June 29, 2014

Packing for an extended international trip, part 3

I've definitely packed for international trips before. For Austria, I packed a large suitcase and my swim team duffel. I also carried an extremely heavy backpack as carry on. The two large bags proved almost impossible when boarding and exiting the train between Germany Austria, therefore, for Cambodia, I limited myself to only what I could reasonably carry at least 100 meters at a good clip. The problem with my plan was that it limited me to one suitcase, which I obviously stuffed to the brim and easily went way over the weight limit. $100 dollar mistake. If I could do the Cambodia packing again, I'd only bring a backpack with tons of underwear, a sporty bikini, walking sandals and sunscreen. The tailors made everything that I ended up wearing.

So, for Turkey, Alan and I thought that we should check two bags each, as we don't have to deal with public transport from the airport. In our wedding registry, we selected two awesome "extra-large" duffel bags from Eddie Bauer. These bags are incredible--lightweight, enormous, sturdy, and easy to roll. The only problem is that they don't meet the dimensions required by our airline. Ug.

So, t-minus 56 hours before our flight, we realize that we'll need to exchange them for the next smaller size, and re-do our entire packing scheme.This afternoon, we exchanged bags and then spent today's daylight re-packing everything, downsizing for the smaller bag, and making tough decisions about what we really want to bring. Alan calls our packing experience "Sisyphysian"after the myth of Sisyphus, the guy doomed to roll the boulder up the hill and watch it roll back down, only to start over again and again for eternity. I tend to agree, as I had been pretty grateful for the extra room in the extra-large bag.

My bags now packed to the brim with clothes, shoes and essential toiletries, I feel about 98% done with packing. I've got a bag specified for our honeymoon/language school in coastal Izmir, and a bag of winter clothes to stay in Kayseri (our new home). I have a carry-on suitcase full of cashmere sweaters and dress pants. I have an overnight bag with our documents, my laptop, my purse, a change of clothes, quart-size bags of liquids, a diary, my iPad, and my survival kit (green tea bags and Emergen-C packets). I'm hoping that the $100 I'll have to pay to bring my extra checked bag from Phoenix to Chicago is the only overage charge that I'll incur, though I kind of doubt it. I'm working on with the idea that my stuff and I have to get to Turkey, so the fees are just the price of admission. I don't like unexpected charges, but moving abroad is not only tough, it can also be somewhat expensive.

I'm so ready to just be done and on the plane!

The USPS Adventure

Yesterday, I had a classic pre-major-trip adventure at the Flagstaff post office. Picture this: I'm driving a loaned 1996 Honda accord with no a/c. I've spent hours carefully packing and re-packing 3 large boxes to ship to my mom. They are filled with wedding gifts shipped to us in Flagstaff and little treasures of mine that I'm not ready to part with. They also contain a few clothes that I didn't have room for in my suitcase, or that my current figure doesn't accommodate. They also contain two partial bottles of perfume given to me by close friends from Saudi Arabia. I'm very attached to scents, as I hear all human beings are, so I hoped to keep these bottles around for future years to bring back my fondest memories of volleyball here in Flagstaff.

In any case, I've also spend lots of time arranging textbooks from my master's degree into boxes ready to ship to Turkey as reference materials, or at the very least, some kind of proof that I actually learned something during the past three years.

So there I am, pulling up to the post office, alone. Alan was checking on Walter, his yellow lab who incurred a traumatic attack at the kennel just a few days ago.

Before unloading my large packages, I check inside for some type of cart. I see a mail cart, and despite my usual inclination NOT to use things that aren't clearly designated for my use, I take the cart out to the Honda and load it up, sure that if anyone questions me, I can ask for forgiveness.

A fellow post-office goer reluctantly holds the doors for me, and I make it inside. I look for the old-school customs forms, and there are two options. One smaller form, and one larger one that has some extra words in the title. I choose the shorter one and fill out two, one for each international box.

"Next please."

"Hi, I've got a lot to ship... I'd like to ship these pa..."

"Ok, do they contain any hazardous or flammable materials, including lithium batteries or perfume?"

Oh crap. "Um, yes, I packed some perfume."

"You'll have to pack it separately. It's flammable."

"Oh, I didn't realize that. Sorry, I think it's in this one."

"You can pack it separately."

"Oh no, I'll just throw it away." What? This is a most valuable possession! Why did I say that?

