carried it back to the store (1.5 km) and we returned it yesterday. It was a sweaty business.

‘I need tennis shoes. These dress shoes aren’t cutting it.’ he complained on the march to the Worten.

He had sacrificed space in our luggage for me and now he was paying for it. So when we were at the mall returning the copier and ordering another one, we stopped into some of the athletic stores and browsed. He picked out some he liked and we asked the shop assistant for his size.

Jeff is tall, even by US standards. And in Spain, he’s freakishly tall. People stare. And when he asked for a size 48 shoe their eyes widened.

‘No no no. In Spain we are short. No 48. Maybe 46.5 but not even 47’

We heard it over and over. Jeff became demoralized.

‘Maybe we can find a clown store so I can buy shoes.’

‘Or you can order them online. Or we can go to Norway for a weekend – where your people are from – and buy you some clothes there.’ You might think I’m kidding but I am not.

Today we woke up and headed out early to pick up a few more things. Garbage can for the kitchen, printer paper for when our copier shows up later today, and a host of other things.

There are places all over the city that are filled to the gills with stuff imported from China – like the Dollar Store in the US. And in general it’s stuff we need. And they’re all run by Chinese immigrants to Spain, who speak Spanish better than I ever will. In my simple mind, I refer to the one near our house as the ‘Chinese store.’ I don’t actually know what’s it’s called but Jeff knows what I mean when I refer it. We headed there.

We filled our cart until we knew we were at the limit of what we could carry home and proceeded to the check out. The guy there is getting to know us and he actually smiled this time. He rang us up and because we were spending 67 euros, he came around the counter and handed Jeff a can of olives, and then me a litre of lactose free milk. I’m not quite sure what he was trying to tell me with that.

We didn’t really want these things and tried to give them back to him, but he kept saying something louder and louder like we were simple minded (OK maybe he’s right), and waving ‘no, no, no’. Apparently, we are good customers now and we get ‘gifts with purchase.’ Not unlike the GWP you get at the cosmetic counter at Nordstrom from Lancome or MAC. Except no extra lip stick or face cream to try out. Here we get olives stuffed with anchovies and lactose free milk.

Finally, we graciously accepted it and took our toilet brushes, light bulbs and the like home. And now I will have light to read by and a place to put our garbage. I’ll be ready if the copy delivery man needs a glass of water after he asks for my passport, again. Perhaps I’ll tip him with a lovey can of olives or some lactose-free milk. Since we’re locals now!

 

 

A Place to Lay My Head

We finally got to Valencia late last evening. Our day had been 35 hours long, including a near riot in the Madrid Airport over cancelled flights, perceived line cutting and general injustice by some of the passengers. The general mayhem and lack of anyone in charge only added to the seeming thirst for blood. To say it was a crazy day is an understatement.

I filmed the chanting and fist pounding that gained steam over the hours we stood in line to get re-booked on a later flight. I understood none of the ‘Protest Spanish’ I heard, but I started singing ‘We shall overcome’ under my breath until Jeff gave me ‘that look’ so I stopped.

Spain is an interesting country already.

‘Now this is why we moved here.’ said Jeff with a smile, looking around.

Only he could muster enthusiasm after being awake for 30 hours at that point. Watching the cast of characters with great interest.

Finally, we landed in Valencia and made it to our new apartment. Linda, our savior, was there to greet us with the keys and hugs.

‘How are you still smiling after all this?’ she asked. ‘You truly have had the hardest time with the visa stuff, and now this. Crazy.’

I just laughed. ‘What choice do we have?’  She agreed, we had none.

The airline (I hate American Airlines forever now) had lost one of our checked bags, but at least we had 4 of them, so we got them up to the flat and Jeff got to see where he’d be living from now on. Remember, we came from a house that was 4500 sq. feet. He’s used to manicured lawns, gardening service, a pool guy. His face said it all and he swiftly dubbed it ‘The Compartment’.

‘I don’t think you can really call it an ‘apartment’ cause it’s so small.’

Clearly, he didn’t live where I did in college. But we unpacked and found that our luggage had been gone through by persons unknown. One of whom had left me her old, grungy tennis shoes and made off with a pair of my Louboutins. She should be easy to spot. The baggage handler in the high heels with the red soles. Black soul, more like.

