Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Luxembourg Wrap-up: Our Moving Process

pizza on the last day

Part of the appeal of an international job transfer is the sweet expat package that typically comes with the deal. Depending on the employer, you may receive money toward housing, the expensive tuition of private international school for your kids, and a certain number of flights home per year.

When we moved to Luxembourg originally, we received none of these perks, mainly because Pete was not transferred within a company for a set period of time like most traditional expats. Rather, this was his first role at the company: he accepted the job in Luxembourg on a local, indefinite contract.

What we did get was help with the actual move. Pete's employer paid for movers to pack up our Oregon house. Our possessions were divided into a smaller air shipment and a larger sea container shipment, and all the shipping costs and our plane tickets were covered. Had Pete transferred to the Seattle office this summer per our original plan, the same set-up would have applied.

When Pete decided to quit his corporate job and work for himself, however, we sacrificed this moving back benefit. Rather suddenly, the cost of 4 summer plane tickets and getting all our stuff back to the US fell squarely on our shoulders. In addition to this unplanned expense, we were also facing the unknown financial future of self-employment. But still feeling confident in our choice and its timing, we were determined to make it all work somehow.

After researching and discussing various options, we opted to liquidate all our furniture and large possessions, and then mail anything we felt we absolutely needed via express post. We stole this idea from Thrifty Travel Mama and her family, who moved their possessions back to the States from Germany via DHL boxes. Their situation was similar to ours: few possessions, tight budget. We used the Dutch equivalent of DHL (TNT) that partners with the Luxembourg post office, and they charged us €100 per 30 kilogram box.

60 kg of stuff (note: we didn't use the Streff moving company, just their empty boxes!)

Throughout the moving process, we were constantly asked, "Why not ship a pallet with a moving company? Wouldn't that be cheaper and easier?" In case you have the same query, here are a few reasons:
  1. We only made the decision for Pete to leave his job and to move ourselves back to Oregon less than 2 months before we actually left. Many moving companies require more notice than that to schedule a shipment, especially during high season/summer.
  2. We didn't know exactly how much we'd want to bring back when all was said and done, so potentially overpaying for a pallet's worth of stuff, or paying a fixed amount for a predetermined total cubic meters/weight/number of boxes, wasn't cost effective. One company charged the same amount for 5-15 large boxes, for example. We thought we'd likely come out closer to 5.
  3. We were able to gradually mail things back in a specific order relative to how much we still needed the items on a daily basis in Luxembourg, which gave us the flexibility to ship boxes and stay in our apartment up until right before we flew back, and bought us a lot more time to pack.
  4. We knew that paying by-the-box would force us to examine each possession carefully to decide if it was really worth shipping back. This tickled our minimalist fancy, for sure. And we figured we could gradually replace things back in Oregon as we regained our financial footing, rather than dole out a huge sum upfront to move everything.
  5. Sea shipments with moving companies can take months to arrive, and even standard air shipments on a pallet can take a couple weeks. Because we were only bringing back our most important items, by definition we'd need them again right away. TNT boxes only took 2-3 days.
there goes our first smallish test-box

There were definite downsides to this method, though. The biggest pain was the sheer amount of time and effort it took to sort and sell EVERYTHING. In regular moves, even the international kind, there are items that don't get properly sorted. These items end up in miscellaneous boxes to be dealt with later (or never). If you've ever moved, you know those random catch-all boxes are a lifesaver when it's getting down to the wire. Sometimes, entire sealed boxes of keepsakes are even passed along from move to move, never opened at all. Alternatively, a few boxes and large items are temporarily stored at a family member's house.

None of the above were options for us this time. Every individual item from every nook and cranny of our lives was carefully weighed, sometimes literally, for worthiness.

Another formidable obstacle was that Craigslist and garage sales aren't part of Luxembourg culture. Most expats sell and give away stuff in Facebook groups. I logged several hours a day for a month and a half photographing and posting each of our possessions one by one in various groups, arranging pick-ups and managing no-shows. It felt like a full-time job at times! Deciding exactly when to let go of each item was also a mental and logistical puzzle. There were a few other hurdles such as how to organize, list, and value the contents of each giant box for customs purposes when you only have 4 lines to write on, but thankfully Thrifty Travel Mama had already blazed the trail on how to overcome those issues.

Then there were non-moving issues that added to the stress. The kids picked up headlice at school about 2 weeks before we moved. This was our first (and hopefully last!?!) time fighting lice, so I had to figure out that whole thing out in a foreign country in the middle of moving. The short story is that despite my best efforts, I got it too and we brought it back with us to the States! Sorry, people on the airplane! I am eternally grateful to Lice Knowing You in Beaverton, OR. It's all gone now. On the plus side, Pete got to really appreciate his baldness.

gotta love multiple mid-move lice treatments
The other major hiccup was that James got really sick and went on antibiotics the last week of school, causing him to miss the last day. We flew out just a few days after school finished, and James still was recovering and taking medicine right up until we boarded the plane in Frankfurt. Keeping the antibiotics cold in a crappy lunch cooler during a very hot spell in ice-averse Europe once we left our apartment was an adventure in itself. Suffice it to say that Daphne saved James' bacon by using her German skills to score a flimsy plastic bag of frozen shrimp from a very confused restaurant owner at a truck stop in the middle-of-nowhere on the way to Frankfurt.

But back to the moving process. As we began the great sorting project, our 3rd bedroom served as the staging area for anything we wanted to ship back.

that was basically it, except for our clothes for the suitcases

Taking one last look through the old baseball card collection before letting it go. Pete, I'll take this photo down if it makes you too sad.
last photo of kitchen artwork before taking it down

Clearing out the pantry. We feasted on this pot of curried lentils for days!!

