Bucharest Time Pacific Time Washington, DC

Saturday, May 23, 2015

More Stories from the Trenches of Language Training

I have a confession to make: I have become quite a goldfish, especially in the past, oh, five or six years. Maybe longer, but as a goldfish - I can't remember exactly how long I've felt this way.  

What's a goldfish, you ask? 

Someone/thing whose thoughts skip so quickly from one thing to the next, with the new thought instantly replacing the former thought, that everything appears new again. The goldfish happily circles their bowl: Oh look, a castle! Some rocks! Nice little plant! Hey, a castle!  How nice, plants! Look at the rocks! Hey, a castle! 

It means that I can hear the same joke twice in a month and be equally amused each time. It means that I have been guilty of telling the same story more than once to (far too polite) friends, or so my husband reminds me.  It means that I can re-experience something as if for the first time, reacting the same way each time, unfortunately without the added Groundhog Day benefit of making adjustments and doing it better the second time. 

Therefore when I re-read my post from over two years ago describing what it's like to be in the depths of language training, I was pleasantly surprised to read that I felt then as I do now.  In an effort to be slightly less goldfishy, I won't rehash the entire story for you. Here is the link

In short, language training is how I imagine a long stretch of psycho-therapy to be: It takes you to places in yourself you may not want to go. You feel smart, then stupid; frustrated then victorious; stagnant then accelerating.  It touches sensitive nerves about how we feel about ourselves, and how we believe others view us.  We're stuck in a classroom with peers (sometimes with bosses and coworkers), naked, and doing our best not only to learn, but hopefully do so without losing all sense of pride. 

We just completed week 13/24 of our Romanian training, meaning we're now officially over the hump and coursing towards the finish line. There are days during our reading exercises when I see sentence structures and realize that in a hundred years, I would have never thought to put those words together like that, so how the heck am I going to do it in my exam 11 weeks?! Granted, I'm comparing myself to a native speaker who has had a lifetime to figure it out and I only heard this language for the first time three months ago, but I find the comparison impossible to resist.  Which makes me feel crappy. 

Being a goldfish also means that it's hard to keep well-planned and structured thoughts in my head, i.e. in an intangible and still-unspoken form. By the time I get to the end of the thought, the beginning has already evaporated as if I'm writing with water on a hot stone. It means that I have to speak quickly as soon as a thought strikes me so as not to lose it. Waiting until an appropriate moment in the classroom conversation opens for me to politely step through and trot out my grammatically-correct, well-considered and insightful opinion feels near impossible.  I envy my introverted classmate(s) who can tune out the noise and distraction of the class to correctly compose their thoughts before speaking.  

While it feels like this goldfish is simply circling the bowl, never truly gaining any ground,  instinctively I also believe that this isn't true. This was illustrated to me the other night when my husband and I went to a little El Salvadorean restaurant for dinner.  The TV above the bar was playing a Mexican telenovela at full volume. While waiting for our food to arrive, I watched the show.  And I understood it. Even when I turned my head away from the screen, I could still follow the conversation.  This was NOT the case two years ago when I wrote about feeling lost in the midst of my last language training.  It wasn't even the case after I lived in Mexico for one year. But it is true now.  

Therefore, even a Nemo like me can deduce that she is probably making progress, even if it is too slow to notice now.  Someday I'll be in a little corner Romanian restaurant and I'll be able to follow the conversation behind me, or I'll chat with the Moldovan waitress without pausing and stumbling between every third word as I do now. 

It's nice to remember that, although I had forgotten it already, I was once before in such a trench of despair and lived to tell the story. Poco a poco, puțin câte puțin, this fishy will make it out of the bowl.  

I just have to keep telling myself that, because it appears I keep forgetting it. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Learning Romanian: Nine Weeks In

Welcome to my life in the Romanian language. Here is what nine weeks looks like:

We're improving each week, little by little. We're learning how one connects two verbs, how to say sentences in the past and a little in the future.  I can say what I want, hope, and believe, too.  We (my husband and I) study a lot and we use many different methods to learn. For example, we watch Romanian movies, listen to Bucharest radio stations, read news articles and we have many conversations in class.  Now there are only women in my class, so on Friday, we looked at magazines and learned how to describe people, colors and clothing. 