"Find it, take it out, and go to the next available counter." She directed me back to the long counter that guides the waiting line with a pair of old scissors and large packing tape.

Luckily, I cut through the packing tape (and shipping label) on the correct box, and pulled out the ziplock with my perfume. I slipped them into my purse and reloaded the borrowed cart. I then pushed my overloaded cart to the last counter where a pleasant clerk helped my ship the domestic packages to my mom.

The international packages were up next.

"Well, this will be $80," the clerk said after weighing my shoebox full of textbooks. "If you use one of our flat rate boxes, I could get the price down a little, maybe around $60. It's over the 4-pound limit." No kidding, It's a bunch of heavy books! My other box was bigger and had even more books, so I figured I'd be repacking that, too.

"Oh, and you've filled out the wrong customs declarations." Dang. There were only two choices, and I filled out the wrong one.

For the next thirty minutes, I played a diabolical game of book-tetras while other customers passed through the line, sending packets to Norway, letter across town, and everywhere in between. An older guy even made small talk with me about Turkey. I flipped and stacked, re-ordered, and even eliminated a few books from the boxes, in order to fit my small library into two large flat-rate boxes.  I taped the up the boxes, and then went to worked on the customs forms. Round two.

$161 dollars later, I left the post office exhausted. I carried the four books that were rejected from the overpacked boxes and the dangerous flammable perfume.

On the drive home, I felt empowered. If I can keep my cool while repacking three of my five boxes, I can do anything. I know that's not sound logic, but sometimes it feels good to stick with your task to the end. Bring it on, Turkey!

June 24, 2014

Saying Goodbye, person by person

The official goodbyes have started.

Our new Eddie Bauer extra large rolling duffels arrived today, ready to transport our worldly possessions overseas for what I've started calling "the next chapter."

Of course, with the next chapter comes the close of the previous. Our lives in Flagstaff. MY life in Flagstaff.

I said one of my hardest goodbyes tonight to my closest girlfriend in Flagstaff. We indulged in a wine tasting, cheese plate, and a little Thai food. Our conversation included the full spectrum of topics we've covered over the past two years, but I found myself asking questions that I had simply never thought to ask before: what's your hometown in the Philippines like? What would you life be like if you still lived there? What is your mother like? I got to know my friend in a new way, even on our last (for a while anyway) in-person conversation.

We talked about our fond memories of volleyball, and what I'm learning about marriage. We covered work and personal life, we delved into the past and mused about the possibilities awaiting us in our respective lives.

She gifted Alan and I each a silver watch, and I know I will wear daily and cherish as a reminder of a true friendship that has meant so much to me.

True friends are hard to come by. I will miss my Flagstaff friends dearly. Saying goodbye feels final, but with the many means of easy, convenient communication these days, there is no excuse to fall out of touch with the important people in my life.

Here's to old friends, and to making more friends in the next chapter.

June 18, 2014

To Kenji--My First and Only Car

Today, I experienced my first car sale. Unfortunately, I also experienced only decaf coffee this morning. A recipe for a grumpy, lackluster day.

I sold the car to a friend of a friend, a Bengali woman who has been moving around the world with her English teacher partner for many years. Small world.

Now, caramel frappe in hand, I can reflect with a least a hint of luster. I'm sipping and writing in Bookmans Cafe, a store where you can bring in old books and trade them for store credit that is also good at their cafe. Score! Alan is a book lover, so he has been trading in books buy the boxful, and I've been happily helping him drink the credits. Too bad it's not a wine bar...

Meanwhile, back at the DMV, I signed the title over to my friend, thus ending an 11 year relationship with my Mitsubishi Galant. 143,000 miles, numerous boyfriends, one husband, one major move, and many trips on Interstate 80. My car, named Kenji, has been there through a lot. High school, college, grad school, and my first year as a "realish" adult. Kenji has listened to my signing, cruised with me on summer days, steadied me on winter roads, and always gotten me to my destinations safely. 

I hit my first deer in Kenji, on a backload in Missouri when my friends and I got lost after a Ben Folds concert. We tied the side mirror on with string, and somehow made it home.

I prepared for the state swim meet in Kenji, listening to Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" and hoping for a fast time.

I did calculus homework before school, using the steering wheel as a prop for my textbook.

I texted while driving--behavior I do NOT condone.

I withdrew money from ATMs; I savored fast food and Starbucks.

I held a tiny kitten-my Berlin-on her first day as mine.

