It’s a Small World, but a Big Decision

My aunt once announced that Perk and I had to quit moving because she had run out of space for us in her address book. When I calculated the number of places we have lived over the course of our marriage, I realized that we averaged a move every three-four years – sometimes to a new city, sometimes to a new place in the old city. I started keeping an inventory of our worldly goods, so that we could divest ourselves of them more easily with each move. We’ve pared down considerably.

???????????????????????????????When we were moving from Minneapolis, I measured my bookshelves in the new DC condo and made tough choices; as an English teacher, I had collected books for decades. Our son carted boxes of cherished volumes to the used book store until the manager cried, “That’s enough! We can’t take any more!” My son sorrowfully choked, “But I don’t know what to do with all of these. My parents aren’t with me anymore.” Assuming that we had moved on to that great Barnes and Noble in the sky, the manager relented and took all 3,000 (yes, three THOUSAND!) books.

Where in the World?

This next relocation, however, is disconcerting because we have no parameters for our decision-making.  Being retired, we do not need to worry about the commute time to the office, the quality of the schools, or even the city we live in. We only need to think about where we want to go, and it’s a big world out there!

As a Type-A Virgo, I had to invent some boundaries for myself.  We began by thinking about what we wanted in a new location:

  • A destination place We are gregarious, accustomed to lots of house guests. Apparently our delightful presence is not enough of a draw, because NO ONE accepts our invitations to come to Houston.  As my friend Ann Flanagan said, “Once you’ve seen the zoo and the beer can house, what else is there to do?”

    Beer Can House

    Beer Can House

  • No snow We lived in Minneapolis, Chicago and sometimes snowy DC for most of our lives. I’ve learned how much more room you have in the trunk of your car when you don’t have to carry bags of sand, snow brushes and jumper cables. I rarely complain about the rain in Houston … I don’t have to shovel it!
  •  Clean beaches I love sitting in the sun and smelling the salt water, wading in the surf and feeling the sand slip from beneath my toes. I don’t want to know what could be slipping from beneath my toes on the shores of the Potomac or on the red tide beaches of Bolivar Peninsula!
  • Things to do We like street fairs and open air concerts, science museums, funky art galleries, baseball games and people-watching.  We like to be outside, dressed in casual clothes and munching goodies purchased from sidewalk vendors.

After we considered the above four bullets, we still had too many options – California, the Carolinas, a Caribbean Island?  We added criteria:

  • Affordable
  • Healthy lifestyles
  • Friends to show us around

We were making progress, but decided that we needed input from the most important people in our lives.

Gulf Coast Sunset

Gulf Coast Sunset

Yes, we consulted our grandchildren. Where did they want us to live? Where would they like to visit us? I loved that their first response was “Paris”, but it’s too expensive for many visitors, snow sometimes clogs the Champs Elysees, the Seine is not for wading.  Their next choice was inevitable …

…and so we’re off to Florida. It’s a Small World after all!

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The Best Laid Plans

After the Search

After the Search

“Ma’am, what can I do to help you?” The IAH skycap hovered over me as I unzipped my suitcase at the curbside check-in and tried to stuff an armload of sweaters, pants and jackets into it. “Here, let me take those hangers. Can I sit on this bag for you? You have two minutes before they close the check-in.”  He was concerned. I, on the other hand, was near tears.

My husband and I had been planning our retirement and an extended trip to Paris for over six months; for weeks I lay in bed pondering the details, repeating quietly “I think I can …” I am a Virgo, I am organized, everything is under control.

A House is Not a Home

To add to the upheaval, we decided to sell our house before we left.  We rented a climate-controlled storage unit, and boxed up the personal things, changing the atmosphere from homey comfort to boring “a total stranger can imagine herself living in this house” décor.  Artwork by the grandchildren was stripped from the refrigerator.  My beloved amateur photographs went into cartons. Clothing was packed away so that the closets would look bigger and more spacious. We took a truckload of boxes and wardrobes to storage, and then waited … living in stressful cleanliness, fearing even to bake a pizza lest the tangy smell would drive away a possible buyer.

We set a deadline:  we were leaving for Paris on August 31st; the house had to be sold by midnight August 15, or it was going off the market!  We were DONE with living in anxiety!  At 9 PM on August 15th, we got an offer “that we couldn’t refuse” – recently divorced mother with infant who needed a family neighborhood. We couldn’t turn her down.

A Fortnight of Frenzy

My calm was in jeopardy! In fourteen days we had to:

  • Find an apartment big enough to house our major furniture
  • Pack thirty boxes of the extra belongings and move them into yet another storage unit
  • Wrestle with the buyer’s home inspector who said our AC was “suspect” (it wasn’t, but it took two service calls to prove him wrong)
  • Hire and supervise movers (Two Men and a Truck labored in 100 degree heat to lug our belongings to the second floor in a building with no elevator!)
  • Figure out how to close on the house when we were not living in the country, and the signing had to be done on “American Soil”
  • Pack clothing and essentials for two months’ vacation

Surviving on only four hours sleep per night helped. I finished my last week on the job; we got everything done – even threw a little “house-warming” party for ourselves the night before departure – and had a calm two hours to pack before heading to the airport. I had my list, so knew that everything was under control.  I told Perk to go ahead; I only needed a short time because I had everything set…

Perk finished; I went to my closet to start folding my clothes.

I rifled through plastic bags from the cleaners, but didn’t see what I needed. With a hint of anxiety, I started slitting the bags to see if my clothes were tucked between less important items. No.

The first twinge of panic was replaced by reason: they must be in some unopened boxes in the apartment. Friends had helped us pack; they may have been over-zealous.  I opened a few boxes carefully, found nothing except what was labeled on the box top. My anxiety was growing exponentially!

As my search grew more frantic, my husband told me to stop, offered to let me shop for an all new wardrobe in Paris, which only added to my panic. I knew we couldn’t afford that! As anxiety melted into dizziness, I began shredding the box tape with my fingernails!  I plunged into cartons, scattering books and kitchen utensils, linens and cleaning supplies.   The organized apartment became a maelstrom of chaos!  If we weren’t at the airport two hours in advance of an international flight, they could refuse to let us board. We had been planning for SIX MONTHS! I had ONE HOUR to get there! I couldn’t breathe!!

And then it hit me – I was too well organized!   My clothes were seven miles away, carefully stored on hangers, in dry-cleaning bags, in a cardboard wardrobe, in a climate-controlled storage unit, waiting to be packed…