5,892.  This, in pounds, and along with a few hundred additional pounds currently in our Arlington apartment, is what our “life” weighs.

I called the State Department warehouse in Maryland where our stuff, and the stuff of many other FS families, resides while we galavant around the world.  In my head, it looks like the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

the ark and our stuff

When the movers came and emptied our house in Charlotte they took everything to this warehouse.  We haven’t seen it since, though we get one opportunity to visit it before we decide what it is we want to have shipped to us in Kinshasa when we leave in a few months.  As January 1 creeps (or rushes…) up to me I decided it was time to know how much all that stuff weighed so I could start mentally thinking about what we could (and would want to) bring with us as part of our HHE.   This got me thinking about what we want to bring with us in all the categories of “shipments” we have.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are several categories of shipments that we get when we leave (or “pack out”) of Arlington and head toward Africa.  By my count there are six: carry-on luggage, checked baggage, UAB, HHE, POV and Consumables.  Each will have its own set of challenges in terms of packing and scheduling.  For now I’m just thinking in broad strokes and hoping I can narrow down what we want before July.  So here, a short description of the six types of packing we’ll be doing.

Carry-On Luggage:

The first is no different than a typical traveler: carry-on luggage.  Normally my carry-on consists of some clothes (thrown in last minute), a book (wishful thinking with a three year old as a traveling companion) and my toiletries bag (in handy see- through bag).  This time, all of our carry-on bags (one bag and one personal item each for C, B and me), will be packed with precision and much forethought.  They will include enough games, toys, coloring books, and downloaded TV shows/movies to keep C occupied for basically 24 hours of traveling.  The first flight (from the US to Europe) will be overnight, so that might be easier, but I have no idea if the level of excitement we will all be feeling will allow for sleep, so I’ll be prepared.  The second flight, from Europe to Kin (it’s time to revert to the “nickname” for our new home – typing Kinshasa is getting old…) is 8 hours long in the middle of the day.  Leaving at 10 a.m. and getting in at 5 p.m.  So I predict at least one bag will be devoted to kid-occupation.  The other bags will be carrying our “must have” “cannot lose” items – documents, money, medication etc.

busy bagChecked Baggage:

We officially get to check two 50 lbs bags each.  So that’s 300 lbs of stuff that will travel on the same plane with us.  Technically we can, on our own dime, bring more, but having looked at the cost it is not the “few extra” dollars I anticipated.  You can take up to five additional bags, each up to 50 lbs, at a cost of $146 each.  Do not put it past me to set aside $730 so that I can make sure that I have my Le Creuset, cast iron frying pan, and other “creature” comforts, but right now that is seeming like a steep cost for a few extras.

I suspect most of our checked baggage will be our clothes (but hooray for going to a hot country where clothes weigh less!) and a lot of C’s toys.  This luggage, along with our carry-ons, will be all we’ll have of our own for several months in Kin – hence my desire to have my frying pan.  We’ll have a “welcome kit” when we arrive which I’m sure will contain a frying pan, but I’m equally sure that having my own frying pan will help me feel that much more “settled” when we arrive. The remaining categories of stuff (see below) won’t arrive for between two and six months.  So what we put in our checked baggage will be “it” until possibly Christmas time.  Our dog, Miller, because he weighs over 70 lbs, will be a whole separate category of “cargo” but thankfully he will be on our plane, so I’m considering him within the “checked” category.

UAB – Unaccompanied Air Baggage:

I’ve written about our UAB before, but this time it will be a whole different world of UAB.  Last time we were driving two cars about 400 miles, so whatever didn’t go in UAB just got shoved (and I mean this fairly literally) into the car with us.  I also drove back to Charlotte for work and picked up all the stuff that wouldn’t fit in the cars on the first trip.  This time, we’re moving 6,570 miles over an ocean and to another continent.  There will be no “going back” to pick up anything we’ve left, forgotten, or couldn’t fit on the first trip.  We’ve been told by the folks in the know (the CLO (Community Liaison Officer) in Kin) that it can take 2-4 months for our UAB to arrive in Kin.  So what goes in the UAB needs to be things that we can do without for 2-4 months, but that we want more than the things that are going in our HHE (Household Effects) – since it can apparently take up to six months for that to arrive.  We get a total of 600 lbs of UAB, so, assuming most of our clothes manage to fit in our carry-on and checked luggage, I suspect this will be a lot of kitchen stuff, but I’ve got until July to figure it out (and I’ll probably need every second of the time I’ve got).

