Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moving -- Setting it up and Setting out!

Moving is inevitable when you're in (or married to) the military. Sometimes you know its coming and other times you have no clue. Sometimes you have months to plan, other times you are lucky to get a few weeks. But moving happens. Military jobs have a timeline. You're not in one place for very long but you generally know how long you're going to be at any specific job.

There are many variables, but at some point in time, you know your time is waning at the job you're in, so in some way, shape or form you either pick or get picked to go to your next job. Sometimes you get to pick, other times the government picks for you. That all falls into the whole "government property" thing. At any rate, you are set up for a new job and you have an idea about where you're going next. However, before you can do any planning of any kind you have to wait for orders. Once you have orders, you can begin planning. Most military members know, though, that you shouldn't plan too early if you're lucky enough to get orders a few months out. Because orders can, and often do change.

Before we got married, when I decided to move it was because I couldn't afford rent, wanted a change of scenery, etc. I knew when my lease was up, so I started looking a few months out, put down a deposit on a place and scheduled everything so that I had a few days overlap. One sweaty weekend, a case of beer, a U-haul, some friends and family, and I was in a new place. Now, when I move it's because someone is telling me to. If I'm lucky I get a few months to think about where we're going to move to, but I can't start searching for a new place to live until we have orders. Usually I can't find a new home until after we've already moved to the area.

In order to move, there are several forms to fill out. Just because we're being told to move from Place A to Place B, doesn't mean it all happens automatically. We have to tell someone to schedule the moving trucks, packers and loaders. We have to tell someone to arrange for our travel, especially if travelling requires airline reservations.

After you fill out all of the forms, which can take hours and sometimes days, letting everyone know that you're moving, where to, and when you'd like to have it all arranged, you are told when everything will actually happen. Sometimes it is when you want it to happen, other times, not so much.

Sometimes you can visit your new destination ahead of time to find a place to live, but most of the time it is expensive and you're moving too far away for any kind of real house hunting. Leaving one house before you find a new address can create problems. Technically when we're between houses, we're homeless. We don't have an address to put down on any forms. We can't fill out a mail forward until we know the new address, so we have our mail forwarded to family or friends nearby temporarily, but that isn't always an option. So you're stuck using your last address and hoping that no one is going to try to mail anything important to you. It's especially difficult to explain to utility companies that you don't have a forwarding address for the final bill. They don't quite get it sometimes.

Once you've gotten everything "scheduled" you have to prepare your house. One nice thing about military moves is that if you choose, someone will actually come pack up your stuff for you. (You can also pack your stuff and move yourself. But with a military spouse who is lucky to get time off for dinner, it's hard to arrange a move on your own without it turning into a nightmare. If you can, though, the military will pay you part of what they'd pay the movers to do all of that work.) That doesn't mean everything is easy, though. They don't move some things. All those cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink? Can't be moved. Do you have anything flammable such as propane canisters, spray paint, any aerosol products? Nope, they can't come. Open boxes of cereal? Nope. Ketchup in the fridge? Sorry. Pretty much anything that is perishable or open is garbage. It can't be moved.

What do you do with all of that stuff? Most of the time I try to donate stuff to neighbors or the homeless, etc. However, most of the food that can't be moved is open. And the homeless shelters won't take open food items. I get the reasons for it, but if you're neighbors have all moved before you, or can't take any more free stuff (because their fridges and pantries are stuffed from everyone else moving ahead of you), you're pretty much throwing away a bunch of perfectly good food.

There are pests in some parts of the country and the world that are dangerous to the environment in other places. One example, the gypsy moth. If you are lucky enough to get stationed somewhere that the gypsy moth lives, you have to inspect every single thing that has ever been outside for larvae to ensure that you're not going to single-handedly kill off the endangered species that live ONLY on one island in the entire world. If you don't find it, and the movers or customs finds it, it's a whole lot of fun trying to get your shipment without a bunch of red tape.

Have pets? Travelling with pets in CONUS isn't a big deal. You just cram them into the car with the travel high chair, pack and play and your kids. Moving OCONUS (outside of the continental US)? Good Luck. You have to fill out several pages of paperwork, have blood drawn, and pay close to a thousand dollars out of pocket between vet bills, paperwork and plane tickets to get your pet from Place A to Place B. And if one thing goes wrong, you're looking at thousands of dollars for the quarantine period.

The date arrives, and the movers are supposed to show up to pack your stuff at 8:00. You've sorted out all of the "un-movables" that you can find early, but know that they will tell you that they can't move some things this time, even though they did last time. You get the kids up and ready, everyone is dressed, donuts and coffee for the packers have been purchased. 9:00 arrives and no movers. 10:00, and 11:00 and noon. At 1:00 they show up to pack. And then they spend the entire day whining about how much stuff you have. How many movies and books to you really need? Do you really have to have so many pictures to load? What about all those toys? Do your kids really need that? Your furniture sure is heavy! And you have a lot of it! Never mind that you only own 6,000 pounds worth of stuff and you're authorized twice that. I forgot to mention that. We can only own so much stuff. It's not based on the number of people in your family, just on rank. Everything is finally packed at around midnight.

The truck is supposed to arrive tomorrow. At 8:00. So, you get up at 6:00 in the morning, get the kids ready to go, buy donuts and coffee for the loading crew, and get to your house at 7:45 to make sure the place is ready to go. 9:00 arrives and no truck. And it's 10:00, 11:00, noon and 1:00. The truck shows up at 4:00. You've been sitting at a house where everything is packed, waiting for several hours for the truck to show up. When they show up there is the whining again. Do your kids really need all of those outdoor toys? Your furniture sure is heavy! And you have a lot of it! How many boxes do you have to load? The truck is finally loaded at midnight. If you're lucky, your spouse is around so one of you can return to the hotel with your children before they reach critical mass and explode.

Once the truck has pulled away, you ensure that you've gotten everything packed. Everything you need for the next two months is loaded into your cars. You need two months worth of stuff, because moving is about the only time you get to visit family. And because most of the time you haven't found a house ahead of time, you don't have an address to give to the moving company. Your stuff goes into storage. And you have to wait your turn to get stuff out of storage and into your house. Which sometimes takes a month or more. If you're brave, you drive across the country, small children in tow. You have to drive yourself because the military won't pay for shipment of vehicles. (The exception is if you're travelling over seas and lucky enough to be moving somewhere where you're authorized to move a vehicle, but even that isn't easy. If you are having a vehicle shipped, you often have to drive it several hundred miles to a drop off point -- they will NOT pick it up at your house and send it from there.) If you have small children who don't do well in the car, you have to have vehicles shipped on your own dime, and fly from one place to another. Many families have one parent travel with children by air, while the other drives a vehicle packed to the brim.

These few days between houses can be incredibly irritating or wonderfully amazing. I love it when we're between homes. We always drive if we're travelling in the CONUS (Military speak for Continental United States). We don't have any responsibilities other ensuring that we're to our destination on time. We usually attempt to turn our moves into an adventure. Not quite a vacation, because we're usually on a tight schedule and can't afford long stops in many places, but we try to have fun anyway. Even with all of the reality checks, problems and pains that go along with moving, it's always exciting. It's fun to live with the anticipation of a new place. Those few days between duty stations are like the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is a buzz in the air that can't be contained. I often hope I get to our new destination in the dark. That way, it's like Christmas to wake up in a new place that you haven't seen in the light and go exploring -- only Santa has delivered a new start in a new place. What an adventure!

What's next? Getting to your new place!

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