I practice saying things in short sentences so that I don't go into a corner. It's easy to go into a corner and not have enough words to escape.  Last Thursday, I had my first evaluation. I talked about my visit to the countryside to see a historic town and the Appalachian Trail last weekend. I said I like being in nature. We talked about a volcano in Chile and climate change, and how it seems like the American Dream these days is just to buy more things, expensive things. I don't agree with that!  When I finished talking and reading, the lady said I was about a level 2/2. That means that I can talk about familiar things, I can give my opinion and I don't bother the native listener tooooo much. Yay! In August, I need to be a level 3/3, so there is still a lot to learn, but I think I'm learning well.  

Last week when I was on the bus, I was reading my class notes when suddenly the woman behind me asked if I spoke Romanian.  She was from Bucharest - what a surprise! I was happy that day because I had received the good result on my evaluation. But when I spoke with this woman - I forgot so many words! Ayyyy....  She was the first Romanian who I have talked to outside the classroom.  I was embarrassed and wanted to say more.  All my friends at FSI say that they don't like to chat with their teachers outside of the classroom because they forget the easy words and appear stupid.  I understand well; it is very common!

On Monday, we have a new student. He is the Consul General in Bucharest and he is learning Romanian, too.  We have a new Ambassador, too, but he is learning alone with a private teacher.  Romania is happy now because the Embassy has a new American Ambassador. Well, he is the "Ambassador-designate" because he is not yet confirmed by the Congress. We hope he goes to Bucharest soon. 

OK, that is all I can say now.  Thank you! Here are some nice pictures of spring. It is very pretty here in spring. Until soon,


Harper's Ferry, WV flowerpot

National Arboretum, DC

Tidal Basin Cherry Blossom Festival

Beautiful blossoms


Sunday, March 22, 2015

But Isn't Romanian Just Like Spanish?

Most common comment: "Doesn't your Spanish really help with learning Romanian?"
Best response: "Weeeelll - sort of. Yes, sometimes it does. Sometimes, but not always."

First, a bit of background: Romanian is one of the five Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian). However, it is the closest to Latin of them all and has grown up isolated from other Latin-based languages due to geography and being surrounded by Slavic-language neighbors. Due to this isolation, it has not been simplified as the other Romance languages have.  (Drat!) Mix in strong Turkish influences due to the Ottoman Empire's presence over the years, toss in some Greek and then add a strong Russian flavoring and you have Romanian. 

I tried to find a really good picture to illustrate this, but sometimes a thousand words are worth a thousand words, so here we go:

Here are some Romanian words I bet any English speaker could figure out:
Consulat
Pașaport
Garaj
Student
Universitate
Electricitate
Supa
Sandviș
Președinte
Frecvent
Minut
Jurnalist
Restaurant
Taxi

And here are some more Romanian words that anyone with some general familiarity with another Romance language, either through high school, travel or foreign movies could figure out:

Casă (house)
Mult  (much/many)
Luna (month)
Ora  (hour)
Masă (table)
Mamă (mother)
Unde? (where?)
Carne (meat)
Prefera (to prefer)
Floare (flower)
Vizavi de (across from)
Periculos (dangerous)

Adding to the difficulty only slightly, here are some words that are a bit of a stretch to the native English speaker, but sound like a word that is in the same ballpark, at least:

Merge (he/she goes, like "merging into traffic")
Crede  (he/she believes, like in "credibility")
Întelege (he/she understands, which kind of looks like "intelligence," no?)
Citi (to read, sort of like "to cite")
Scrie (to write, as in "scribe")
Sta (to stay - heck, that one's only missing a letter)
Visa (to dream - like "envisage")

We have some false cognates, too. These are words that sound or look just the same as another language, but are actually quite different. Take for example in Spanish if you "castiga" someone it means that you punish them. But the same "castiga" in Romania means that you gain or win something. I dunno', maybe it's a cultural difference from the bad ole' days and the idea of punishing someone meant that you won? 
Beats me! 
Habar n-am!

Now we'll go way off into the "just memorize them" category. Perhaps these are Turkish, or Russian, or Greek - I don't know because I don't speak any of these languages!

Mulțumesc (thank you)
Uneori (sometimes)
Bolnav (sick)
Ieftin (inexpensive)
Scump (expensive)
Stânga  (left, as in the opposite of right)
Jumătate (half)
Mâine (tomorrow)
Bătrân (old, as in old person)
Cuvântul (word)
Înghețată (ice cream)
Bucătărie (kitchen)
Morcov (carrot)

But I don't worry, because those are such odd words - I just can't picture having to use them, right? (I guess I won't be having any ice cream for a few years...)

