We’re only a few days now from leaving Australia. The majority of things we have been whittling away at for a couple of months now are crossed off our to-do lists (see also PCS Update I and PCS Update II), although there are still several important things to either do or just get through. Although I’m sure there will be unexpected last-minute stresses as there usually are with a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), and I’m entering an unbelievable fifth week of being sick, I’m feeling like overall we’re in the home stretch.
The movers came last week and in two days packed out our entire house. They complimented us on being well-prepared for the move.
I did feel reasonably prepared. I like scheduling a packout for a Monday or Tuesday, because it gives you the weekend to do a final sorting of the house instead of doing it piecemeal after long work days when you’re exhausted.
In the 2-3 days preceding the move, V and I had chosen and moved all of our unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) to a section of our front living room. With 450 lbs (about 205 kg) allowed for our shipment to temporary quarters in Virginia, and the rest of the things slated for delivery next year in Mexico, we chose carefully: kitchen appliances, winter clothes, shoes, family photos, and some non-fragile decorations. We also moved our suitcases and carry-ons into a bathroom designated as a no-packing zone. We threw things in there like loose toiletries, laundry, and stuff that we were kind of in the middle of dealing with.
We also designated a guest room closet as an extra no-packing zone. There we put things to sell (local shredder, TV, vacuum cleaner, power strips, tower fan, etc.), things to use or give away like groceries, aerosols and open liquids that couldn’t be packed, laundry and dishwasher supplies for the next week in the house post-packout, the boxes for our cable and WiFi hardware to return, a set of old crappy sheets, blankets, and pillows so we didn’t have to move to a hotel, and so on. I tried to be really careful that nothing we wanted packed slipped in there (or vice versa).
Everything else in the house by default was either embassy furniture, or household effects (HHE) for a separate shipment to Mexico, so I grabbed two colored stacks of Post-its and marked embassy things in blue and HHE in pink. I took similar things from all around the house and co-located them.
You don’t have to do that – the movers will go room by room and pack what is there, but I appreciate fragile things getting evaluated and wrapped together as “decorations” rather than a box that says “living room” and then a year later when you unpack it, you’re coming across breakables in every box. I also think it saves the movers time, and I never want the packout to stretch into a third day. We also took whatever original boxes we had left (for our American flatscreen TV, for example) and placed them next to the items to help the movers.
There was a third color of Post-its for Do Not Pack items that we needed out during the packing, like step-down transformers, the welcome kit coffee machine, phone chargers, etc. In the end, only one thing slipped into UAB that should not have – a 220 volt coffee grinder I can’t use in the U.S. – but other than that our organization was spot on.
While I was dealing with things inside the house, V spent a couple of days dealing with the yard and took the last opportunity before his tools and gardening supplies were packed to weed, prune roses, and re-winterize the yard. (It will definitely make it easier for embassy staff to prepare the house for the next family, eventually, after the house undergoes some renovations.)
He neatly cleaned and arranged on the porch for packing plant pots, flower baskets, tomato cages, our bird bath, BBQ, stone patio table and chairs, gardening stuff, and everything else he used to decorate and take care of the yard here.
In the 45 minutes before the movers came, I walked through the house taking photos of all of our property. I literally photographed the contents of drawers, closets, our furniture, everything. Some people do inventory spreadsheets or videos, but I like photos. I did a similar exercise four months ago when the house was still all set up normally for insurance purposes. Imagine if the container ship went down and you lost your entire household! #FSNightmares I have insurance for everything including storage and transit coverage, and receipts and appraisals for many things we own, but if I had to file a total or partial loss claim, photos would help me prove what we owned and its condition.
So the packing went relatively smoothly. We are not really allowed to help, but we were on hand to answer questions, oversee that things were done properly, and provide lunch. The movers had 50 years of experience between the three of them, and it’s Australia, so there wasn’t much to worry about.
