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.

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!

The Slow Roll

The next 30 days – Please, Please, Please give us a visa – has become our linguistic transition period. I’m +Babbeling, and Rosetta Stoning. I’m watching strictly Spanish TV and even trying out some of my new language on Jeff.

‘Let’s Go’ he says, to move me along to the store.

‘You mean ‘Vamonos!’ I say, with a wave of my hand. I’ve begun gesturing with my arms a lot more – like my new favorite Spanish actresses.

He rolls his eyes, but I’ll be the one laughing when we land in Spain.

‘Como llegamos al metro, por favor?’ I’ll say at the airport, to the first official person I see – right out of the gate. Jeff will be confused but follow in my wake – as he’ll have no other choice, being that he hasn’t been studying up for hours a day with La Casa De Papel and Velvet.

For our visa applications, we had to pay an official consulate-approved translator to translate our bank statements – and a host of other documents. So when we went to the bank to get them stamped and signed, the manager suggested that we switch our language preference to Spanish going forward. That way, next year when we want to renew our visas, we can just print them, get then stamped and we won’t be out the $400 to have someone certify that numbers in English are numbers in Spanish.

Seemed like a great idea until yesterday when we got a fraud alert via text on Jeff’s phone. And yes, now it’s in Spanish.

‘What the hell is this?’ asked Jeff, confused. ‘I think it’s telling me there has been some fraudulent activity on our account – but I can’t tell what it is.’ he groaned. ‘Shit! We had that guy at the bank change everything over to Spanish!’

I smiled. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So we logged into our account and Yup! its all in Spanish. Nothing like jumping into the deep end. So I called and got things straightened out, charges reversed and cards cancelled. They’re researching some of the stuff from a couple of days ago and today they sent me an email update – in Spanish. Jeff laughed.

‘See. Now YOU get to decipher what the hell this says.’

‘No problema!’ was my reply. And I sat down and figured it out. Sure, I had to look up a bunch of banking mumbo jumbo (Oh, how Google translate still owns me) – but I did pretty good before I broke down and used ‘the Google’, as my Mom calls it. And, if I’m honest, I’m a little proud of myself.

Not that I haven’t had my doubts about what we’re doing, the closer it gets. Serious doubts about how mad we must be to just up and move across the world. But I feel sure, when the days comes, I’ll do it with a hearty ‘Vamanos!’

 

 

 

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.

 

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.