I worried about boys, grades, sports, girls, travel, parties, rejection, pretty much everything.

Kenji's stereo got me through the toughest times, drowning out the background noise of worry and frustration, or playing harmony to my victories and good times. 

As my husband and I prepare for Turkey, we have to make big, tough decisions about money and things. I can say that Kenji was hard to let go of. A car is freedom. I won't miss the insurance payments or the price of gas, but I will miss rolling the windows down and signing along. Here's a you, Kenji, for being there for me in a way that another human just couldn't. 

June 14, 2014

Staying Tuned

Now that the wedding buzz has finally worn off, I'm trying to breath a sigh of relief.

I've got a glass of wine (Jessup Cellars 2009 Cab) gifted by family friends, my husband on the couch next to me, and the fresh air of a Flagstaff summer evening blowing in through our screen door. Life doesn't get much better than this.

I said "trying" in the first sentence because my to-do list seems to be getting longer, rather than shorter. Today, Alan and I finally finished up our wedding thank-you notes. Although the project of writing 150 notes seemed daunting, it was a great exercise in communication and gratitude. Our friends and family were incredibly generous with their gifts, and I'm sure that if Alan and I ever needed help, we have at lest 150 people we could call upon.

The previously mentioned to-do list includes preparations to leave Flagstaff and move to a foreign country. If you've never moved overseas before, I can tell you that it involves a lot of canceling of accounts and services, throwing away of sentimental stuff, and good-bye meals with friends and family.

The move to Turkey has seemed so far away that I've not really mentally prepared yet. I was focused on the end of the semester and the wedding, and now suddenly TURKEY is only 16 days away. I'm moving to a foreign country for a year (or more), and I have a husband. Major life changes--I've got 'em (I also bobbed my hair--representative of the life changes, I guess. Or my obsession with Beyonce.)

I don't really know that much about Turkey, and that's made painfully clear as more and more people ask me questions beginning with "So in Turkey, will you...?" I think this is one of those politeness things that people feel obligated to ask when they don't really know what to say, but they want to show interest--similar to "So, how was your Christmas?"--I always cringe on the inside when people ask that question. "Good?" Seems to be the only answer--yes, with the question mark because really, what else can you say? Anyway, the preemptive Turkey questions bother me because I just want to say, "I'll know more in about a month, so if you could just hold off on that question..." Clearly, I've never been there, so I don't know whether people with be speaking Arabic on the side, or if it will be windy in the summer, or if I will have an easy time learning Turkish. It's a wait-and-see kind of situation: stay-tuned-to-my-blog-and-I'll-fill-you-in. I don't like coming off as ignorant or poorly researched. I want to have the answers, but the questions require a level of hands-on experience, or at least a quick skim of a travel book--I've not done either. My best guesses about all things Turkey are based on my former roommate, a Turk with the biggest heart and strongest political opinions I've seen in a long time.

So, a sigh of relief it isn't; but a glass of good wine, a night in with my husband, and a big adventure on the horizon suit me just fine.

Stay tuned.

Feel free to check out Alan's blog: http://turkishtraves.blogspot.com/

June 2, 2014

The Burrito Bride

My journal today reads: Marriage, Day 1.

Based on that phrase, you can guess that I got married yesterday.

The ceremony took place in my parents' backyard in Lincoln, Nebraska. My best friends from graduate school were bridesmaids, and my groom's best friend and his brother stood up with him. My mom served as party planner extraordinaire, putting on the most incredible wedding.

Truly, the wedding was exactly what I would have imagined in a perfect scenario: casual, comfortable, sparkly, colorful, tasty, and super fun for all. Our color scheme was citrus--lemon, lime, orange. The maids wore the color of a fresh grapefruit, and our bouquets had interesting yellow balls and succulent plants. My hair was pulled back in a romantic up-do, off my face, waved and tucked into an elegant shape. My groom wore a charcoal suit with vest and gray and yellow checkered tie. The groomsmen wore simple gray pants and vests with white shirts. We looked effortless and chic.

The dance floor (i.e., the basketball court) was lit by four strings of lights running from our balcony, across the court to posts, creating the most beautiful ambiance. The colorful lanterns hung in the trees, providing pops of color in the greenery. Guests were seated all over the lawn, the basketball court, and even on the balcony. The bridal aisle ran from near our garage around the house, through the garden and ended at our water feature, a softly trickling waterfall. One of my bridesmaid's husbands officiated the casual ceremony in a way that met my wants and needs exactly. He got the job done with humor and just the right amount of reverence. Our music was provided by a friend of a friend who played soft guitar music during the processional and dinner.