Generally the first thing the movers do is pack and weigh the UAB. We ended up 60kg (or about 132 lbs) underweight, so we grabbed our Plan B stuff and came in half a kilo under – could not have been more perfect (except the darn coffee grinder, LOL!). After that they start the HHE, and the hours can really drag on. Our movers brought a boom box and played hits from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and it was a real mood-lifter. The first day they try to pack and seal everything, and the second day they pack anything they missed, and start loading the boxes into crates on the lift truck. They then seal the crates and attach the diplomatic paperwork. You can see the second day’s work below.
The ‘quiet’ time of sitting around while they wrapped on the first day gave me a chance to call my parents (the 17-hour time difference is a bear), be attentive to work email, finish the last post in my Ghan travelogue, and pre-draft the rest of the blog posts I want to publish from Australia. I find that I seem to post a lot on the blog the month I PCS, which is counter-intuitive because it’s such a busy time, and yet there are pockets of time like that you can grab to capture what’s going on before it’s overtaken by events. And there is so much going on that it’s kind of a catharsis to write about it.
When I signed the paperwork and the movers drove away at about 14:30 on the second day, I walked back into the house and felt so odd. I kept glancing at a mirror that was no longer there, walking towards a pantry or rocking chair that was no longer there, reaching for a fork in an empty drawer. We brought things out of the no-packing areas including the welcome kit silverware and mugs, and tried to set up some new order in the house, but it didn’t feel exactly like home anymore. It made me glad that we had lived and loved in that house, welcomed friends, laughed, celebrated – because clearly, the time for that has ended. We are back to the beginning, before our UAB and HHE arrived.
We ended up ordering Chinese and watching TV, taking refuge on the couches in our throwaway blankets. Thank goodness the embassy responded to my request for a bed from the warehouse, since the only beds we had in the house were ours and went into HHE.
Clearing the Decks
We have sold or given away about half the things we have left, and the rest are in progress. We sold the Nissan to an embassy colleague as-is (engine light on since October 2017) and it’s gone. I sold the Holden (below) and I’m transferring it to the new owner on the last day before we fly. Next week, my beloved Volkswagen Hilde will be removed from long-term government storage in Belgium where we put her in 2017 when we PCS’d from Tashkent. She will sail across the Atlantic to the Port of Baltimore, and by the time we get to Virginia in early September, she should be customs-cleared and delivered to me at my new apartment! First order of business will be taking her to the Volkswagen service center to ensure she is roadworthy ASAP!
Last Friday V and I had going-away lunches with our respective sections which were delicious and a real treat. V was presented with an Australian hat and I received a plaque featuring a boomerang and Mission coins with a kangaroo and a koala. Then we attended the Hail & Farewell at the Marine House that evening and were honored and thanked alongside our colleagues who are also PCSing.
We attended our going-away party last night and had a fun time, but had to leave after three hours because we’re both sick. I caught a cold on July 1 in Darwin and have never recovered from it despite seeing two doctors, avoiding my Enbrel, staying home from work here and there for several days, and taking a variety of medications.
Usually V doesn’t get sick when I do, but particularly virulent winter viruses have taken down half the embassy this month. On Friday I got diagnosed with bronchitis and am now hopefully on the path to getting better, but both V and I have been up nights with coughing, fever, and congestion for weeks and I am coming close to the end of my rope. Just when it starts to recede for a day or two, it comes roaring back. My ears are constantly popping, I can hardly breathe through my nose, it hurts to even brush my hair. Last night when we got home from the party, I literally coughed until I vomited the one meal I’d had that day. What misery! I don’t want to fly 10.5 hours to Hawaii like this. Ugh.
I’m most of the way through my check-out sheet at work, but I still need to welcome and transition with my successor this week, turn in some equipment, do the final house cleaning and inspection, give our houseplants to our neighbor, mail a box of work and winter clothes to our friends in Virginia because my suitcase is getting heavy and I won’t need that stuff on home leave (but I still need it this week), not to mention MY JOB up until the last day!!
I am going to rest as much as possible this weekend and keep my fingers crossed that the home stretch won’t be bumpy. I need to take care of myself right now. I will do the best I can by my colleagues, but when that clock inevitably ticks down, all we will have left is our luggage and each other getting on that plane. Ironically, two years ago this moment, we were on a plane over the Pacific on our way here!