What Do We Do With All Our Stuff?

Downsizing.  It’s the catchphrase of the decade and we have not been immune to the idea, and the necessity, of it in recent years.

In 2000, Jerry and I both had solid careers and a 5-bedroom house in San Francisco, filled with furniture and furnishings.  By July of that year, we had sold the house and poured all our money into a bed & breakfast style hotel in Palm Springs, California.  What couldn’t fit in the guest rooms was packed into a 10 x 20 storage unit where it sat for two years.

Our hotel was the first in the country created for gays & lesbians with children, their families and friends.  It was a great idea (we still think so) and, thankfully, we chose to do it because we thought it would feel good to do and not because we hoped to make a bundle.  We did, however, hope to make ends meet.

So, when the reality of the market turned out to be smaller than what we thought was its potential, we took a breath and plowed on.  But, when the events of September 11, 2001 soon followed causing, among so many other things, a 43 percent drop in tourism in Palm Springs, there was no hope of digging ourselves out of debt.

Thanks to Jerry, we found ourselves in Santa Barbara, California, where he had landed another good position.  Our stuff came out of storage and we moved into a large 3-bedroom rental, filling every square inch with our things.

About five years later, we moved to Vegas where we went back into five bedrooms and filled every square inch with our personal belongings.  But, once again, times grew tough.  So, after a year, we rented a 3-bedroom apartment, sold some furniture and stashed in the garage whatever we couldn’t fit into the apartment.

Another year went by, times got better, and we moved back to Southern California into a 2-bedroom apartment (that cost a lot more than that 3-bedroom in Vegas), leaving behind a 10 x 15 storage unit full-to-bursting with our excess furniture.

So, here we are getting ready for a move to Spain and in possession of an over-furnished and overstocked 2-bedroom apartment, a garage stacked with boxes leaving no room for a car, and a storage unit in Vegas that could furnish a decent-sized house.

Some days what to do with all our stuff stresses me more than anything else we have to do in order to legally live in Spain.

First, we’re donating the contents of the Vegas storage unit to Goodwill.  Big furniture.  No use for it.  Great donation.

You know all those collections you have because, as you were told at the time, “It’s a great investment”?  Well, it’s only a great investment if someone is willing to pay when you’re ready to cash in.  Selling on ebay and receiving a mere pittance is not very satisfying or worthwhile.  The tax deduction (i.e., donating to a museum or a charity) may be the most practical way to go.  Does anyone collect art glass from the ’80s?

Family heirlooms are going to family… early.  Now we just have to get them to the middle of the country without breaking the bank — or our backs.

We’ll take some things with us, whatever it doesn’t cost too much to ship.  Like my mother’s artwork and needlework; our family photos (ALL our family photos, more than 100 in frames and more than a dozen albums); Jerry’s plaster sheriff from Wall Drug circa 1952; my plaster flower child from my sister circa 1971; our computer equipment since it’s in good working order and more expensive to buy in Spain.

We’ve got to go through our clothes (yet again) and donate what we don’t need.  The suggestion to “just donate everything to charity” sounds great, but pulling it off means we’ve got to go through everything first and then pack it all up.  Can you not tell how this is stressing me out?

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say in future posts about down-sizing.  In the meantime, I’ve got to go pay for service on a leased car we’ll be returning in the spring.

After this whine and that waste I’ll deserve my cafe Americano at Peet’s.

While enjoying my coffee (and walnut chocolate chunk scone), I’m going to get lost in my paperback “Don Quixote,” although I worry that in my state of mind reading about a man who lost his may not be the best of ideas.

Why Move? Why Leave? Why Spain?

To the first and second “why” questions, there are so many answers.  But, the easiest responses are, because we can and because we want to (or vice versa).  We have talked for years about living in Europe.

I thought of moving to England in the late ’70s.

Jerry and I considered the Netherlands in the ’90s (those “Bush the First” years).  Coming from San Diego at the time, we decided we could if we had to, but the weather would be an adjustment.

Then in the “George Jr.” years, we considered Ireland (a job prospect in Dublin for Jerry) but again decided the weather would be an adjustment, along with some social/political/religious issues.  Not to mention the fact that we weren’t a legally recognized couple and I, therefore, would have no legal right to go/stay with him.

Our next thought during the George Jr. years was Norway.  Specifically Bergen.  We thought, well, we love Seattle.  And Bergen reminds us in so many ways of Seattle.  We figured, we can tolerate the weather in Seattle (well, no, we really can’t), so how difficult could Bergen be?  Our family in Bergen loved the idea of having us as neighbors (no, really, they did).  But they thought we were nuts if we believed we could tolerate the weather.

We then did some research and learned that Seattle gets 37 inches of precipitation a year.  The total isn’t significant except that it’s continual drizzles.  (Seattle Rain Festival: January 1-December 31).  But, Bergen, hold onto your hats, gets EIGHTY-NINE INCHES OF PRECIPITATION a year.  And it’s almost all rain.  And the rain falls sideways. There’s no escaping it.