Also missing, were some of my kids’s pictures, a bathing suit, some jeans and a few other things, including my thyroid medication and asthma meds. I sat on the ground, because we have not one stick of anything to sit on, and I couldn’t speak. I felt totally violated. This is all we have – until some larger things come on the boat. But this is the precious stuff. And someone rummaged through it.

I managed to get it together, as Jeff talked me off a ledge. We were already missing a bag that never made it out of the Miami Airport. Now this. Jeff tried to inflate the air mattress, but the converters didn’t actually convert and they caught fire. Yes, in the first 30 minutes in our apartment, our beds caught fire! The place was filled with smoke. The cherry on the shit sundae of our day.

‘Screw the air mattresses. We’re going to a hotel.’ And he took me across town, to the place I stayed when I came alone in November, on my scouting trip. We had dinner at 11pm in the hotel restaurant and hit the hay. But I woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I kept thinking. ‘Why have we come all this way? Why would we put ourselves in a position to be robbed? What the hell are we doing?’

My crying woke Jeff up and he stayed up with me until 5am, before we both fell back to sleep. At 9:30, breakfast and coffee helped get me upright because we had a busy day ahead.

Linda met us and took us, first to register at the town hall. Armed with that paper and some hastily taken passport photos from the train station (not my best face day – Jeff looked like he just got off a Tahitian vacation, damn him!), we went to immigration and applied for our long term visa. The visa they give you at the consulate in LA is only for 3 months. The long term one is applied for here. It will take 3 weeks to get the card and then we’re good to go. But they gave me a white piece of paper that is more precious than gold.

We need the immigration paper to get internet. What?!  Yes, you heard that right. The internet provider wants our immigration paper to decide if we’re really staying in Spain long term – we have a long term lease on a flat – and then they’ll give us internet (maybe next week). This is my first ‘I don’t get it.’ But we have to do it, so we did.

I was a little woozy, standing in line with the other immigrants, but we did it all before noon. Then we decided to truly unpack – headed back to the apartment to face the bags again, get organized (I always feel better after I make a list), make a list of what we need urgently, and headed out to do some shopping. There is a place about 5 miles out of town that has everything. It’s like a giant shopping city. To call it a ‘mall’ is to diminish what this area truly is. It’s massive!

So 4 hours later, and tomorrow they deliver a bed, refrigerator, desk, desk chair (for Jeff), kitchen table and chairs and a few other things. We bought bedding and pillows and kitchen items that will not be coming on the boat in a few months, and we carried them home.

‘Shopping City’ as I’ve dubbed it, has a bus that takes you from the city center out to the big shopping area. IKEA runs it and if you become a ‘Family’ member, it’s free. So we did and actually ate at IKEA before coming back. Free cafe con leche. I’ve never enjoyed a meal more in my life,. Not the fanciest restaurant could compete with it today.

‘IKEA with no sleep, low blood sugar, and after 35 hour day we had yesterday? You’re a brave man.’ I said to Jeff, on the verge of tears for most of our wander through the maze.

‘No. You’ll feel better once we’re settled. We just need to bite the bullet.’

He’s right, and tomorrow – after booking us into the hotel again tonight – we will start to feel like we’re making strides to settle in. So far, we’ve only been yelled at 3 times today for doing things wrong. A bus driver, immigration person, a stranger. We have no idea what they said to us, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps, learning Spanish should be put off for a few weeks, until I feel less fragile. When I wake up and I know where I am and how to get to the bathroom. That’s when I’ll be OK being screamed at in a language I kind of understand.

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.

The Grief of Goodbye

There are points in life – graduations, kids going off to college – where we both celebrate and we mourn. We buy cards and gifts and we cheer. And then we cry tears of joy and loss as we see the back side of our children or grandchildren, as they go off to new horizons, without us. Blessedly Capable.

Today is a day of grief for me. It’s not really anything I can put my finger on. It’s just been here with me all day. I’ve been calling airlines and purchasing more baggage allowances. But I have found out that I have too many and I need to cut out a bag.

