Moving is always an adventure. Always. Sometimes that adventure is fun and exciting. Sometimes that adventure is nerve-wracking or lonely. And sometimes that adventure is exhausting.

Exhaustion has been the overriding feeling for the past few days.

Last week, I was thrilled to hear that our UAB and HHE and consumables had all arrived at post. This is a bit of an anomaly for a couple of reasons. First, UAB is shipped via airplane, so is usually the first thing to arrive at post, often well-before any other shipments. In a “normal” world, it is followed by HHE and consumables, both of which come by ship, sometimes weeks or months after the UAB. Needless to say, when I heard that it was ALL here, I was skeptical, but also super excited. Getting your stuff is what really helps a new country start to feel like home. Your apartment goes from a beige-on-tan-on-white motif to one that you have created through your random collection of goodies from around the world. For us, that means bright pink sitting pillows, blue rugs, a floral armchair/ottoman combo, and lots and lots of framed photos.

With the delivery scheduled and the movers’ arrival time drawing near, my excitement at getting all our stuff turned into trepidation at getting ALL our stuff. Usually, UAB is a couple of large boxes and gets put away in a few hours. Then, we have time to organize and arrange those items while we await the next shipment, but with it all coming at once, the timeline gets shrunk down like Wayne Szalinski’s kids. The plan was to get UAB at 9AM and then HHE/consumables at 2PM. That’s a great window for putting away the first boxes of stuff (mostly clothing and bedding), but in past moves, that has been the end of the day. This time, instead of a few hours of work and then time to take a little catnap or finish off a book, it was going to be straight from the unpacking frying pan to the unpacking fire.

It wasn’t intentional, but it did turn out that the day of all this movement ended up being a day I could not take off work. I had a series of meetings that would have been a real pain to reschedule, but Thad was free! (Okay, not totally free. I did come home mid-afternoon to relieve him so he could put in a couple of hours as well and not feel totally swamped the following morning.) This meant, for the first time in our Foreign Service adventure, he was the one to receive the shipments- solo. It also meant he was the one who got to scramble around in that unpacking frying pan before the fire arrived.

UAB all placed in its rightful locations (or at least out of the boxes and off the floor), it was time for HHE and consumables to make an appearance. I lost count of the number of boxes that rolled in the door Monday afternoon (due to a heavy rainstorm, delivery got delayed until after I had swapped work shifts with Thad), but it felt never-ending. At least the brown of the boxes blended right in with our neutral-to-an-extreme apartment vibe. I am not entirely sure they all made it here, but I’m assuming what did not show up here (my tall bookshelf in particular) is in storage in Hagerstown, WV.

This is where the real work begins.

Opened boxes reveal an occasionally odd organization on the part of the D.C. movers, but more often just display another set of things that need to find a new place to live for the next two years. (Imagine what your junk drawer looks like dumped into a cardboard box and covered in packing paper. Now have several of those.)

I feel like we’ve been good about trying to whittle down what we have, but there are some things that just make me happy to have in the house. I love my antique typewriter (and want another one!), but it needs a nice place to sit on display. I love my teal cabinet that I got at Eastern Market in Washington D.C., but sometimes it is hard to find a spot for another piece of furniture. And I love my throw pillows and blankets in the living room, but maybe I don’t need six of each?

The arrival of HHE is all about sorting and organizing and then finding hiding places for the things you really want, but don’t need to have handy. It’s more of an art than a science. Every time this happens I think of things I will do better next time. Then, next time rolls around and I find another set of carefully laid plans switched and tossed and upended willy-nilly. In the end, it’s best to just go with the flow or you’ll drive yourself nuts with the process.

As tiring as the process has been, we are down to just wall hangings left to organize, as I am a firm believer that if you don’t get things out of boxes and put away within the first month, you’ll never do it. After that, you may as well leave them in the boxes to make the next move a tad bit easier!

Pinks and blues and teals and purples are splashed across the apartment, and Caracas is finally starting to feel like home. Until we do it all again in two years!


Searching New Sidewalks

Between the ever-so-trying trip home from Idaho last week (click here if you missed that saga), Friday’s government-sponsored packout and the subsequent organizing and reorganizing of suitcases to go with us to China, the only time I have to blog is at 30,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.  So, with a five hour flight in front of me (okay, four and a half at this point, since I was just cleared to use my electronic devices), I figured now is as good of a time as ever to get an entry logged and star-dated.