The day itself was filled with adrenaline for me. I woke up nervous, comparable to the morning of a big swim meet. I had a power breakfast sandwich with my brother, and then met my maids for coffee and our hair appointments. My two maids, though they are good friends, could not be more different. Sarah is a feisty redhead who loves to be the center of attention. She's a samba dancer with a flair for the extravagent. Karen, on the other hand, is more comfortable with simple boho chic and deep conversations about life, God, and experience. At the hair salon, while Sarah and my stylists were doing their best to volumize our hair and add shimmer, Karen's was working to keep simple chic. While Sarah and I were applying our eyeshadow primer, glitter and bronzer, Karen was finished with her classic look, and checking in on my emotions. I couldn't have asked for a better combination of friends to take care of me on my day.

After a photo shoot with my maids, we went back inside so that the groom wouldn't see me until I walked down the aisle. About an hour before the ceremony, my nerves started to get the better of me. I got choked up and teary. Sarah told me to sip water whenever I felt the tears--because you "can't cry when you are drinking." The tricked worked somewhat, until my mom came in the room. All bets are off on the wedding day when it comes to emotional capacity.

As I stood at the top of the bridal aisle with my brother--my escort down the aisle--I felt confident and calm. I could see some guests from where I was standing, and I recognized them as old friends of my parents, people who knew me as an 8-year-old. When my uncles finally signaled for me, my brother and I walked carefully down the flagstone steps and onto the green lawn. My brother would later tell me that I walked really fast, but I don't remember the walk well.

What I do remember were the vows that my groom read. His personal, heartfelt vows were so sweet and endearing. He told our history about us as a couple and when he knew he wanted to marry me. When it was my turn to read he vows I had written, I felt the emotions overwhelming me. I took a sip from my water bottle, and struggled through the tears. I'm not sure how much people heard, but after the ceremony, almost everyone said that I had made them cry right along with me. Normally, I would be embarrassed to cry in front of 150 people, but at my own wedding, I think I have a good reason.

Following the tears, we kissed, and the "Rickroll" (don't look that up) was a little anticlimactic, though a huge relief for me. The wedding party wiped their eyes, boarded the golf cart and took a ton of pictures in a neighbor's backyard before heading back to greet guests.

About 3 kazillion pictures (professional and otherwise) later, we ate dinner, buffet syle: beef, chicken, veggies, greek salad, and berry salad. I drank "I Do" Sangria, and my groom had "Alien Blood" (PBR + Limeaid, his concoction of choice). After dinner, Alan and I made toasts to our parents and grandparents. My toast to my mom's parents was particularly moving, as their 60th wedding anniversary is in two weeks or so.

The wedding party also made tear-worthy speeches and toasts, after which my grandmother insisted that I announce the presence of two other important guests: my Saudi friends (also former students) who traveled all the way from Flagstaff for our wedding. It really made my night to see them at my wedding, even if they did give me a hard time about the tears!

The dance was for sure a highlight of the night. Alan and I had requested that people include a song request on their RSVP card so that we could simply create a playlist, rather than hiring a DJ. Our list, therefore, included everything from Ke$ha and Pitbull's "Timber" to someone's "Pennsylvania Polka" to Vince Gill's "Look at Us". To be honest, I was really nervous that the playlist wouldn't work, but to my surprise, everyone loved it! Alan's family loves dancing, and all of a sudden my Saudi friends are dancing to 80's music with Alan's aunts, my mom is singing along with Tom Jones, and I'm slow dancing with my grandfather (a man who pretty much refuses to dance for any reason). I had purposefully picked out a second dress for the reception so that I would be more comfortable dancing, and I'm sure glad I did. My wedding gown was beautiful, but it was hot and somewhat immobilizing! Once I was in my little white eyelet dress, I was ready to bust a move!

I wish I could put into words the amount of love that I felt on our wedding night. There is nothing like being the bride and center of attention for the evening. Our friends and family's love and generosity seemed to light the party, and I've never felt so completely and unconditionally loved in my life. There are so many wonderful people in my life, especially with the addition of Alan's family.

There's really no other way to express what I feel tonight besides incredible gratitude, coupled with exhaustion. I thought Cambodia was an adventure, but I can already see that being married is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Pictures to come!