Now, to add to the fun, the nouns and adjectives are "declined."  No, that doesn't mean that we just say no to them, it means that they change depending on what role they are playing in the sentence. That's right - even proper nouns that in English are sacred except in the plural or possessive when we simply tack on an s or apostrophe + s.  An example would be something like this:

English: My house, the house, a house, the house's roof, the houses
Romanian: My housele, housa, house, houselor roof, the housi

(These are just examples, not at all the real words - I hope that's understood?)

But wait, there's more! The adjectives and *some* (but not all!) of the numbers and colors also have to "agree" with the noun:

English: The two red houses, The two little boys are happy
Romanian: The twoa housi reda, The twoi boysi littli are happi 

See how many of the words had to be changed to agree with each other? And it's not just that the letters at the end of the words have to be the same as each other, like in Spanish (i.e. Las Casas Blancas), but if you make the noun plural (houses), then you have to make all the adjectives plural, too (the smalls houses reds), flip the noun and adjective in the sentence and remember that each of the endings is different! There are even different words for "the house" versus "a house," or "her house"!

Even without a day of Latin class or one Catholic Mass pre-1962, you are probably already familiar with some of this. You know "alumni" are a bunch of folks who wore the cap and gown together, while you are an "alumnus" from somewhere and now they want a donation, right?  

That's what it's like, and that's not like English or Spanish or French.

But at least the alphabet is (mostly) the same!
(That's the most common consolation prize folks offer, especially those learning Arabic, Albanian, Amharic...)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Learning Romanian: Two Weeks In

Hello! It's me again. Welcome! Good day! How are you? I am fine, thank you. Glad to be here. Glad to meet you.

We are in Virginia. We are now students. We go to class every day. We understand a little Romanian now. There are five students in the class. There is one teacher; she is Romanian.  My husband is not in class with me. My husband is in class with Romanian man teacher. 

The weather now is good, but it is not yet spring. There is still snow, there are no flowers. Thursday I do not go to class because of very much snow. There are clouds and sun. On the weekend there is a lot of sun, fantastic! We go to the store, we go to the park. Very good!

The cats are at home. The cats are well, thank you. And your cat? My cat is on the sofa, next to the lamp.  The lamp is on the table, next to the book. There are many books of the Romanian language on the table. 

We are Americans: I am an American woman, my husband is an American man. We are from Washington and in August we go to Romania. We go by plane. We do not go by train. We go to Romania to the city of Bucharest. I am a vice consul at the American Embassy in Bucharest. Romania is very beautiful. Summer has much sun and winter has much snow. 

Last night we have soup and we have Romanian movie. Very interesting, thank you! Tonight we have chicken, beer and water. Morning, I have tea and bread. I go to class. That is life!

See you tomorrow!
Thank you!
Goodbye!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Home Leave 101

 After nearly four years in the Foreign Service, we're now enjoying our first home leave.

So first, a definition:
The purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.  

You can read the entire description, definition and all sorts of regulations and exceptions in the link above, but the gist is that after coming from a posting abroad (yes, being five miles from the Texas border is still considered being abroad), we're mandated to take a minimum of 20 business days on U.S. soil. "U.S. soil" includes all 50 states plus Commonwealths (Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas), Possessions, and Territories (Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands), but please don't ask me what the difference is between these last three categories.  When you're hired, you choose a home leave address of record, which can really be wherever you like from that list. Uncle Sam will generously pay to send you from your posting abroad to your listed home leave location. If you choose to go somewhere else, say to spend this month re-Americanizing yourself in the U.S. Virgin Islands instead, some fancy calculation is done to compare the cost of getting you (and family) to your island paradise vs. to your parents' house in Hoboken, NJ (for example).  You are then responsible for paying any overage between the two costs. This is called a "cost construct."

Seattle, WA is our home leave address, but as we've had a stable renter in our house there whom we don't want to evict for just one month, plus our home leave will take place in late January and February - not generally considered the best months in the Pacific Northwest - we opted to go to Florida and cost construct instead. 

Nearly one year ago, with our departure date from Juarez fixed, and the starting date of Romanian training known, we did heaps of research and finally chose to rent a house in northern Florida's Gulf Coast, thereby joining thousands of retired Canadian and Great Lakes residents as part of the great snow bird migration.  Coming off-season as we did, is not only less expensive, but also less crowded and finding a house available for the entire month was not too difficult. 