HHE – Household Effects:

So this is where the 5,892 lbs comes into play.  I wanted to know the weight of our storage so I could start thinking about what I would want to have shipped to make our new house a little homier.  I knew we wouldn’t top the 18,000 lbs career limit (the max any FSO can have – be they ambassador or lowly ELO (entry level officer)), but I was frankly shocked to find out that we didn’t even come close to the 7,200 lbs HHE limit for our post (where housing is provided fully-furnished).  Technically this means we could ask for everything that is in storage.  We won’t, because there won’t be room for all our furniture, but it’s amazing to me that our house full of stuff weighs less than the 7,200 lbs allowance.  Admittedly, we don’t have our fridge, washer/dryer, and stove in storage (our renters have those), and we sold our sectional and a couple of other pieces of furniture, but if all of this fell through – we could still furnish a four bedroom house so that it looked like grow ups lived there.

The one piece of furniture I know we’ll want to include in our HHE is our bed – I DREAM of our king sized bed…a queen just doesn’t cut it once you get used to a king.  We’ll be able to bring all our kitchen stuff too.  Hooray for no more wine bottles as rolling pins (now I can use wine bottles for their intended use – drinking!).


Personally Operated Vehicle:

It seems to be somewhat shocking to people that the USG will ship our car to Kin for us.  Only one car, mind you, but still…our trusty 4Runner will be making the trip with us.  We strongly considered selling our other car when we left Charlotte.  We certainly don’t need two cars in DC.  We don’t even really need one car given that we have the Metro and are walking distance to pretty much everything, but we’re really glad we kept both of them since it means that we might not have to wait 6 months for our car.  Our plan right now is to ship the 4Runner early – several months before we are scheduled to leave – and *hopefully* (fingers crossed everyone) it will be there when we arrive (or soon thereafter).  Having a second car allows us the luxury of shipping one car, but still having a vehicle.  And, since I’m planning to spend some time driving around visiting friends and family before we leave, this makes me very happy.


This is 2,500 lbs of “commodities that are intended to be used up relatively quickly.”  Not all posts are “consumable” posts, but Kin is.  So, we’ll also be identifying the 1,250 lbs of Kraft Dinner (shout out to my Canadian peeps), coke, peanut butter, spices etc…that we want and shipping those in an entirely separate shipment.  We’ll save the second 1,250 for later in our tour to account for expiration dates and determining the things we REALLY miss, instead of the things that we think we’re going to miss.  I’ll have to write a whole separate post about the consumables – I’m already obsessing, but suffice it to say that 1,250 lbs of food/household goods could mean 2500 cans of coke, or 3,636 boxes of Mac & Cheese, or almost 84 bags of dog food (the big ones).  The combinations are endless – I’m hoping to come up with the perfect one before July.

Kraft Dinner

The grand total of our “stuff” that could come along with us – a whopping 10,750 lbs (not including the car) of clothes, furniture, toys, books, dog food, coke and mac & cheese.  I’m pretty sure that will be sufficient “stuff” to make us feel *almost* at home in Africa for two years.  Now if only I could figure out a way to pack a Starbucks store…

Whole Towel Living

Ok. So it turns out that maybe I spoke too soon.  The packout itself, both day 1 and day 2, were pretty painless and easy.  It was the post packout panic that was problematic.

If you have ever moved you’ll understand (and remember with no fond feelings) the packing of all the leftovers after the furniture is gone.  And the cleaning.  The never ending cleaning.

I, in typical fashion, bit off more than I could chew and opted to go back to work on Wednesday and Thursday leaving B to clean and pack, and sending C back to school.  Only sending C back to school was the right decision.  