So I opened up the offending bag and I can cut it out. It’s not the stuff. Its the idea. We are already down to nothing. And now, we’re down to less than nothing. Sigh. I take a deep breath, and realize I’ll have to donate some more stuff. But it’s not even that. What is it? I don’t even know.

I sat here on the couch and cried. Not about anything specifically, but the tears flowed. Perhaps it’s when I booked my daughter’s ticket to Barcelona in May. We won’t see her until then. Maybe it’s because today, my son is opening his own bank account. One that I will no longer be on – he’s nearly 20, so it’s time and I won’t be banking at that bank anymore. It’s like the threads of the ties that bind are fraying all on the same day.

I wanted to tell the woman at American Airlines that I needed that suitcase. Please let me take it – it’s part of all I’ve got left. But she wouldn’t have cared. I’m not sure why I care so much. But I do.

We went to Iceland a few years ago. We visited the spot on the earth where the North American and European plates are born. Where deep in the earth, the crust is being created and pushed towards the surface. I always imagined it to be a very painful process as the rock reaches the light of day. I guess that’s how I feel now. Like we’re creating new ground – and sometimes there is pain in doing it.

Today, I’m just going to sit in it. The sadness and the grief of letting go of an old life before embracing a new one. But as the pain washes over me, the grief of goodbye has overwhelmed me – no explanations, no excuses – it just is.

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.

 

Just One More Thing…

After driving to Los Angeles and staying in a hotel overnight, we made it the the consulate a bit early for our appointment. Their website details EXACTLY how you’re supposed to do everything, down to printing two copies of the document check list and the order in which those documents must appear in the packet. It emphasizes how important this all is and I checked and double checked it all. I had Jeff go through the instructions on the website himself, in case I missed something. Here’s how it actually went.

We got there early – I’m never, ever late to anything. And this appointment is too important to be left to chance. There weren’t any other people there to get visas at the moment we arrived, so they took us early.  Good sign – I thought. And they’re really nice people. I know they want to help us get our visa.

‘Just pull the financial documents out and let’s go through them first. That will be the thing that will keep you from getting the visa so if they are good, then the rest is easy’

Seemed logical to me. So out I pulled the holy scriptures of our financial picture – thick dossiers of everything and several months worth of statements.

‘Yeah – we don’t need all this. Just the beginning and ending balances. And being that this is February 5th and your January statement looks like it would have ended on the 29th – we will need that too. Why don’t you have that?’

I was incredulous. I had everything – EVERYTHING – related to our financial picture. It had all been translated for hundreds of dollars. And it all came down to our last bank statement??

‘There was no time to send it to Boulder to the translator and get it back in time for this appointment – 6 days later with a weekend in there.’

‘Well, we’re going to need that since it’s past the 29th.’

You could visibly seem my mouth hanging open. But of course I said, ‘OK’. I would get it.

Then they wanted to know why my translations weren’t ‘stapled by the translator’. I said I didn’t know. They were very concerned unstapled translations might be rejected in Spain. Jeff and I looked at each other. We could staple them ourselves but we remained silent.

‘Please consult your translator and ask why she didn’t staple them.’

I said I would and reached out to her in email from the consulate. Oh, No You Didn’t! She came unglued! She told me in her official translation certification, they expressly said that official translations are never stapled, she never staples, and she thinks it renders the documents unofficial. I was beginning to feel like I was caught between Mom and Dad and they were in a fight.

Ugh. Then we were told we needed more copies of our 10lb packets, so we had to walk across the street and get some made and bring them back. Great! We were all set – the guy gave me back some copies and we went back to our hotel to pack up and get Jeff’s motorcycle to the port of Los Angeles to ship it out. Then my phone rang.

They were very sorry but they had given me the wrong papers and I needed to come back across town and give them back to them so they could give me the correct ones. I will admit to having a melt down in the hotel room. The Gods of Document Hades were having me on again! But what could I do?