Southern Spain is a popular and easy-to-reach tourist destination for Norwegians.  So, we thought we could spend half the year in Bergen and half in Southern Spain.  But that still meant at least, unscientifically speaking, 45 inches of rain.  And, as I just mentioned, in Bergen it rains sideways.

So, we’re still here.

Until we had our hotel in Palm Springs from 2000-2003 (that requires another post), we had talked a lot about retiring there.  And when we returned to Southern California from Vegas last year, that was back as the top possibility.

But the problem was that Palm Springs, although beautiful, just didn’t excite us anymore.  There isn’t anything new for us.  So, we bought “Retirement Places Rated” for the U.S. and studied.  And we still couldn’t find that spark.

A few months passed and we started to talk about Europe again.  We decided to list out our requirements in order of priority and then narrow down to regions, countries, and cities based on those factors.

The top priority (I’ll admit to being a bit shallow on this one):
We realized a pleasant climate — a la San Diego — was what we required.  That knocked off a whole bunch of countries.

The second priority was political/social climate:
Admittedly this went hand in hand with weather.  Cuba’s sunshine and ocean breezes can be quite charming, but we’re not rushing off to live there.

Other requirements (and no longer in order of priority) were:
An interesting culture and history; a population that welcomes outsiders; safe and secure living conditions; a language we could learn; national/nature parks; good healthcare; good public transportation–local, regional, and national; easy/cheap access to other parts of Europe; and I can’t remember what else right now.

That led us to Southern Spain–Andalucia.  But we didn’t want to end up in an expat community surrounded only by other non-Spaniards (and Andalucia has a number of beautiful communities filled with expats).  So, we did more research, talked to more people, and finally narrowed down to Sevilla.  After deciding on Sevilla, we re-opened the discussion (we re-open discussions a lot) and decided to look in the outlying area for smaller cities where we could more easily relax (and where our money would go further).  We decided to follow the train line down from Sevilla to Cadiz.  And there it was, Jerez de la Frontera.  Home to sherry, the horse, and the flamenco.  Also  home to the Motorcycle Grand Prix (not really on our list of interests).

Speaking the Language

I’m immersed in Rosetta Stone Spanish for Spain.  I studied Spanish for 7 years starting when I was 12.  You’d think I’d be passably fluent, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve used it beyond a very superficial level.

I was in Spain on business about four years ago.  During that trip I spent an hour in a taxi with a driver who spoke no English.  We spent the hour in conversation… in Spanish.  At the end of the hour, the cab driver told me I did really well.  I said, like a 2-year-old.  He said, no, 5.  Trust me, he was being extremely kind.  After completing Level 1 (of 5) of Rosetta Stone, I feel like I now speak and comprehend Spanish like an at times slow and at times gifted 2-year-old.

I look forward to fluency.  I’m not very patient.  I’m no perfectionist.  I’m quite good at slapping something together and saying, “That’ll do.”  But I don’t like not being able to do something perfectly immediately.  The big difference between me and a perfectionist–in those situations when I can’t immediately do something perfectly–is that I might just throw in the towel.

But I love languages and I do pick them up quickly (I hear them as music in my head).  So, although I’ll get frustrated with my lack of fluency I won’t stop working at it.

Jerry speaks Russian.  We don’t expect that to come in very handy in Spain.  So, he’s counting on me to be translator (everything is relative) when we visit Andalucia in January.  Jerry’s sister and her husband rented an apartment in Nerja on the Costa del Sol last summer.  One day when they were out for their regular morning stroll, they were greeted by the owner of the local grocery.  As they walked by, she waved and said, “Buenos dias!”  Our brother-in-law waved back and said, “Aloha!”  I don’t think he’s going to be of much help.

Once we move in May, we’ll both immediately enroll in language immersion programs.

In the meantime, we are also trying to understand everything (well, a lot) about Spanish history and culture.  Jerry is the academic in this household.  He can get himself lost in any, dry, non-fiction tome.  And he can then quote information and statistics for years after.  I barely got through one academic hard-cover on Spain and I returned two others to Jerry after the first chapter.

I keep hoping to find a historical novel to give me all I need to know in a format like Michener’s “Hawaii.”  Michener did actually produce one book on Spain. Unfortunately, it was a work of NON-fiction.  In the meantime, I’m reading every travel guide and have just found a book “The New Spaniards” that holds my attention.  Surfing the web provides an endless source of info in as small or as large a bite as I’m interested in at any given time.

So, now it’s off to Peet’s for a newspaper and a cup of coffee.

First Things First

I move often.  It could be that I’m always running away from something or that I’m always running to something.  But, since I’ve been with my partner (now husband) Jerry for 29 years, and we have been running away from or to something together for all that time,  I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  We move often and we like to move.

Of course, that’s not to say we don’t find moving stressful.  We just find staying in one place worse.

So, we’re getting ready for another move.  A big one this time.  In the spring of 2011, we will leave Southern California and head to Southern Spain.

And, although we’ve done lots of homework, planning, and 16-page spreadsheets in preparation for the big move, this post is another first step for me on that trip.