So here we are, and I gotta' say it's pretty cool.  

First of all, when was the last time you had one calendar month in which nothing more was expected of you other than remaining in the U.S.?  I think I was 15. Truly, other than basic personal hygiene, not crossing an international border is our only responsibility. Home leave is different from vacation because of the luxurious lack of expectations or lingering responsibilities.  When you go on vacation, that pile of stuff on the kitchen table will still be there to greet you when you return. Your inbox will continue to accept messages which will require your attention and action at some point, and you will still have to weed the garden, deal with that tiresome coworker and fight that horrible traffic wherever you live when the rosy glow of your vacation has worn off.  

In contrast, home leave, by definition taking place at the END of an assignment, comes without that mental baggage.  I have no further responsibilities to my job nor our house - loved them as I did - in Juarez. I have no expectations from my assignment in Bucharest yet either, and unlike in AP English in 11th grade - there is no required summer reading list for Romanian language training.  Oh I suppose I could try to be a real go-getter and find some language tapes to get a head start, but it's not at all expected and frankly would be just a bit more than annoying to come to class on the first day all full of little phrases I learned to (mis)pronounce during home leave. Yeah, instead I'm just going to unplug and let my brain rest this entire month. 

We've now been on home leave (which does not include the three travel days it took to get us and the Tabbies to Florida in the car - more on that later) for just over a week.  We're getting acquainted with the new environment and have already chosen our favorite grocery store and have located the PetSmart (I'm already on the second box of cat litter). We've walked on the beach each day, even if that meant we were wearing sweaters and hoods a few of those days.  We've completed a very complex 1000 piece puzzle; have had my husband's brother and sister-in-law visit for four days; have dug into new books and crossword puzzles; and have begun to catch up on a bunch of bad TV and too many morning news shows.  Really, all the stuff you WOULD do if you had the time - which is all we have now.  

Coming from a border posting, we're fortunate to have our car with us already.  But the great majority of folks coming back for home leave will do so in a plane, and therefore will not only have no home, but also no car.  This is why many of us refer to it as "homeless leave," that month of couch-surfing and relying on the kindness of friends and family.  Some of my younger coworkers have told me that returning to their parents' home, sometimes even to their childhood bedrooms, can be fun for the first week, but just awkward thereafter.  Because we're allowed to drive our cars to and from post, many leaving border assignments choose to do lengthy road trips and have filled their Facebook pages with pictures from National Parks throughout the American west. As we have the Tabbies to tow, spending more time on the road did NOT sound like a viable nor enjoyable option.  So we're staying in one place and letting friends, family and adventure come to us instead. 

Besides being the dead of winter and not wanting to spend our month stuck inside to escape the drear, we chose Florida as we're also "trying out" the region to see if some day we may want to live here. Next home leave will be during summer and so we may be renting a house in Oregon or along a lake somewhere.  But that's just our decision, and in my free time I've been thinking of other things that people could do on home leave. Here are a few ideas:
  • Rent an apartment or house in that region of the U.S. that has always intrigued you.
  • Schedule the minor surgery or dental work you've been putting off.
  • Rent a cabin in the woods and finally get started on the Great American Novel.
  • Take a course in something you've always wanted to learn, like French cooking, watercolor painting, Tai-Chi or playing the harmonica.
  • Use the time to buy a house or to remodel one you already own. 
  • Put all the bureaucracy of life in order: Wills; Insurance policies; Documents in your safe deposit box.
  • Hike all/part of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails. 
  • Work on your tennis, golf or poker game obsessively. 
  • Binge re-watch entire seasons of your favorite TV shows or Cary Grant's life work.
  • Actually put together your wedding photo album before your 15th anniversary comes around.
  • Staying in DC? Try to visit a different Smithsonian museum each day.
  • Buy a box of books from the Goodwill and see how many you can get through.
The Tabbies have continued to adjust to our mobile lifestyle and took to three days on the road exceptionally well.  Naturally, they prefer being settled now and are especially liking that we're home all day (i.e. available to tend to their needs). Toby spends a lot of time watching the neighborhood go by outside his screen door and sniffing the new smell of salt air.  My husband has kitted himself out with a fishing license and tackle and is determined to pull something out of the water.  I discovered Ancestry.com and have gotten back to the late 1700s on one side of the family. And we've barely cracked Week Two.