I went back through LA traffic and they squeezed me in to sort it out. It only took an hour. I left there and drove down to the port to meet up with Jeff – more than an hour away. I had all his gear, that was shipping with his bike, in the trunk of my car so he couldn’t complete it without me. This delayed us getting out of LA. And I know from experience, you never, ever delay getting out of LA after noon. Or it will take you FOREVER!! You will age on the drive from San Pedro to San Bernadino. It’s like dog years.

So at midnight last night – we rolled into our driveway. Yes  – midnight. And this morning I’m going to our bank to explain to some nice person that I need to get those statements stamped again. And then I’m going to scan them and send them to our translator, who has promised to do them quickly and get them back to me via overnight post, so I can overnight them to the consulate. She’ll probably put 50 staples in them just for spite. But I’m tired thinking about it.

I know we aren’t alone. While I was sitting there in my second consulate visit yesterday morning – I noticed almost everyone had a ‘Just one more thing’ to go take care of. Three weeks – we need that visa in three weeks so we can get on a plane. Crossing my fingers that our ‘Just one more thing’ is really ‘The last thing.’

The Wind at our Backs

We’ve spent months and months getting everything ready and today, we drive towards LA. On the way, we’ll stop off in Palm Springs for an overnight with dear friends, and then it’s on to LaLa land to spend, probably a sleepless night in great anticipation. Monday morning we have 2 meetings at the Spanish consulate on Wiltshire Blvd. to turn in our applications and pay our visa fees and tasa.

Feels surreal, now that we are very nearly at the appointed hour. We’ll be dressed up like we’re heading to our college interviews – just hoping they’ll like the cut of our jib. It’s a test you can’t study for.

We only have a few more things on the list after this. And they are thus:

  1. Sell the Audi TT (lining up a buyer)
  2. Sell Mary Jane – our ancient Toyota truck (we have a buyer lined up and will deliver it the third week of Feb)
  3. Have the overseas stuff picked up – Already scheduled for third week in Feb
  4. Get Jeff’s beloved motorcycle to LA to be shipped out before Feb 25th – He will do this alone (I’m not riding to LA again).
  5. And finally – when they tell us our visas are ready – book our flights to Spain out of LA and pick up our visas at the consulate there, before heading the to airport – hopefully by Feb 28th. My searches and alerts on Kayak are making me antsy to pull the trigger on this!

That’s it. No more on the very long list that could have covered the refrigerator last September. I can see all the crossed off items in different ink – and remember how I celebrated each one. And how it happened? – I can hardly believe it, but it did.

We are 25 days away from lift off. I can hear the engines rev. We’re both anxious for it all to be over and to be sipping a drink on the plane. Human beings are powerful when their will is focused.  But first, you gotta believe you can do it, so you can. They say ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ Well, this is as bold as we get so I hope she’s smiling on us for the next few weeks, at least.

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!

Grateful for Letting Go

When our children were growing up, we tried to instill a sense of gratitude in their character. They had things I couldn’t dream of when I was a kid. So I’m not sure I was always successful in making sure they understood how hard we worked to provide for them.

Over the years, we’ve amassed a lot of stuff and while I’ve reveled in the feeling of being lighter in the last few months, I’ve struggled with the tension between being grateful for the life we’ve had – complete with all the trappings – and letting go of it all. ‘Am I grateful enoungh?’ I’ve asked myself.

Attachment isn’t something I’ve ever struggled with. I inherited this from my grandparents, who picked up and moved on a regular basis my Mother’s entire life. It’s why she has lived in the same house for over 50 years and is afraid of swapping out a table cloth, let alone moving to a new house.  Perhaps it skipped a generation and I have a little gypsy in me somewhere back there.

Wading through our stuff, putting price tags on things that cost 100 times more at retail, felt strange. They need to go, so were priced to sell. But even stranger, was when people looked at those things, with the prices I put on the little colored stickers, and tried to talk me down further. And with 25 cars in our cul-de-sac, it was like being attacked by a swarm of bees.

The first time, my jaw dropped.

‘Do you want me to tell you the story of this rugby ball? I bought it in London on a cold foggy day on Portobello Road. It’s from the 1920’s. You can’t get another one of these in this state.’

