PCS Countdown, Part II

The new year has come and gone. In the week plus since my last blog post, and as the days tick closer to our Permanent Change of Station (PCS) packout, my tempo of pre-departure preparations has become more frenzied. I’ve come a long way, and given the amount we accomplished today there is still quite a bit to do tomorrow but we have made it to the home stretch.

In the past week, I’ve managed to close a lot of circles. It’s the kind of stuff you do when the packout is getting close but you’re not at the point of throwing things in bags yet.

– Got a haircut.

– I donated a bunch of my clothes that were way too large for me.

– I picked up the rest of my vitamins and prescriptions to hold me until we get to Virginia, and cancelled any outstanding doctor and dentist appointments in El Paso I had in the coming months.

– I bought several different colors of Post-it notes to help the movers distinguish between UAB, HHE, and things that don’t get packed, like Consulate furniture and property.

– I bought a roll of masking tape to make sure my toiletries don’t leak. Also picked up two crates to replace the two I donated in 2020 to house our office’s holiday decor.

– Went to the post office to return small belongings to my parents and my friend K in Fort Worth so they didn’t get swept up in the move.

– I spent a handful of very late nights at the office (I’m talking until 11 pm and even 1 am) aggressively working through my work to-do list: finishing transition notes, shredding, and tying off one project or task after another. (And maybe also cursing the PCS Portal. They meant well.)

– Finished the performance appraisals for my direct reports and – just about – my own.

– Almost wrapped up my outbriefings at work, set my account to be transferred, and sent myself all important files in case the cloud transfer decides it hates me.

– Shocked myself by asking to have work email and apps installed on my personal phone. Thought I’d never see the day, as I’ve always carried a separate work phone for various reasons I will continue to defend. But when I leave here, I will obviously have to turn in my Mexican cell phone. The idea of having no access to work email for a month of home leave unless I go to Department facilities where the Omicron variant is running rampant in DC was unacceptable.

Being good dinner guests with some diplomat/friend/neighbors for whom V brought over a goodbye Balkan feast ~ January 2022, Ciudad Juárez

– I lined up doctor appointments in Virginia for the winter and spring.

– Spent an entire day cleaning out my personal email, updating passwords, scanning documents, changing my physical address with over 30 banks, accounts, and subscriptions, plus backing up my computer.

– Cleaned out both cars (to search for extraneous papers or junk of which there was virtually zero). I made sure the glove compartments had current registrations, proofs of insurance for both countries, and a copy of my PCS orders in case we make it into Virginia and get pulled over for not having current safety inspection stickers (military and diplomats get a 14-day grace period after PCSing back into the country).

– I did a big recycling run.

Then Friday it started getting very real and I realized with three days left before the packout, it’s what I call Post-it note and designated area time. It’s when you realize you have hit the tipping point where it’s more inconvenient to not start moving things than it is to live out of bags.

That’s the point when we figure out where we are going to stage our Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB), and, in this case, since we’re driving to the U.S. from barely inside Mexico, where we’re going to stage the things we’re bringing with us in the cars so none of that gets packed. This does matter because UAB won’t make it to us for a few weeks once we arrive in Virginia, and we may not see our HHE for at least two months due to the time it takes to clear Mexican customs.

So certain things we need with us sooner (basic kitchen stuff, warm clothes, medication, etc.) really needs to be in the cars, while more clothes and bigger kitchen things can go in UAB. There are also restrictions – spices, liquids, and open containers cannot be shipped, nor can alcohol. Breakable things are not advisable for UAB, which gets handled roughly. So some things – if we need them in the next two months – we have to transport by car. Still eating on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) and having medicine I need weekly that requires refrigeration makes me a fussy traveler who needs to roll with things like a cooler, dry ice, cassava root, coconut oil, raw meat, a pan, a literal grocery sack of supplements – you know, the usual.