I finally made it home, not on Wednesday as planned, but at 2AM on Thursday morning. After falling into the giant king-sized bed, I slept for a few hours, but once Thad’s alarm when off, I was wide awake, not because I was feeling overly refreshed and rejuvenated, but rather because my uptight, must-be-organized genes were kicking in and I knew I had only a day to get the whole mo-partment ready for the movers.

Thursday was spent taking everything out of every closet, drawer, nook and cranny in good ol’ #905 and placing it in one of four piles:

*Suitcase-These are things going with us on the plane to China, including most of our electronics, clothing for both work and weekends for an indeterminate number of weeks, a variety of shoes to go with those clothes, as well as toiletries and nail polish to get me though until the other forms of baggage transportation come through. (I’m currently sitting at a mere five bottles of nail polish to see me through that period. I will be creatively mixing and matching those colors until my box of sixty-some shades arrives in Chengdu. Don’t ask about the shoe situation. It isn’t pretty.)

*UAB- Unaccompanied baggage is a shipment of limited weight that is goes by air, but not with us. It is supposed to arrive a few weeks behind the owners, but I’ve heard in China that “few weeks” can easily stretch to a couple of months. All of our winter clothes are in this shipment, as well as comfy house stuff, like throw blankets and pillows. Thad’s PS3 and video game collection is also in this load, although I am not sure it will do him much good until the TV arrives.

*HHE- The household shipment is truly the slow-boat-to-China load. It will literally get placed on a container ship, where it will trek across the Pacific Ocean, arriving in the Middle Kingdom at some unknown future date. It could be a few weeks after the arrival of UAB , or a few more months. Who knows! This shipment has all of the goodies I bought at Costco about six weeks ago (again, click here if you missed that adventure!), as well as my Christmas tree, a sizable stack of books, and all of the boxes from our house in Idaho that we packed up a year ago. (At this point, I have no idea what randomness lurks in those!)

*Storage- The final pile from Friday morning belonged to storage. These are things that we didn’t  want to take with us to China, but rather wanted put in permanent storage until we are living back in the US. The tricky part of this pile was that the moving company required a minimum of 200 pounds to put a load into storage, but we were well below that level. (This may be the first and only time in my life that I want to see the number on the scale go up!) We had a couple of boxes that were meant to go to permanent storage when we packed out in Idaho, but somehow mistakenly ended up in Arlington with us. (These boxes include such necessary items as the feather pen used by guests to sign-in at our wedding reception, my 7th grade mosaic of a pig made from kidney beans and split peas, and my ginormous graduate program portfolio.) On top of that, we wanted to put our TV in that stack, as we already have one headed to China from the Idaho house. When the packing company representative came to the apartment a few weeks ago to do the pre-pack survey, he estimated that we were about fifty pounds short of being able to do a permanent storage pile, so we either had to up the weight or haul that stuff halfway around the world with us. With no desire to take my bean-art to China, we searched high and low for random junk to add to that pile, but came up empty handed. It was at this point that I remembered that in the activity room of our Oakwood, there is a bookshelf for taking or leaving books at will. The bottom two shelves have been filled with the same pile of books for a year now- tomes of diplomatic history, Norton anthologies of literature and a few technology textbooks that appear to be at least a decade out of date. Sticking with the fashion rule “if you haven’t worn it in the last year, it is time to get rid of it,” I figured if no one had taken them in the last year, no one is ever going to want them, they would be perfect for my pound-needs. It took me two stealthy trips down there to collect the needed weight, but I was able to get within a few pounds of the requirement, which is good enough for government work!

With all of our earthly possessions boxed and hauled off (an entire day of sorting and piling turned in to a mere two hours of work for the movers), we were left with the mo-partment looking eerily like it had exactly one year before when we moved in. After a few evenings of farewells with friends in the area, time has finally arrived to embark upon the trek to Chengdu. We’ll touch down in LA (with cardigan in tow, just like Miley, although I’m not sure I can get Thad to throw his hands in the air if they are playing his song) in just a couple of hours, spend a day and a half in the Sunshine state and then head out for Chengdu on Thursday.