Since I’m staying with the firm I actually had work to do when I arrived back in the office, so I didn’t really get a chance to properly say goodbye to anyone, and I was frantically trying to fit in calls to Duke Energy and AT&T to cancel utilities in between discussing discovery responses with my clients.  Luckily I’ll be back in the office in a few weeks for depositions, so maybe I’ll have time to wander around and say farewell then, but somehow I doubt it.

When I arrived back at the house on Wednesday evening there were two huge piles of STUFF in the middle of the dining room.  B informed me that one was going to get packed in the cars and the other pile was going over to a friend’s house to be stored until I drive down for those depositions in mid-September.  What was that about spending quality time saying goodbye to folks? Looks like I’ll be packing the car instead…

What is doubly unfortunate about this is that, as noted previously, we ended up with about 230 lbs of additional UAB space that we didn’t use.  I’m pretty sure a good amount of the STUFF would have fit in the left over UAB space.  We’ll be remembering that for next time and doing our best to get our UAB weight up to 599.9 lbs before we start loading the cars.

For all our worries about how C would react to the empty house, the teary goodbyes and the random moving men driving away with our furniture, she never stopped being our hilarious, laughing, dancing, singing little girl.  She sang while we packed, she danced in the empty rooms, and she laughed at all the hugs she was getting from everyone we know.  DSCN0309

Protecting our home - in NC and in VA

Protecting our home – in NC and in VA

She insisted that we were staying in a “whole towel,” despite our equally insistent response that it was, in fact, a hotel.  

She pressed every elevator button, and told every random stranger we met that she was moving to Washington. We could have learned a lot from the laid back way she accepted every change without question or complaint.  The only times she wasn’t happy was when she was hungry or tired.  Totally understandable.

So tonight we have made it to our new home.  There are boxes everywhere, and we need to figure out how to fit all that STUFF into a much smaller space.  Tomorrow afternoon is the first “meet and greet” for the 179th A-100.  We’ve been checking out the bios from B’s classmates – they look like an impressive bunch.  I’m looking forward to meeting them, and their families, though I’m also, frankly, petrified about how it will feel to be the “spouse” and nothing more.  I’m hoping I can take a lesson from C and accept each change that comes without complaint or question.  Change is what we signed up for.  And change is good…



These are the boxes of our lives…

It’s PACK OUT DAY!  Well, actually, it’s the end of Pack Out Day 1, and B, C and I are sitting in our living room (furniture has not yet been packed) relaxing among the boxes.

Today was surprisingly ok.  Last night was not so ok. I was teary, sad and overall unhappy.  We had a fabulous dinner with our friends T & A (yeah, yeah…) and their littles (their son W is about 3 months older than C and they love each other), we cooked steak, drank wine and enjoyed a lovely, lovely evening.  Leaving their house was hard.  Really hard. Harder than I expected given that I keep reminding myself that I’ll see them again in about 3 weeks when I’m back in town for depositions.  

But then today dawned bright and early (particularly after the wine) and our movers arrived, and things since then have been pretty good.  

They're heeeeere...

They’re heeeeere…

The movers started with our UAB (unaccompanied air baggage).  We had an allowance of 600 lbs.  Anyone out there know what 600 lbs looks like? Nope? Well, me neither, because despite our worries our UAB ended up coming way under our limit at 366 lbs.  Here is what 366 lbs looks like.


UAB for BCD.

There weren’t a lot of surprises today, but one of them was that the “tri-fold” box that is used for UAB turns out not to be triangular as I was expecting.  I suppose if I had looked at the dimensions in our papers I might have realized a “tri-fold” box had 4 sides, but in my head I was imagining a tri-fold box that had three sides.  It seemed like it would be pretty inefficient, but since we are talking about the government I wasn’t about to put it past anyone.  So the mysterious “tri-fold” is a decent sized very sturdy box, three of which are now full of clothes and other things that will be delivered to our apartment next week.

A "tri-fold" box.

A tri-fold box! With 4 sides!

Security sealed for your protection.

Security sealed for your protection.

Rooms full of stuff became rooms full of boxes and here we are with our lives in boxes ready to ship them off and head to DC in a couple of days.  B and I mostly stood around feeling useless and making ridiculously detailed lists of everything going into each box.  I’m glad we knew to keep such a detailed list since the descriptions of the packers leaves a bit to be desired.  Watching them pack the kitchen I watched them load vases, roasting pans, muffin pans, salad spinner and half a dozen other things into a box and then write “pots n’ pans” on the box.  That would not have been very helpful in a few months when we are trying to figure out what boxes to call for when we go overseas.

We also knew (from reading other posts – thanks FS bloggers!) to have a “Safe Room” (or 3) where we could put things that we didn’t want them to pack.  We shoved a LOT of stuff into those rooms and kept throwing things in as we went along.  Once the movers leave we’ll have to pack all of that into our cars to take with us to DC.  

We’re having a picnic in the living room tonight then going to stay with good friends. Then we’ll be back tomorrow to watch them load and drive away.  Let’s hope Pack Out Day 2 goes as smoothly as Day 1 went!

Living room with stuff.

Living room with stuff.

Living room with boxes.

Living room with boxes.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare room with boxes.

Spare room with boxes.

B with notebook.

B with notebook…packout is hard work!


Off limits!

Do not enter!

Do not enter!

Waste not…

DSC_1488Looks like we’ve been having a going away party, right?

Nope – found a case of beer with a “drink by” date in 2012. This is, sadly, not the only food/drink item I found from 2012 and had to toss.  Given the reason for our move this aspect of packing has been eye opening.

I stood over the sink pouring out the beer so I could recycle the cans and I was struck, as I have been again and again in this move, by how incredibly lucky we are in North America. 

I’m contemplating moving to Africa, Asia, or South America, places where the things I’ve discarded in the last several weeks would have been, for many people, welcome, and even life sustaining additions to their lives.  I packed C’s clothes today: they filled an entire adult sized suitcase, and that is just her summer 3 year old clothes.  She could, quite literally, wear a different outfit every day for months on end.  

I’m trying to give myself some slack. I did pour out the beer to recycle the cans rather than throwing them away.  I have made trips to the Humane Society, the Homeless Shelter, ReStore, the Salvation Army, and Beds for Kids to donate things to the most appropriate charity.  We’ve tried hard to eat everything in our freezer.  But when it comes right down to it I have discarded food, clothing, toiletries, toys and just about any thing else you can think of that couldn’t be donated, eaten or used without much more than a pang of guilt.

I’m falling asleep on the couch now, so I must go to bed and slip into my lovely soft high end sheets, and drift off to sleep without any fear for my safety or that of my child and family.  I hope in a few months, if my bed is surrounded by a mosquito net to keep off the malaria carrying mosquitos, and my house is surrounded by security guards supplied by the Marines, I can remember this feeling of abundance and luck that I’ve felt while I’ve packed and know that even then I will be one of the lucky ones.

Pack out is Monday, so more to come when I am awake and sitting on the couch.  For now, I’m going to take my lucky, lucky self to bed.

Time is inexorable

Twenty (or so) years ago, my journalism professor Wiley Hilburn wrote “TIME IS INEXORABLE” in the margin of a piece I wrote for my weekly column as the editor of our college newspaper. The column was my last before graduation. In it I talked about my attempts to freeze moments of my last days on campus in my memory.  Now, Mr. Hilburn’s words keep floating to the surface of my brain. I thought I had TONS of time to pack, purge, go to lunch, go to dinner and generally be ready to move. Suddenly all the time I thought I had seems to have caught up with me.

I no longer have open days for lunches, evenings for dinners, or afternoons for playdates.  The days and nights are filled. All the food in my freezer will not get eaten and I have to resign myself to that fact.  I have five more outfits I need for work in Charlotte. I have five more nights in my dear house.

What happened to all the TIME I thought I had!?


Does this look like the desk of a girl who has 5 days left in this office?

Mr. Hilburn was right about time.  It is inexorable.  It moves without stopping. No amount of wishing or hoping or ignoring (I’m quite expert at that) will stop it.  I’m just running trying to catch up with it. Like the quintessential movie character running, hand outstretched, to catch the last handle on the train caboose before it chugs off into the distance without me.

And yet…what am I doing now.  Writing, certainly, but more importantly, watching the Property Brothers.  See what I said about ignoring…

They moved our Packout date to Aug. 18 (yes, that is Monday) so we have one less day for packing, sorting, purging.  Kindly the USG will pay for us to stay for up to 10 days in a hotel, so we had a hotel in Charlotte booked for the 19th-22nd – somewhere within walking distance to both my office and C’s daycare.  But now we need a room on the 18th too and, wouldn’t you know it, the hotel hasn’t got a single room open for Monday night (bizarre, right?).  So we can either move hotels which, needless to say is not my first choice, or spend the night in C’s room using the blow up bed and her trundle (it is built-in, so it is staying).

I’m leaning toward “camping” in C’s room.  After all, we’re going on an adventure – why shouldn’t it start in our own home?

There are no stupid questions, right?

An associate once walked in my office and said, “I know there are no stupid questions, but….”

And before he could get started with his actual question, I stopped him.

“Actually,” I said. “There are stupid questions, but you should feel free to proceed if you feel like you still need to have your question answered by me.”

It was clear he was not amused, and I admit it was harsh, but come on, we ALL know that there are stupid questions and it tends to be the same people who are always asking them, right?

I’m not saying all basic questions are stupid by any means.  But what drives me nuts are the people who ask me questions rather than look in the very obvious places where they are likely to find the answer (for the associate: the rules of civil procedure where many answers asked by young litigation associates can be found).

question markSo here I sit, mind a-whirl with, you guess it, stupid questions.  Or at least I perceive them to be stupid because I’m quite sure that out there in the hundreds of pages of information that has been sent to us in the last few weeks the answer is waiting.  No doubt it is lying around happily in some government document wearing a neat little red and white striped hat just waiting for me to find it and be enlightened.

The problem is that I’m running out of time to ferret out each of these hidden answers. All the information becomes blurry when I stare at it for too long so I’m left with two choices: (1) either ask someone my, no doubt, stupid question, and hope they are nicer to me than I was to my young friend above, or (2) don’t ask and end up with a SNAFU (hey, another acronym!) that takes way more effort than I want to impart to fixing it.

Here is the type of stupid question I’m debating: “do I need to remove dishes, silverware etc… from my kitchen cabinets or will the movers really do ALL the work and pack them straight out of the drawers?” I just cannot fathom that someone will actually come into my kitchen/den/dining room and do all the difficult and miserable work of wrapping and packing the dishes, books etc… for me.  Even when the answer appears clear, as in this question, I just can’t believe it.

My parents moved a lot – forget about moving from England to Canada, once we got to Canada they have, to date, moved at least 12 times.  Mostly within the same city.  And I’ve moved probably 10 times since I left home (not counting when I moved back home), and not once did I use an actually “moving company.” So not only did I do all the packing, but we rented the U-Haul and dragged our furniture from one apartment, city, house to another, usually roping friends in with the promise of beer and pizza.  Now you’re telling me that, except for the boxes we’re taking with us, someone will hire and pay other people to pack every last stick of furniture, every knife, fork and spoon, and all our many books, and will then take it somewhere and store it for us before we get sent to our first post and we get to demand either 7,200 lbs or 18,000 lbs of the stuff back again!?  Crazy talk.

Our “packout” is now scheduled for August 19.  Sometime before then the movers designated by the USG will show up at our house and “assess” the length of time it will take them to pack, how many boxes and crates, as well as paper and tape, they will need, and what special care they will have to take with certain items.  And then, from what I can gather, our job will be to stand back, maintain an inventory of what is going in each box, and supervise while they do the hard work.  For a girl who has been moving herself for almost 30 years this sounds like a dream come true.

Hmmm...what to pack?

Hmmm…what to pack?

And so, when they arrive for their assessment, my words to that young associate are going to come back to bite me, because I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to be asking them many, many stupid questions.

What is it they say about karma again?