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.

Last Dance with Mary Jane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

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.