The section of sidewalk I’ve spent the last year exploring was a great one. I saw more of our nation’s capital than I ever thought I would (parts of it more than I ever wanted to!) and was able both spend time with old friends and make some great new ones. With that said, I also feel like I’ve worn that chunk of sidewalk to its core and it is time to take this exploration on the road. I’m excited to search a new section of sidewalk, looking not necessarily for where it ends, but for where it will lead.

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Survey Says…

Eleven months ago, as I was finishing up my teaching job at Marsing Middle School, Thad and I were in the midst of a career change that started with a cross-country move. Thank goodness those last days were teacher work days and that I had a personal leave day or two left! I had students load all of my books, files, posters, sweaters, and knick-knacks into a friend’s mother’s car, as mine had already been sold, so that I could bail as soon as possible, getting home to where another set of books, files, pictures and knick-knacks were being stored away as well. (As a side note, it is amazing how a classroom can become a second home. I had as much stuff in room 4 of MMS as I did in my first dorm room at college!)

Moving companies are an integral part of the State Department. They come, look at your stuff, estimate the boxing needs and return a few weeks later and unload your house in mere hours. The actual packing day reminds me of a plague of locust, coming through and devouring everything in its path. The movers come in, move from room to room, leaving emptiness behind. Emptiness is the key word there. If something is in the room, it is going in the box. That means the stuff you don’t want in boxes needs to be hidden away, or you may not see it again for months. Make sure the trash is taken out of the house, or it may end up in a box. Make sure the flip-flops you wear around the yard are not left lounging by the front door or they will be carted away in a crate with rugs and frames. And heaven forbid you forget and leave a load of dirty laundry in the basket on the morning of moving day. Months and months later, you are likely to end up with a lovely, gym-sock smelling surprise that is probably best to go straight from packing box to trash bin!

Over all though, the process is really rather amazing! It is all especially astounding to those of us who are used to moving with the help of anyone who can be bribed with pizza and Pepsi! (I’m looking at you, friends and family! I’ve been on both ends of that deal more times than I can count, and as little fun as moving is, we all tend to show up when the offer is cheesy pepperoni and cold cola.)

Today, we started that moving process again. This morning, I had scheduled a pack-out survey for 10AM. I also had an appointment with the Salvation Army to pick up a donation of clothes that were not going to China with us. So, I rolled out of bed and got dressed much earlier than I have in the last few weeks, waiting for either one of them to arrive. By 10:45, I was baffled to have not heard from the moving company. I knew the Salvation Army would be anytime between 7AM-noon, but I thought the moving appointment was 10AM sharp. As it turns out, after eleven months in Arlington, Thad still doesn’t know our address and sent the poor man to some other random, non-existent address, so he was a tad late. (I got the text from Thad warning me of this predicament as the surveyor was leaving the house, too late to be properly alerted!) The company representative was a bit grumpy when he first walked in the door, but I turned on the charm and soon he was joking with me and telling me horror stories of some crazy moves he had helped with over the years.

I do have to say, it is a bit disconcerting to have someone walk into your house, wander through the rooms, opening closets and cupboards and nightstand drawers, making a mental calculation of how much your worldly possessions weigh.  He had questions about whether our TV is an LED (I have no idea!), what percentage of my clothing I was going to take on the plane with me (as much as possible!), how many pairs of shoes were going to be shipped (uhhh, every last one of them!) and how much more food we were going to buy for the consumables shipment (none, although I am questioning the amount of cereal we have…is it enough?)

The sad part of this is, he walk-though lasted less than half an hour. Actually, thirty minutes is being super generous. I would guess it lasted less than fifteen minutes. This guy knows his stuff when it comes to estimating. He would be a rock star in elementary math class!! (Remember those pictures where they would show you a stack of, say, ten coins and then a huge stack of coins and you had to estimate how many where in the huge stack? I was always terrible at those problems! I still can’t take a decent guess at how tall something is, how far away a landmark is or even how many cookies it is going to take to fill me up. I always tend to guess too tall, too far and too many!)

So now, all of my stuff has been checked off on a spreadsheet, my pack-out day has been set and it is just a matter of organizing and reorganizing the piles before that fateful day arrives. Until then, it is off to Idaho for two weeks to make the rounds, visit school and friends and family and the neighbor’s stacking goats one last time before the move to the Middle Kingdom!