Friday, September 10, 2010

Getting there is half the fun?

In which we prepare for our trip, and I learn a few things and work REALLY hard:

Wow. What a whirlwind! The first week of July this year we first discussed the idea of moving abroad, temporarily or permanently. The first week of August we decided it would be Italy for 2 1/2 months and then New Zealand for 1 1/2 months. The 18th of August we bought tickets to Italy and now it is the first week of September and we are here! Some of those dear to us have described us as "mental!" and there a many points at which I would have had to agree with them. But really, when someone offers you a temporary job in Europe and is willing to cover travel and accommodation your family, AND you already homeschool your kids, would any of you honestly say, "No thanks"?

Being in Europe is fantastic in many ways, as many can agree, but getting there with two children and a lot of loose ends to tie up is another story. Some say that getting there is half the fun, but I would have to correct that to "getting there is more than half the work". My Man was already a ping-pong ball going back and forth from west coast Canada to Europe, putting in long hours for the work that would bring us there so the rest of what had to be done to prepare our family to go had to be done by someone else. In this case that mostly meant myself. I really got started at the end of July, so that really only gave me a month or so. I significantly improved my skills at delegating and letting go of non-essential tasks through this time, and thanks to lots of helpers and lots of culling on the 'to-do' list, we finally made it!

We own our home, which I often lovingly refer to as our nonstop reno-project, and that meant that to arrange for occupation while we were away there were a number of outstanding renovations that needed to be finished to prevent damage to the house and provide a safe place for someone else to live. When you live in your own home you can put up with a dishwasher that starts with a screwdriver, or walls needing to be sanded, mudded and taped or painted, an unfinished kitchen, or floors with no baseboards. When you turn over that home to another person, no matter how trustworthy; you need to have something they can function safely in. As such, I hired out most of the remaining work to be done to a few capable and skilled carpenter friends of ours, who managed to complete all the essential items on the list about a week before we left. Early on I turned our house into a bunch of hyperbaric chambers to isolate drywall dust when the mudding and taping was getting done. We also had huge amounts of help from family and friends doing things like painting and installing a new dishwasher. I highly doubt that I would have been able to avoid postponing my trip without all the help. Thanks everyone!

The house aside, the 'to-do' list was very very long, with everything from finding a house-sitter to buying a laptop to arranging lodging abroad on the agenda. There were also all those silly little things that take up enormous amounts of time (and money) like arranging travel medical insurance, picking up prescriptions, dental appointments, turfing unwanted belongings and furniture, six months of miscellaneous recycling (from bottles to batteries and compact fluorescent lightbulbs), and moving a giant pile of dirt off the driveway. Again the huge amounts of assistance from family and friends meant that these things either got culled off the list or completed somehow. There are definitely some things I ought to have done and didn't, like testing the PIN numbers on my various bank cards to make sure they work; I hardly use cash at home. Or returning that tiny bit of wood that got broken off one corner of our daughter's rental cello so they can repair it. Or maybe planning for our time abroad a bit more, arranging visits from friends and family, places to see, things to do. etc. Figuring out what to do about travel while here, like renting a car or buying a train pass. But hopefully we will get to most of that soon, and I am sure the cello bit can wait or get sent back with a friend (yes it made it all the way to Italy).

At several points I genuinely wanted to throw in the towel and forget all the craziness. If it weren't for the large carrot of a lifetime wish for a trip to Italy getting fulfilled, I might very well have done so. That and the stick of all the money we spent on the tickets (even though they will hopefully be reimbursed), and not wanting to waste it. There were some very low points where even though I was working so hard I didn't have more than 5 or 6 hours a night to sleep, it still didn't seem possible to get all the essential things done. That was mostly after my Man left for Europe, about a week ahead of me to work and prepare for our arrival. At that point I gave myself permission to postpone the trip if I needed to, and that helped me chill out enough to get the rest of the list done. All our personal things got loaded into our 11'x7' office, we moved ourselves to a good friend's house, our renovations were completed, I packed, cleaned up the disaster our yard and carport had become, had last visits with family and long-time-no-see friends, and then left a few last minute things for friends to deal with on my behalf. I finally allowed myself to begin feeling excited on the day I left. It mostly counter-acted the nausea from the near constant anxiety of the previous few weeks of keeping track of everything we had to do and doing it. Getting in the cab for the airport I just kept reminding myself to take deep breaths. We were on our way at last! Again, enormous thanks and gratitude to all the friends and family who made this possible.

The most important thing is that we made it, and in one piece; but there are a few lessons I learned and can share:

Delegate, delegate, delegate! Constantly improve on your delegation skills and accept all help offered. REALLY. Ask those who don't offer, they are usually more than willing to pitch in.

Give yourself other options, or a back-up plan. I was a basket-case before I allowed myself to consider postponing the trip, and after that I just went nose-down, bum-up into the work and got it done.

Prioritize. Write a list of everything going through your head that needs to be done or researched or considered. Now you don't have to think about it, it is written down! Prioritize your list with highlighting urgent things, that have to happen now - like buying plane tickets, or going to the recycle center on the day it is open). Prioritize your list again by highlighting important things,that MUST happen for you to actually go, like buying plane tickets, or arranging travel medical insurance. Have another look at your list and focus primarily on the things that are both important and urgent, then go down the list and into the items either urgent or important, but not both and then on to everything else. This is a trick from GTD or "Getting things done" that I learned via my Man. I have a hard time with this one and tend to make things seem important and urgent when they are not. Like "clean fish tank" when it was actually at last arriving at a point of ecological stasis, and the water was clear. It took me until the day before I left to finally cull this one.

Have a sense of humor. When all else fails (and it just might), just laugh at yourself, at this ridiculously momentous task ahead of you and the temporary insanity with which you took it on. Another hard one for me, I tend to take everything much too seriously. Our girls help me with this one, as they tend toward the opposite end of that spectrum, as does my unofficially adopted sister....who just happened to visit a few days before I left, and of course, my Man.

Leave little things to look forward to along the way. Whether it is take-out from your favorite spot, a visit with a friend, a trip to the bookstore that you need to do anyway, or even just a quick call with your ping-pong ball of a Man, leave little things for yourself to look forward to each day (or more often). Mmmmm cookies. Whatever it takes, right?

Remember 'this too shall pass.' This is a good one for any tough situation.

Accept the strength you already posses, and require that energy to be present for you. This brings to mind a favorite quote of mine by Maryanne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech

And with that I will end for today. Next time I will tell you all about the actual travel part, and then comes the good stuff... description of our new digs in Italy.


  1. What a wonderful peak into your hectic start, we look forward to reading about all the families adventures, please keep it updated. lots of love alaskan garners

  2. I read the posts in the wrong order, oh well. I am really glad you are writing these Devi! I am also really glad I found your blog! It's so nice to hear about your travels. I hope you are all doing really well and I miss you so so much!