Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Keep Swimming

The countdown till the movers come is on. In the mean time, I've got two lists going. One is of things we need to do. The other is of things I don't want packed.

I have to admit, it's a lot harder coming up with the Do Not Pack List this time. When we packed out in Georgia, we were pretty much done there. We took about a month of leave to visit my family and my in laws, and then left for our new adventure. So when we packed, we packed to leave.

We'll be taking leave this time, but not until we get to the other side. So even though the majority of our stuff is getting packed out next week, we'll still be here for another three and a half weeks or so. During that time, we have two holiday parties to attend and we're both still working. We also have a mostly potty-trained toddler to consider as well, which means lots of changes of clothes and plenty of items to entertain him.

Packing our suitcases is one thing. But I keep thinking of things I don't want packed that I'm making a list of. Things like toilet paper and dish rags and kitchen towels. I've heard stories of movers packing bags of garbage, so I know they'll pack pretty much anything (except items that are not allowed, like cleaning materials.) So as I go through my day, I think, "What am I using that I can't live without?

There's a lot to accomplish in the next few weeks. We're just trying to stay on top of it. I just keep reminding myself that it'll get done, with or without manic organizing. My coworker used to tell me, "The Air Force is a big machine. It's going to keep on rolling, with or without you." That might sound a bit harsh, but it was a good lesson for me to learn. Not just in the Air Force, but in life in general. I'm not the lynch pin in every plan. Most things will happen with or without me. I'd like to think that I can improve some of the processes I'm a part of, but even if I'm not there, chances are, it'll still get done.

I find that very relieving.

So we just keep moving forward. Checking things off of one list and adding things to the other. Trying to stop and enjoy our last few weeks here in the process. Looking forward to a work kids Christmas party this weekend. It was one of the highlights of my holiday season last year, and this year's promises to be amazing, too. The weekend after that is my husband's Christmas party. The weekend after that is my Christmas party. The weekend after that is Christmas. And the weekend after that, we'll be leaving.

Unbelievable. It's so easy to swing from, "I got this!" to "Holy crap! Slow this train down!" in a matter of minutes. In the mean time, don't mind me if I channel Dory to get me through this hectic period.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The End is Near

Holy smokes. We're down to six weeks.

In approximately six weeks, we'll be exchanging pounds for dollars and boarding a plane from London to the east coast of America. It's startling to realize how quickly the end is approaching, even though I've been preparing for it almost since the beginning.

I remember driving through the Thetford Forest the second year I was here thinking, "Some day I'm going to miss all this."

Some day is almost here. And as predicted, I know I will miss it all.

I'll miss the fall colors changing in the forest.
I'll miss being able to take the train just about anywhere on this island.
I'll miss the castles and cathedrals.
I'll miss pretending to be Elizabeth Bennett anytime I walked into a Regency era house.
Shoot, I'll even miss those rock-strewn English beaches that almost never seem to have any sun hanging about.
I'll miss English friends who can brew a proper, good cuppa.
I'll miss the adorable accents on my neighbor kids.
I'll miss Tesco like it's an old friend...and old friend who provided me with interesting flavors of chips and unique types of sweets and very reasonably priced, cute clothes.
I'll miss Norfolk Lavender Farm.
I'll miss LaHogue, a really cool local farm shop that recently introduced me to Breckland Orchard, a really awesome local soft drink producer.
I'll miss downtown Thetford, which has always been a great place to walk the dogs, entertain my kid, grab an ice cream cone or a piece of cake, feed the ducks, and just generally enjoy the hum of English life.
I'll miss greasy fish and chips and greasy kabob take out shops.
I'll miss the many Indian and the sole Thai take away joints in town that regularly delivered to our house on Friday nights.
I'll miss my job, which is been probably the most pleasant surprise in this journey.
I'll miss my military spouse friends, who have been my extended family and solid support being so far from my home.

I'll miss our base, which is truly the first base I've really felt a part of. Sometimes you get super lucky and hit the jackpot in an assignment. And you know what, kids? Mildenhall is the jackpot.

I know a lot of Americans come over here expecting England to be Little America. When it isn't, it's easy to get disappointed and frustrated. And no kidding, moving overseas (even to a country where they speak the same language and have McDonalds and Friends on reruns all the time) is hard. Don't let anyone tell you it isn't.

But if you get stuck in the mentality of mourning America and miss out on the amazing opportunity of living in England and getting stationed at a base with such a cool mission and really great leadership, than you've got no one to blame but yourself when you are miserable. Nobody can make you see how incredible this chance to be here is but yourself. So if you're new (or not-so-new) to England and still find yourself hating it, I'd encourage to you a.) open your eyes, and b.) get out and experience English life for all it's worth.

The next six weeks will be stressful. There's the usual holiday stress of parties holiday shopping. And we're adding to it the stress of preparing to move, packing up, out processing, and living in a hotel over the holidays. In my own mind, I'm also adding the stress of leaving what has turned out to be one of the best assignments of my military dependent life.

Of course, there is the silver lining of returning back to the States: being closer to family and friends, and the ubiquetous food and shopping options. It's not all doom and gloom, surely. But in spite of the rewards on the other side of the ocean, I can't help but begin to mourn a little for the loss of England.

