Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Moving Experience

My husband is driving a twenty-six foot moving van towing a sixteen-foot trailer on grueling nine hundred mile journey from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains to Bainbridge Island, Washington.  His cousin has been sharing the driving, and a family friend kindly volunteered to drive my mini-van, towing our outboard motor boat, which is doubling as a trailer, hauling our thousands of Christmas lights.  Our heavy trucks have only been able to drive the mountain passes at thirty to forty miles an hour, making the estimated sixteen hours of driving closer to twenty-six.

This is our first cross-county (up-country) move.  We are native Californian’s, possibly even na├»ve Californians, thinking we could easily pack up our stuff and go.  It hasn’t been easy.  It’s been time and thought consuming, a test of creative thinking.  Our move was a domino that required us to finish moving my mother-in-law’s things from our property, which meant my husband had to build a storage area under his sister’s house.  Our move also meant finding a place for my sister, who has been living with us, and will remain in California.  We decided to move her into a fifth wheel on property we already own.  This meant asking a current tenant to move his trailer. Now he has to decide whether to remain in the area and work, or retire to Texas where he is buying a home.  His adult son who has been working with him will need to find different work.  And so it goes.  I know we aren’t responsible for everyone else’s circumstances or happiness, but I recognize the very changes we are embracing are causing changes for others that they didn’t necessarily choose. 

Clearly we aren’t pioneers, but like pioneers, we’re leaving behind family, community, and the familiar, and doing it ourselves––packing, navigating, building (remodeling) a home, with livestock (ok, three cats) in tow, and by in tow, I mean tucked under our seats on Southwest Airlines in two days.  Speaking of wrangling our cats, who must endure a ninety minute drive to the airport, check-in at the ticket counter, security, and a two hour flight, before Kevin meets us outside of baggage claim with a litter box, I have squirreled away a drink coupon and am going to order rum with my complimentary Coke midflight. I’m sure some pioneers swigged from the whiskey jug after a particularly perilous river crossing.

We, especially my husband Kevin, are do-it-yourselfers.  There was a moment when we thought he’d get a job offer before our move that would include a relocation package and we imagined professional movers transporting our possessions for us.  But how would we survive for the ten days the POD company toted and barged our beds, pots, pans, litter box?  Or even the three days United Van Lines estimated.  And how would they know what to toss, donate, recycle?  I didn’t want to transport every item we owned.  I did a lot of downsizing when we listed our house, but I hadn’t finished.  Wouldn’t it be easier for us to pack everything?  And if we packed it, why not load and drive it? 

The job offer hasn’t come—the hiring manager is travelling internationally and then vacationing for the holidays, so we were freed to follow our natural bent.  We rented a truck, bought boxes and packing materials.  I spent sixteen days sorting and packing and with lots of help, two days loading our vehicles.  We followed the rules––leaving behind our potted roses, fertilizers, solvents, paint, propane, and everything else on the Do Not Move list. 

Given the cost of gas, two nights lodging, and return plane tickets for our auxiliary drivers, and being hassled at a truck stop for not parking properly and not being a proper truck, I don’t know if moving ourselves was worth it.  But at this point, our decision is water under the bridge on the Columbia River––which Kevin just drove over.  In a few weeks, once he’s moved my sister, he’ll have to repeat the drive with his pickup truck hauling a rented trailer filled with our patio furniture and the many items I’ve discovered in cabinets I overlooked.

I do know that moving ourselves has given us something that hiring professionals has not––stories.  My husband has his hands on the steering wheel, his foot jamming the accelerator to the floor as the truck vibrates, engine grunting, up and over the Siskiyous descending into Oregon.  He thinks he is driving, but he’s also writing, narrating through the prologue into the first chapter of how we came to Bainbridge Island.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wandering Into Grace

The sun is shining in Greater Seattle and I’m showered with blessing; blogging at Tully’s Coffee in the Redmond Town Center while my husband interviews with at Microsoft.  One of two finalists, I think he’s perfect for the job.  What I don’t know is if the job is perfect for him.  Earlier in the week, Amazon interviewed him for a position they had already offered to someone else, intrigued by his skills in building two training programs from inception to international implementation. 

Getting calls for jobs that might already be filled, finding an affordable fabulous house that the owners want to sell us––very different experiences in the Pacific Northwest than our last months in California.  Over Thanksgiving weekend my mother, in one of those psychic leadings mothers get, told me, “You’re going to love it there (Bainbridge Island) so much you’re never coming back.”   I don’t know about never but it’s clear we have lived out one geography and are embracing and being embraced by another. 

We explored our new house yesterday, doing things you’re supposed to do before buying a house, but hadn’t.  We opened cabinets and closets, pulled out kitchen drawers that lurched off track, measured rooms, located heater vents and hose bibs, verified the home inspector was right about rodent droppings, water damage, rust.  We decided that I, who can’t construct anything other than a sentence, am perfectly suited for demolition, and while Kevin is busy moving my sister in later December, will rip down the future writer’s studio to the studs.  I’ll slip on a painter’s mask, grab a sledgehammer, and go!  We also discovered the entire house is powered by central oil heat.  The basement vents were closed, not defunct, so we’ll be plenty warm while we remodel and unpack.

Real estate experts tell you to meet the neighbors before you buy.  Enamored by the wall of glass in the living room and amazing gardens, we didn’t do that either. But in the hour and a half we were there yesterday, they came to us.  We met four neighbors—more than we know in our current or former homes.  “Once you’re settled, come on down and we’ll tell you about the history of the neighborhood,” Fred and Willie, the new elders of the subdivision told us.  Another neighbor walking her dog introduced us to our across the street neighbor and said she’d host a neighborhood tea once we got settled.

In conversation with our neighbors we learned more about the former owners of fifty years.  Neal and Midge raised three children in the house.  He was Superintendent of Schools on the Island, and recruited neighbor Fred to run for the School Board years ago.  Neal belonged to the garden club, propagated Rhododendrons from his yard, and planted them at all the Island schools.  He was president of the water system back when a water tank occupied the lot next to his home.  When it was built, well before the neighbors’ homes, his family had an unobstructed view of Manzanita Bay.  The view of the Sound is small and filtered now blocked by walls, roofs, cedars, but the esteem of the neighbors for Neal, who is now ninety and living with his daughter, has not diminished over time.

We were even greeted like long-lost friends at the local bank, Viking, where we opened a free checking account.  Enthusiastic conversation, an invitation to use the conference room free of charge, and gifts—mugs, shopping bags—were showered on us.

Joan Didion titled an essay “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” Sarah McLachlan sings about, “Fumbling into Ecstasy,” and in Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh writes of, “a twitch upon a thread.”  Combine those phrases and images, and it comes close to describing how I feel about the way our lives have unfolded the last six months. I noticed a twitching thread, followed it, tangling it, fumbling, not knowing where I was headed, not clear about the details, but aware of intention and direction, committed to growth, embracing change.

It is Advent and my husband and I are traveling to our Bethlehem.  We are heavy with responsibility and tasks, but also excitement, anticipating the new life we are birthing together.  As beautiful as our new garden will be, we are not moving to Eden.  There will be gray days, bad moods, broken dishes, and ferry traffic––the stuff of live. But love is alive, God is present, and I am privileged to dwell in the midst of holy incarnation in a blue house on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest.