Boxing Up My Life– Round Two

DSC_0011 - Copy

In May of 2014, I posted “Boxing Up My Life,” as we packed and prepared to ship our household goods to Germany.  And then I blinked and it was June of 2016, and I find myself, once again, knee deep in the boxing up process.  I am amazed, and a little dumbfounded, by the inertia of my life.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion– but that doesn’t make the move process any easier.

Nobody likes goodbyes– it’s hard to wrench yourself away from people and places that you love.  And for some of us, even the simple motion of boxing up our domestic goods brings on certain pangs.  It’s a hassle, to be sure, but it’s also a poignant process– the handling, organizing, and thoughtful packing of the things you accumulate.  It’s a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to remember why you’ve collected certain items in the first place.  Some objects are curiosities, others are fond memories, and still others are nearly totemic in their connection to the arc of your life.

The handling and packing of these things is gratifying in lots of ways– it’s like watching a retrospective study on your life– but it’s also maddening to ship these things out, in hopes that they will come back to you intact in a few months.

Here is my perspective from two years ago:

My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box? 


Unboxing My Life

I know exactly how Pandora felt.   Horrified.  Overwhelmed.  Ashamed.  But mostly just panicked.

On second thought, she shouldn’t have opened the box.  REALLY shouldn’t have opened the box.  But now it’s too late.  What to do next?  Run and hide?  Try to fix the mess somehow?

And me?  I’m sitting in a house full of boxes.  Millions and gajillions of boxes.   DSC_0259 - Copy I shouldn’t have acquired so many worldly goods…but now I’ve grown attached to them.  They are my life’s travels and my family memories  played out in textiles, art, and furniture, and I’ve dragged them halfway across the world with me.  Is that wierd/shallow/materialistic?  I have no idea.  Most days, I’d say it’s essential to being human, this appreciation of things that speak to your soul.  But today I can tell you that it makes for a hell of a job unpacking when the movers dump the accumulation on your doorstep.

It’s overwhelming, the thought of having to unpack and organize it all.  But it has to be done before the contents rise up on their own and riotously burst the seams of the boxes.  One set of boxes, all full of books, crashed over in the middle of the night–sending the dvds and magazine I’d left at the top of the stack slidding across the floor.  The message was clear:  Step away from the dvds and get on task!  Open the boxes!  Free the contents to their rightful place in your house!!!  If I don’t step up my efforts at unboxing quickly and efficiently, all the contents are sure to go into a full mutiny on me.

So there it is.  I like my stuff, but it terrifies me at the moment.

As Pandora said, many weeks later, “you’ll just have to take the good with the bad.”  That’s life.

If you haven’t heard from me in a week, send someone knocking on my door.  It’s just possible that  I’m  lost under an avalanche of worldly goods.  You can never tell what will pop out of these boxes once opened.



And Now We Breathe

©2014 A. Stephenson
©2014 A. Stephenson


Aaahhh, it feels good to exhale and inhale again.  Deeply, fully.  We’re finally here in Germany.  Dogs travelled well.  We’ve found a house.  We still have only the clothes and backpacks on our backs, but the day is coming when we’ll settle, and so I find myself actually breathing again.  For, possibly, the first time in months.

But here’s the rub:  I want to relax and enjoy, but not settle too much.  The word settle is funny and a little unnerving to me–I get this visual image of fish food sinking down to the bottom of the tank.  Then just lying there until it decays or gets gobbled up.  Ewww.  That’s not the objective here.

I love the fact that launching yourself into a new life and a new culture gives you fresh eyes, and does so often catch at your breath.  It may be unnerving sometimes, but being a little off balance is heady stuff–an adrenaline rush.  It’s fun!

I won’t deny it–it’s a relief to breathe again.  But I’m pasting a photo below of one of the many moments today when my breath stopped and my heart skipped a beat.  We’re in Europe!  And that’s worth a few missed breaths.

No doubt about it–I hope the currents will allow me to waft around a bit in this life before I settle.



House Hunting in Germany at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible

If you are considering house hunting at a distance–a considerable, oceans-apart distance–just stop right now.  It is impossible.  We’ve spent weeks trying to do the same.  And we should have known better.  We did this years ago before moving to England, and I found the perfect house.  A beautiful, stately, Victorian row house that was huge and elegant.  We didn’t put the money down, but we booked an appointment to see it within a day of landing in the UK.

What we saw online looked vaguely  like this:

classic brit kitchen


And the angels sang.

What we saw in person looked more like this:

classic brit kitchen


Only smaller.

(The angels broke into a mournful dirge while I wept.)

It was still adorable, but any hopes of getting our four poster bed through the front door were futile.

Nevertheless, we’ve tried to peek at houses online again before this move to Germany.  Just to get a feel for what will/won’t be out there.  We’ve been told that the housing market is tight where we are moving.  We’ve been told, leave furniture at home, the houses are small and there are no closets.  We’ve been told, no worries, there are plenty of large, great houses.  We’ve been told dogs are no problem.  We’ve been told dogs may be a problem.  The sky is blue; the sky is orange.  Take your pick.  It’s truly impossible to do this at a distance.

Nevertheless, we look at online ads.

Here’s what we hope to browse through:









But you wouldn’t believe how many German sites post mostly these photos:

german bathroom


This worries me only slightly less than it baffles me.  If the owner is proud of his bidet, I’m happy for him.  However, I can’t understand why we are shown so many bathroom photos and so few living room photos, so few exterior photos.  Does that famous German orderliness beget a national obsession with bathrooms?  I’d rather not think about that.  And I’m sure there is a simple, and more appealing, reason for all of these bathroom photos.

My theory:  it’s a sign from God that house hunting at a distance is a potty-brained idea.  *Sigh.*

So, here’s the plan.  We wait until our feet are on the ground in Germany in mid June, and we scramble as fast as we can to find a place.  It’s worked for us in the past–here’s hoping the luck holds.




Throwback Thursday: In Alabama, Lovin’ the BBQ, Hatin’ the Spiders

Dreamland BBQ

We will soon  bid a fond farewell to Alabama  and begin  waking up to glorious German mornings.   So before we begin the tales of our travels in Germany, it’s time to collect a few thoughts on what we’ll miss, and what we will not miss, about Bama:

I will NOT miss the Black Widow spiders.  Horrible!  And everywhere!  Terrifying little beasts.  (Can you tell I have spider issues?)  They overtook our patio furniture and moved into our mailbox last year when we left for 3 weeks of summer vacation.  After that,  I took to wearing big, yellow dishwashing gloves each time I’d go to retrieve the mail.  I’m sure the neighbors talked–but I don’t care.  I was doing my best to keep up the eccentric Southerner  image and warding off Black Widow bites at the same time.  Seemed like a win-win situation to me.  All the same, I can happily live without Black Widows.

I can also live without the summers that continue into the holiday season.  No living nativity should include Baby Jesus in a sunhat and swim diapers.  Not that Bethlehem is known for its blizzards… but…let’s save that digression for another day.  I’m just saying,   September really ought to be the outer wall of summer, after which Mother Nature should change out the seasonal scenery for you.  Any less than four seasons, and the climate is veering off toward abhorrent.  (Any more than four seasons, and it gets pretty weird too.)

And, no, I won’t miss all the giant trucks that never sound like they have mufflers.  Which is funny, because they do have mufflers. (Thanks to their monster tires, you can actually  look up and see the mufflers looming overhead when they pass.   Maybe they are just decorative mufflers.  Or maybe they are really extra sound pipes, like a church organ.  Clever… but I still don’t get it.)

I WILL miss the BBQ from Dreamland Barbecue.  And the banana pudding.  Yum!  Some of the best BBQ ever–right up there with Stamey’s BBQ and Chandler’s Beef BBQ in North Carolina.

I will definitely miss the neighbors–some native Alabamians, some not.  All friendly.  All funny.  All standing rabidly on one side or the other of the Alabama/Auburn rivalry.

I’ll also  miss the way store clerks strike up long conversations with you like they’ve known you all their lives.    I’ve a feeling that won’t happen much in Germany. . .and, anyway, it will be a while before my vocabulary isn’t exhausted in a three minute conversation.

Back to things I’m not fond of–I’m not usually a big fan of lists like this:  what I love/what I hate about _____.  There’s a lot to love about any place.  And I’ve never met a place that, no matter how great, didn’t have it’s low points.  But, as Melville said, “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast…Nothing exists in itself.”   Life is a study in contrasts, so bring them on!  A little sour in the sweet provides the necessary punch.

And punch line.  Let’s be honest, it’s those “what I don’t like” lists that provide the laughs.   Where  would we be without the horrors, the gaffes, the Stinking Bishop amongst the cheeses?   But that, my friends, is a tale  for the morrow.  See you then!