I just have to remind myself not to get so caught up in the stress and sadness that I forget to actually enjoy my last weeks here.

So here's to you, England, you beautiful, overcast country! I'm gonna miss you, old gal!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

International Pet Relocation, Part II

Once upon a time, I shipped my dogs to the United Kingdom. We were embarking on our four year English adventure, and I couldn't imagine doing it without my fur babies, Zeus and Zoey. So in spite of the complications and cost associated with shipping our pets into the UK (and oowee, it is complicated!), we took the plunge, found a pet shipping service, and met our dogs at Gatwick Airport in London the day after Valentine's Day.Align Centre

Now that we are wrapping up our English Adventure, it was time to start thinking about getting the Z's back to the US. Since the US has more lenient restrictions on bringing in pets ("They got rabies vaccines? Cool."), I expected to be a bit easier.

As it turns out international pet relocation is no fun no matter how you slice the pie.

Okay, let me retract that statement for a minute. It actually could have been a LOT worse. Most of the anxiety and stress had more to do with all the preparations leading up to the shipping and less to do with the actual shipping itself.
Since I decided to fly back with them myself instead of using a pet shipping service (cheaper, and gives me a chance to house hunt on this side), I had to really up my game, do my research, and make sure all my I's were dotted and T's were crossed.
In spite of my preparation, it seemed a lot of little issues cropped up last minute.
  • I lost the health certificate my vet issued ten days prior to shipping.
  • I forgot to get their vaccine card updated with their most recent rabies shot. (Rabies doesn't exist in the UK, so they hadn't had a rabies booster in years.)
  • The low temps in our final destination (Columbia, SC) was just below the airline threshold of 45 degrees, which meant we needed a cold weather acclimation certificate. But our own vet wouldn't issue one, so we had to go to another vet.
  • I couldn't find all of the mandatory dog dishes that must be attached to their kennels and had to order some from a UK site and have them overnighted.
  • I needed to get enough of Zeus' seizure meds to last until we actually move in January so my in laws wouldn't have to worry about it.
And due to my own wired personality, I began to envision every possible thing that could go wrong. What if they won't accept them on the flight? (American Airline's won't book pets as checked baggage until two hours before the flight.) What if our plane was delayed and we missed our connection? What if the customs personnel didn't like the British vaccine card and demanded a rabies certificate? What if I forgot one tiny piece of information and we're stranded in Dallas-Fort Worth? WHAT IF THEY TELL ME TO TAKE MY DOGS BACK TO THE UK?!

I know, I know. I'm a real worry wort when it comes to these things. I plan and plan and still worry that I didn't plan enough. And I give myself pep talks. I try to remind myself that all I can do is prepare. I can't control all the circumstance, just be prepared. I tell myself it's going to be okay.
Unfortunately, my brain doesn't always buy that. I remind myself, "The eyes go where the car goes." (It's a racing metaphor from a book I recently read, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Really good. Go read it!) No point in envisioning the crash, 'cause the eyes go where the car goes. Envision the finish line!

In spite of all my pep talk, I was still a little nervous Wednesday morning when we arrived at Terminal 3 at London Heathrow Airport.

As it turns out, all my preparation paid off. Everything went great! The American Airlines staff were super helpful. One of the BAA (British Airport Authority) security dudes was SUPER awesome. After I checked in the dogs, he took the crates, but let me keep the dogs for about an hour and half before I needed to go get ready to board the plane. So we walked all over Terminal 3, letting them take care of business (yes, I cleaned up after them!), and just letting them get a bit of exercise before they were penned up.

In Dallas, I went through immigrations and then picked up my luggage and the dogs and headed for customs. Everything was smooth there, except the customs lady "confiscated" the two Ziploc bags of dog food I had taped to the top of their crates. No biggie. I just had about a days worth of food in case we got separated at DFW. Take the food, just don't confiscate my pups! The AA desk let me take the dogs for about a ten minute walk again, which I know their bladders appreciated!

They arrived in Columbia safe and healthy and happy to see their Nana (my mother-in-law) who came to pick us up from the airport. We dropped them off with their doggy cousins and Linda and I went to grab some 1 am breakfast at IHOP. (God bless the overnight shift workers at IHOP and their delicious omelets! That tiny puddle hopper from DFW to CAE was gonna charged me $4 for a pack of pretzels! I slept instead.)

The Z's are currently settling into life with my in laws. It didn't take them long to reacquaint themselves with the old dogs and introduce themselves to the new ones. (Yes, there was some bottom sniffing going on.) They seem no worse for the wear and ready to just move on to barking at the neighbor dogs and sleeping all day long.

Over all, it was much better than I could have even hoped for. They were a hit wherever we went. (Well, who doesn't love a dog in a personalized hoodie?! Crazy people, that's who!) They behaved themselves beautifully, and held up fabulously after a ten and a half hour flight to Dallas. (Remind me not to make that flight again. WAY too long. And no personal TVs on that particular plane. Say WHAT?! At least they played new episodes of 30 Rock on the overhead TV!)

Now I can take a deep breath, revel in the relief of having successfully gotten my dogs back to the US, and focus on looking at some houses and cars while I'm here. Good times!