The guy shrugged – he was wearing a National Rifle Association ball cap , so I think Portobello Road isn’t a top destination for him. But still, he pressed his case. Finally, I gave in. I’m not taking that ball with us. And my kids don’t want it. But how do you sell things to strangers who will never appreciate the provenance?

They don’t know the story of the pitcher from France we got from a dear friend for our wedding. She hand carried it 18 hours and I’ve kept all my kitchen utensils in it ever since. Or the crystal Tiffany champagne bucket from our wedding we use when something really special happens in our lives.

Some times – I had to just say ‘No’ the price is the price. I’d rather donate it than sell it for $5 less, to a person who doesn’t understand the value. But I admit, towards the end, I let some things go for nearly nothing.  Time is running out and there is no more room in the boxes.

Walking through the kitchen I realized – No more toast, no more blending, no more air popped popcorn – because we no longer own the things that can make that stuff. No cakes or cookies or homemade bread. From now on,  I’ll be making coffee in the mornings on the stove in a Turkish coffee pot that will go in my suit case.

Closing up the garage, there are only a few things left to make decisions about. Donate or send to the landfill.  For a moment, just a moment, I wondered if we were crazy. How can we be grateful for the life we’ve had and yet, practically, give it all away? It goes against the American Way. Every commercial on TV and every show I watched growing up. More – More – More. Walking away from those messages, so deeply embedded, is  harder than you’d think.

I need to remind myself that swimming in the same direction as everyone else isn’t me.  It’s time to find a new stream and that means letting go and traveling light. But I will say, it would have been easier if just one of the vultures that descended on our house this weekend had once, just once, said something nice.

We sold everything left over after Jeff’s initial website back on November. And the proceeds will pay to ship the things that are left, and will make their way to Spain on a container ship. I guess that was the whole point. And, at the end of the day, I’m grateful for that.

 

Talking vs. Communicating

Communication and understanding are the key to a happy life. I know this from the harsh reality of experience, as I’ve not always been the best at either of these. I guess time grants you wisdom and perspective – if you decide to pay attention.

In thinking of our preparation for moving to Spain, we joined several Facebook groups for Expats already living in our chosen city, and some specifically for Americans moving to or already living in Spain. It’s been eye opening and in many cases invaluable. But sometimes, it’s been ugly.

Hearing how some of my fellow countrymen speak about people in their chosen country of residence hurts. The harsh reality when they’ve discovered that the culture in Spain isn’t American. Surprise! They do things differently there and the people who run the country won’t bow down to ‘The American Way’. In reading their posts, I sometimes wonder why they don’t just go back to Kansas, or North Carolina or Virginia if they find it so hard to deal with.

It also made me examine myself. When I was still working, I did business with people from other countries, notably France, and decided it was a good time for an ‘Intercultural Communications’ class. It wasn’t because I couldn’t talk with the people in La Ciotat, France – where the other company resided. They spoke English. It was because we couldn’t communicate effectively, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We would have a daily call at the beginning of our day and then end of their work day. We would ask for things and they would always agree to do them. But then, they started missing dates on projects and their people were clearly stressed and working ungodly hours to meet our demands. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I flew to France.

Meeting with them face to face, I learned that in France – The Customer is Always Right – even if I was wrong, they would never tell me ‘NO’. In developing software, this is the killer. In the US, I would make demands of my engineers and they would tell me ‘You’re crazy if you think we can do that in that amount of time.’ I would ask them to help me be more realistic and they go away and think about it and come back and we would negotiate. My job was to push, their job was to push back. We both understood our roles.

The French team just said ‘Yes’ to every idea I had. But soon, I realized I had to give them permission to tell me I was ‘Full of it’. It made them uncomfortable at first, but we started working well together. And on that trip, I got to hear my team on the phone, from the perspective of the team in France. I was able to see their faces as my people in Seattle spoke, and how it landed 7,000 miles away. It wasn’t pretty and I went back home and we changed our approach.

So taking the ‘Intercultural Communications’ class was eye opening too. I learned that different cultures have different power hierarchies and power distances, and dynamics that are not ever discussed but are ingrained since birth. It’s the subtle things that govern how people interact. And it’s the agreed upon method of communication that everyone, except outsiders, understands.