The decision-making fatigue can set in quickly, and I don’t like to touch things multiple times. We started making a list of what items were car and what items were UAB. The goal is to get organized, then deconstruct the house by physically putting things in the right pile, with a running list of things we are still using to “sweep” the morning of the packout into the UAB pile or no-packing room, like towels in the bathrooms, dishes in the dishwasher, etc. I made a couple color-coded guides to the Post-it note colors (blue UAB, green Household Effects or HHE, and pink ‘do not pack’ for Consulate appliances and furniture) and hung one upstairs and one downstairs.

On Saturday I also focused on a lot of my own belongings and the kitchen.

– We packed three car crates – one for groceries already open that movers won’t pack, another for cleaning supplies we will need after the movers leave to pass our pre-departure inspection, and a third for appliances and cook’s tools.

– I washed literally all the laundry in the house and took apart the collapsible lidded hampers.

– I stuffed and bagged my entire Louis Vuitton vintage purse collection, which took five large basket hampers to hold. Yikes.

– I packed two suitcases of clothes to take in my car to Virginia, and the rest of my clothes I divided between UAB and HHE. I did something similar with my shoes.

– I packed my jewelry, cleaned out my dressers and my nightstand.

– I cleaned out my desk and my home office, took everything apart, tagged everything for packing, and packed up all my computer, camera, and tech equipment. Packed a purse and backpack and cleaned out my safe. Stored away all my important papers.

– V packed his suitcases, packed things up for the cat, and took apart his office and bathroom.

V playing upstairs with our cat Dzish as he heals from surgery

In the next 36 hours before the packout, we still need to pull a Hail Mary to wrap up what’s left.

– V will prepare the items in our front and back yards and garage for HHE packing.

– V also needs to run to El Paso and get a duplicate COVID vaccination card because his has disappeared into the great unknown, plus pick up a piece of mail his bank sent to a friend’s address and which our friend kindly accepted. Annoyingly, someone stole one of V’s credit card numbers right after Christmas and charged up a bunch of purchases at some Walmart in the south where we’ve never been. He isn’t liable for the charges, but his main credit card was taken out of commission right as we needed to take a 2,000 mile road trip and charge a bunch of gas and hotels, and a new card wouldn’t get to him before we left and mail forwarding started. SUPER ANNOYING. At least we had a friend in El Paso who was kind enough to let us direct the card to her house. Like always, it seems to come down to the last minute of needing to go pick it up before the cars are loaded and the workweek begins.

– I need to sort through my toiletries and divide them between car and HHE.

– I need to run to my office to grab some things I left behind last week that must make their way into our HHE. I’ve already brought home the bulk of it, so this will be the last sweep.

– Meet a neighbor to give away all our plants, for the millionth time (sob).

– Put more kitchen items in UAB, because we have a 450 lb allowance and we’re very underweight at the moment.

– Tag all the downstairs items, drawers, and shelves for HHE.

– Clean whatever parts of the house I can where the movers won’t go, to save time Tuesday night/Wednesday morning before the final housing walkthrough.

– Corral all the no-pack items (the things we will load in the Volkswagen and Toyota) into two upstairs bathrooms I’ve marked ‘do not pack.’ Make sure there are no HHE items in the do not pack rooms including pictures hanging on the walls! (Ask me how I almost learned the hard way before.)

– Take pictures and video of everything Monday morning before the movers come.

– Figure out lunch for movers.

-Hide like a dozen bottles of alcohol I temporarily can’t drink on the Autoimmune Protocol somewhere in my car, along with like eight million other things that probably won’t fit. Hey, I’ve given away enough things, this is worth a small fortune, and everyone’s broke on a domestic tour sooooo I’ll find room.

This is the latest we have ever started preparing for a packout and the least prepared I have ever felt. I have been exhausted and going full force all day every day. It’s a miracle the worst thing that has happened so far is broken skin all over my hands and a couple of vertigo attacks where I vomited and had to lie down, but we are doing it. We are leaving and we are going to make it. May the force be with us.

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