Once again, I will leave you with a few pictures of our move east and where we've landed:

Daphne in the crow's nest perch. 
 
Dodger watches west Texas slip from view. 
 
Toby found my lap in San Antonio and didn't give it up until we hit northern Florida.

Toby didn't take well to leaving the hotel rooms each morning. "No really, it's small, but it's cozy! We'll be fine here; we don't need to leave!"

But once we got to the new house - well, he got pretty comfy. 
Finally here!

We've been getting to know the locals...

fighting the crowds...

and generally just finding a good spot to rest for a bit.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Adios Juarez

It's finally here.

I don't mean "finally" as in Christmas morning, but rather "finally" as in that dreaded dental appointment. 

The last work day, the last hug goodbye, the last look around our house and garden, the last time we turn the car north and head for the border, the last crossing over the big sandy depression that is the Rio Bravo/Grande, the last chat with CBP and then we're away and into Texas.

Time is such a mercurial, fickle friend and sometimes enemy.  Time has both flown and crept since our February 2013 arrival. May to January slipped by in a blink, and yet it seems as if I've been aware of the passing of every hour in our last week. Yesterday we drove by the El Paso hotel where in Feb 2013 we spent the last night of our road trip south before meeting our social sponsor and heading across the border for the first time.  I saw the window of the hotel room where we stayed and remembered what I had been thinking as I looked out over the twin cities that would be our home. During the day it was all very beige (very beige!), and at night Juarez spread out beneath El Paso in a rolling, twinkling blanket of lights.  But the skies were so crisp blue (they still are) with the widest and brightest horizon I'd ever seen.  I think that horizon was emblematic of my time here: broad and full of possibilities. 

Professionally, this assignment could not have been better suited to me. Back in Bogota when I was an OMS and hoping to be a Consular Officer, I got some advice from one of the Consular managers that, should I make it to A-100, I should seriously consider going to the border for everything I could learn there.  (Sorry Canada, but when we say "border post," we're usually talking about the southern border.)  I'm sure I smiled and nodded, tucking away her advice, all the while privately thinking that I wanted to go somewhere far more exotic.  But she was right. Cutting one's teeth in arguably one of the most complex immigrant visa sections in the world has been an incredible learning experience for me. 

Personally, our time here has been equally satisfying.  That's such a milquetoast word, "satisfying," for something so meaningful.  The most important elements to a successful tour are often completely unrelated to the actual job. Is your family happy? Do they like their jobs/schools? Are the pets safe and comfortable? How do you like your house/apartment? Do you like the local food? What is the weather like? Are there fun things to do outside of work and friends to share them with?  Everything has come our way in each of those categories.  In fact, I'm a bit worried that we've used up all our Foreign Service luck in that respect. 

I think I've made my point that I've loved it here. And that's why it's so sad to see that the time has come to close the doors on this experience and move forward.  And why I feel so guilty thinking that time is now my enemy, barely crawling by when I just want to get it over with and go. This is by far the hardest part of a Foreign Service life: the departures. Not the technical pain-in-the-butt stuff like pack-out and writing EERs, but the "it's not goodbye, it's see you later" when you're pretty sure it really is goodbye. 

So I'm just going to leave you with a really snappy song and video about our dusty, ole' city and a few pictures that I hope show this place off. It's not a beautiful city, but the soul of the place and the people here make it as warm as it is hot. Our Consul General, in giving a going away speech for a few of us, said that there are some posts worldwide that are "snakebit," meaning that no matter how lovely the setting - they're just full of bad juju that persists year after year. He didn't know what the opposite of that was to describe this consulate, sunkissed perhaps, but he's right.  Through all the tragedy the city and post have endured, the soul and spirit continues to welcome. I'm proud to have been a little part of it all.

With that...

Ciudad Juarez es Numero Uno! Just try to get this song out of your head afterwards. 


A blanket of lights on both sides of the border

Amazing skies and Juarez's mountains to the west.

Best sunsets!

The Equis (X) at the crossing of countries and cultures

La bandera grande, slowly waving in the sun rays
Thank you for everything my friends. It's time to head north.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Oh the Glamour of Being a Diplomat

There is a cliche complaint in the Foreign Service world, but frequently cliches got their start in some good, old-fashioned truth:

Pack-out sucks.

There, I've said it. 

Yes, this also sounds like a true first-world complaint so if this doesn't garner any sympathy - I can understand that.  My goal in writing this is to offer warning to anyone thinking of joining the Foreign Service and imagining the glamorous life of a diplomat, dashing hither and yon around the world between cocktail parties and Serious Work.