Pete weighing our largest box. Just subtract his body weight!
taking the largest box to the downtown post office
getting low on furniture!

getting really low on furniture
By the night before our friend was to drive us to the Frankfurt airport, we'd whittled everything down to cleaning supplies, suitcases, musical instruments we'd take on the plane, and mattresses. In the morning, a friend picked up the mattresses, we piled the suitcases and instruments into the hallway, and finished cleaning before the landlord inspection.

all checked out!

Pete took one last load of blankets and cleaning supplies to the recycling center, and while we waited for our car dealer friend to come pick up our car, we took a walk into town to say goodbye to Luxembourg one last time--and turn in our wireless router.

with Ellie the Elephant and our mini-version

Once our car was gone, our lovely friend Beth drove us to Frankfurt and treated us to a final dinner at Vapiano.

Then after spending the night in Frankfurt, we took a taxi with our instruments and suitcases to the airport. James downed his last dose of antibiotics, we threw the entire lunch cooler in the trash (semi-frozen and leaking plastic bag of shrimp and all) and got on the plane!

ugly PDX carpet = we're home!
And how about those boxes? In the end, we shipped 8 of them, and all made it safe and sound. All except one box arrived in Oregon before we did. We were not charged any additional customs fees, and only suffered a few broken Christmas ornaments and mugs.
the last box!
So, now we've had experience on both ends of the international move spectrum: a cushy corporate-sponsored move and an extremely DIY version.
boxes double as fort for nephew

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Luxembourg Wrap-up: Saying Äddi

I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna get some catch-up posts in before the end of the year!

I already wrote a post about the farewell concert that functioned as our official going-away party in June. Before we departed Luxembourg in mid-July, we had a few other casual meet-ups with friends to say goodbye. While we didn't get to see everyone before we left, let alone take photos of everyone, I'm posting those we did manage to grab.

None of this documentation will matter to anyone besides us and the people in the photos. Nevertheless, this blog has become our main family record, and we want to remember our time in Luxembourg the best that we can. Something about living in a foreign country speeds up and intensifies friendships, so I know we'll never forget them. But photos help too!

By the way, here are just a few of the passport countries represented by the friends in these photos: Canada, USA, France, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, England, Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Paraguay, Brazil, China, Nigeria.

first Luxembourgish friend

Classmates at the park:

they brought gifts, so sweet!

water fight!

James T and James T
Last day of school:

James became really ill and missed the last day. So sad he didn't get to say a proper goodbye.

D's teacher the last 2 years.

After I took these photos, Daphne stood in the middle of the playground and yelled "äddi" to every item at school, one by one. I got a video, but am pretty sure she'd be mad if I posted it.

Next up: how we moved our belongings back!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween 2016

Erg, well, I'm very behind on blogging. My excuse is that my new job is writing for a website, so I don't have a lot of time or energy to write on the side.

Anyway, here are a couple photos from our first Halloween in the US since 2011.

Ninja and Red Ridding Hood

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School in the USA

We interrupt this Luxembourg Wrap-up series to bring you the news that Daphne and James have now started school in Oregon. The elementary school is just across the road from our old house and it's where Daphne attended kindergarten four years ago. James was just four back then.

our friendly crossing guard
supply drop-off and meet your teacher day

hot chocolate and donut holes on the first day
I'm pleased to report that they had a good first day. James was impressed with how nice his teacher is ("She promised that she never yells!") and with the class set of iPads, and Daphne approved of her teacher's numerous classroom management tricks. They've already been on computers and websites and apps and watched videos and played lots of games. Pete said to James, "Looks like you've traded your fountain pen for an iPad." James said, "What on earth does that mean?"

Welcome (back) to American school, kiddos.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Luxembourg Wrap-up: Drawing Contest

Each year in Luxembourg, a bank sponsors a drawing contest for all the public school children in the country. Every child must submit something--it's not optional--and they all have to complete a detailed rough draft first. It's serious business and they spend a good deal of class time on it. The contest is quite long-standing, because teachers and parents I've talked to remember entering their own pictures when they were kids. Prizes are awarded by grade/cycle, and students are assigned a different theme every year. This year's theme was "Heros" and for Daphne's cycle the sub-theme was "Anyone can be a hero." 

Daphne drew her dad running into school with a library book she'd forgotten at home. (Aww)

In May, we received a letter home from the bank and a call from her teacher explaining that Daphne's drawing had won 2nd place for Luxembourg City for her cycle this year! The picture would be automatically entered in the final contest for the whole country, with prizes like iPads and bicycles at stake.

Meanwhile, were invited to the local bank branch to collect Daphne's preliminary prize for the city contest. We showed up for a sweet-but-very-awkward meeting in a conference room with two bankers, with treats on the table and other prize-winning drawings from other grades displayed around the room. 

After a few minutes staring at each other across the table in mostly uncomfortable silence, they told us we should take a photo of the drawing because we probably wouldn't get it back.

looks remarkably like her actual hallway at school
Then they presented Daphne with her the prize--a backpack--and were apparently immediately overcome with guilt that her little brother got nothing, so they ran to the cupboard and pulled out a small puzzle game for him as a consolation prize. And then they must have felt even more guilty/awkward, because they ran and fetched one for Daphne as well.

Not knowing what to do next, I snapped a couple more pictures of the drawing just to be sure I captured it, and then we excused ourselves from the room. I'm fairly certain I missed some cultural cues along the way of what we were actually supposed to do in this little award ceremony, especially because there was food there. That part always throws me off in Europe; it's hard to know to what extent to partake and how long to take partaking. But we eventually escaped.

The winner and her prize backpack.
We never heard back about the results of the national contest (nor did we expect to, really). And although Pete was disappointed he didn't get to keep his daughter's drawing of his heroism, he did use the photo as his desktop background.