So, when considering moving to another country, it’s imperative that we learn how to communicate effectively. Its not just being able to order a cafe con leche in a cafe in the right language. Or asking for directions. It’s the subtext and context that’s most important. And it’s cultural sensitivity and empathy.

We are the way we are in the US, because of our Puritanical roots and our cultural belief in manifest destiny and some sort of divine right. We’re taught that in school and by all the cultural cues we receive subliminally. But in Spain, the people are also a collection of their history and experiences. A history that stretches much longer than our Anglo-Christian view of the world. The Spanish people of today are a result of those experiences, just like us.

Jeff and I’ve had a lot of discussions about how, at times, we just won’t get it.  And we will trip and fall. But the most important things is, we need to approach it without judgement. And we need to stop, take a deep breath, and try to understand it from their perspective. With intercultural communications, there is no ‘right way’. There is just empathy and willingness to understand. Its the only way to get along in this life, even in our own country. And we’re committed to it.

The Cone of Uncertainty

Anyone who has every developed software knows about the ‘Cone of Uncertainty’. It’s basically a big funnel where the wide end is the beginning of the project. It’s the time when you think up everything you could possibly ever want the application or the software to do. Every crazy function. It’s the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could…?’ moment. This flare of ideas should not come again until the 2.0 version of the software.

Then you take those things and you estimate the time, effort and cost it will take to develop them and you begin to edit. At the wide end of the cone, you have an accuracy of +/-  200%. As you move down the cone towards the narrow end – over time – your estimates, requirements, and costs become more refined and more real.

So we have run this ‘Project of Moving to Spain’ much like a software project, since both Jeff and I understand how that works. We’ve got spreadsheets, lists and timelines. We identified dependencies and risks and we’ve been ticking things off. The other night Jeff commented on where we are.

‘In the beginning it was exciting. So many unknowns. But now it’s like we’re just slogging through the list.’

‘Yeah.’ I said. ‘I hear you. It’s not sexy stuff. But if we want to get this across the finish line, we need to do the housekeeping. The fun stuff will start again when we show up in Spain with a couch and some cardboard boxes. Then 2.0 starts. But we gotta do the drudgery first.’

All our garage sale items in the house are tagged, and tonight Jeff will do what’s left in the garage. We’ll be ready and Open for Business on Saturday.

Our shipper gave us a final quote, after a video review, and we need to get the cost down, so I’m going through my hand bags and editing. In the process, I’m cleaning them out and I realize – again – that I’ll need that shredder. I don’t dare sell it in the sale!

These handbags are full of old .ppt presentations or budget spreadsheets from whatever business meeting I was in the last time I carried them. And receipts and more receipts and just STUFF! The pile was impressive as I turned each of them upside down and sifted through the mound.

I now have 7 – yes, 7 – small nail clippers. Piles of old cold and allergy meds (probably expired). Lots and Lots of small tissue packets – I guess my nose used to run a lot, perhaps from traveling so much. Rubber bands by the hand fulls (I don’t use rubber bands, so this is a mystery). Business cards that could reach the ceiling, And pens from every vendor, contractor, trade show, conference, and gas station I’ve ever been to. Buckets full.

But I also found some of my better jewelry – things I didn’t even remember I owned. Earrings Jeff gifted me, for one occasion or another that I had switched out. And necklaces, if I went to the Spa at a hotel I was staying in. So I’m glad I went through it all.

I know I could have probably sold some items on Bag, Borrow and Steal or one of the many resale sites, but I have no time for that. I feel like a mother handing her babies to strangers, but do hope whoever buys these bags in this garage sale – at bargain basement prices, I might add – will enjoy them and go on adventures with them.

In a week we will be preparing for our trip to LA, and ‘The Interview’ (cue the scary music) dun, dun, dun! In the famous words of Sally Field, when she won the Oscar for Norma Rae – I hope ‘they like me, they really like me’ and we don’t have any hiccups in getting our visas.

Our visa packets are 100% completed. All the copies are made, which doubled the size of them yesterday. So now we’ll look like earnest students handing in term papers at the end of a very long semester.  But it feels good to be at the narrow end of the Cone of Uncertainty.

 

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!