Let me dash that image first and lower your expectations a tad.  Instead, imagine the life of a postal employee who has to reevaluate all their worldly possessions every two years, pack them up and move somewhere else. For this post, I'm going to get into the details of that last bit.

We're less than three weeks from leaving post. In this time frame we're expected to pack-out so that our belongings can clear customs while we're still here in the country, or something like that. Meanwhile we get to live out of the "welcome kit" for our final weeks (provided one has remembered to request it from the warehouse that is).  Some folks don't remember this and are left waving goodbye to the moving crew in a completely empty house. 

What all does pack-out entail? This year, it meant that for three solid days my husband and I have touched every single belonging of ours and had to designate each item one of to the following categories:

  1. Will never use again = give away to charity, friends, housekeeper, co-workers
  2. May use again, but not at the next post, maybe because of space restrictions in new housing, electricity changes in new country or wrong climate = long term storage
  3. Will use again, but not in the near future (ie holiday decorations, wrong-season clothing, camping gear etc...) = Household Effects aka HHE to arrive approx 3 months after arrival at next post
  4. Will need to use within one month/shortly after arriving at training or at new post = Unaccompanied Air Baggage aka UAB, still takes about a month to arrive even though the "A" in the name seems to infer AIR travel to the destination
  5. Must use on a regular basis = stuff into luggage/car and hide from movers so they don't pack it into long-term storage by tragic accident
Each category now has to be moved into a separate physical space in our house so as not to get mixed up with the other categories.  The Tabbies and category five will be hiding in our bedroom while the swarm of bees moving crew goes about their work wrapping and boxing everything up tomorrow.  We've packed-out five times in fewer than four years now and so far have had only one broken tea tray (we glued it back together) and one plastic frame (we got a new one). Not a bad record, the credit going completely to the various moving crews who have done all the heavy lifting (pun intended). 

The Foreign Service hiring process should include evaluation on the elements of the pack-out process, which draw more on logistics and planning skills than anything else. It is not for the faint of heart, the pack-rat nor the procrastinators among us. Having pets or children only complicates matters, as it requires imagining exactly what arriving at wherever will look like, and what will be needed vs. what will be available. This year, we're heading to home leave first, so we need to plan for litter boxes, cat food bowls, climate-correct clothing, books, and other things to keep us occupied for one month.  And all that must fit into our car.

Arriving for training at the Foreign Service Institute, we have to have a supply of business-casual clothing for the Northern Virginia climate, plus paperwork and files for travel/ transfer orders and vouchers, Department ID badges that we haven't used in two years, and any language materials we may have picked up along the way. 

Arriving at post, we need fancy meet-the-Ambassador clothes, appropriate work clothes which will completely depend on your post and assignment and climate, extra photos for the obligatory country ID cards, PLUS the same lengthy list and quantity of survival equipment for pets and family members who will now be stuck alone in new house or apartment while we head off to work.  

ALL this needs to be completely planned in the few days before pack-out!

Now do you see why I'm complaining?  

In 24 hours the brunt of it all will be over for us and we will be enjoying the comforts of our scraped-bare home and the contents of the welcome kit.  The thoughtfully provided sugar bowl and creamer set will complement the cup of tea I will boil up in the single cooking pot. We can dish out fruit cocktail or sorbet from the small carved glass bowls offered for such occasions, but then we'll retire to bed under the single, fleece throw blanket and coverlet offered to warm us in our over-the-garage bedroom (ie no insulation) in January's sub-freezing temps. Ahh... I shouldn't fuss, the welcome kit did provide us with four of each plate, bowl and piece of silverware, cleaning tools, an ironing board and iron, and very thoughtfully, a TV and an ashtray for late nights of stress relief after the whole ordeal. 

To illustrate my little rant, I offer the following glimpses into our real-life example:

No, No! Not another pack-out and move! Wake me when it's all over.

Advice: Separate all items into UAB, HHE, Storage and Luggage.
This was our living room, now is our UAB room. Can you judge what 450 lbs looks like?

Just leave us a bit of space, please. It's a simple request.

For HHE. And why do we have so many pillows?

Last year's welcome kit sheets were turquoise zebra print. This year we're more muted with beige stripes, gray blanket and chocolate and strawberry pillow cases. Any guesses whose side of the bed is whose?