Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Decisions About What To Take

A few years ago, an Air Canada check-in agent asked me (out of pure curiosity) just what kinds of things were in my suitcases. He wanted to know what were the important, just-cannot-live without-them kinds of things that would prompt someone to pay $200 in extra baggage charges. On that particular trip, I had......
  • a Costco size box of Milk Bones
  • 24 velvet coated clothes hangers
  • 4 bottles of green pickle relish
  • 3 squeeze bottles of Miracle Whip
  • 2 boxes of L'Oreal Excellence Cream hair color
  • a large roll of heavy duty Reynolds Foil Wrap (also from Costco)
  • Ziploc freezer bags in 2 sizes
  • 2 extra large bottles of Tums and Zantac (L.S.' favorite snack)
  • 4 tubes of Crest toothpaste
  • 8 trade paperback novels
  • 6 boxes of Kraft dinner
  • 244 Red Rose teabags
  • 3 Black and 1 of each color of Canon #6 printer ink
  • 6 Packs of Swiss Chalet Gravy Mix
  • 1 Costco pack of Shake & Bake
  • 2 Costco size boxes of Quaker Granola Bars
I probably forgot a few things....then...and now. In preparing for the move to Stavanger, I had a good idea of what wasn't going to be available because we recently spent 2 years in Denmark (and all Scandinavian countries are the same, right?). I knew I would need Miracle Whip and green pickle relish. The dog died 2 years ago, so I don't need the Milk Bones. I've learned to like Colgate toothpaste, I now have an e-reader, Ikea sells good quality ziploc bags, and I can get the L'Oreal here if I am willing to pay $36 bucks for it. Since the price of extra baggage has skyrocketed lately, I was determined to be more discerning with my choices. I also told myself, I'll come back in May and reload.
In our family, packing is my job. Me, and me alone, is responsible for what comes and goes, and how it gets there....mostly because nobody does it better, and I haven't been shy about gently letting John know his attempts at it are monumental disasters.
For this move, the heavy lifting was already done. A moving company had come to our apartment in Baku, packed everything up and took it off for storage until we knew where we were heading. Right now that's where everything still is....sitting in Baku. We've told them it's to be shipped to Stavanger, but now it's waiting for John's former employer to cough up the money to pay for it. Until he does that, nothing's going anywhere. Can I interject that I have a bad feeling about this....and have since the day it was crated up and carried off? I asked John at the time if there was any chance we could become permanently parted from our stuff, and he assured me everything would be fine. I trusted him, but I hope I'm not sorry I didn't pull from the shipment those things I really didn't want to lose. The shipping cost from Baku to Stavanger including the packing, storage, and local delivery charges comes to $14,000! John is going to choke on that bill if he has to eat it...and I'll probably never let him live it down.
But, for now, back to the packing at hand. Our main base of operations has been the in-laws' house. We've been bunking in John's baby sister's old room for the past few months. She ran off and got married at 45, so that freed up some space. It's pretty tight space considering she didn't take all of her junk when she left (by God! I could teach her about packing!) and we traded out her twin bed for a queen; so we kind of squeeze in and around as best we can. It's not the ideal room to work in when you have a colossal number of bags to pack, but I've done it so many times now, I can manage to side-step past the end of the bed to get from one end of the room to the other without stubbing any toes.
I have 6 suitcases to fill. We brought 5 with us, but I was in Orlando alone for 2 weeks; I went shopping. Some things are going to have to be put in storage at the daughter-princess's apartment. I checked the average monthly temperatures for Stavanger and discovered the average high for July and August is only 19 degrees Celsius. There didn't seem to be a need for summer clothes and a dozen pairs of flip flops. All of the winter clothes we had in previous years ended up being packed by the movers, and are warming their cartons in a Baku warehouse. We had to buy all new stuff, including boots, in order to survive the cold Canadian winter we hadn't expected to experience when we first arrived in Canada. Those things had to come, along with a few summer case the opportunity (or necessity) arose to escape the dreary, rainy winter weather in in go somewhere sunny. I got most of the clothes in, abandoning one fall jacket, 3 pair of shoes....and accidentally forgetting John's suit, and all of his sport coats. Something I just realized the other really should take responsibility for his things! I wonder how long until he realizes they're missing.
In the process of packing, I discovered that I had actually brought the Apple TV with us. That was a relief. I really thought I had left it with our shipment. This will get me through some long days faced with foreign language television. I didn't buy any food this time...choosing to live on the culinary wild side, and get used to mayo over Miracle Whip (it's a Canadian thing). I really wanted to get my extra winter coat in there, so I made the sacrifice. There will be no Miracle Whip in Norway....
As usual all of the bags were stuffed to airline capacity. Being a pro, I can usually get within half a pound without going overweight. I asked John to book us a minivan cab for the trip to the airport. What have got with me this time??
  • the last 3 seasons of Breaking Bad on DVD
  • 2 Paderno saucepans with lids
  • 2 extra large bottles of Tums and Zantac
  • 1 box of L'Oreal Excellence hair color (because I'll pay $36 once but not twice)
I did not pack the giant sized Toblerone chocolate bar I got for Christmas, though; thinking who carries chocolate to Europe? I regret that decision now.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Decision To Move To Norway

Just before Thanksgiving, John and I were en route to Florida in the little grey Saturn, when a call came from a head hunter about a job in Kurdistan. I think we were somewhere along I-81 in northern Virginia. A few minutes into the call, it dawned on us that the job this headhunter was pitching was one John had already been offered and turned down for the not-so-spiffy compensation package, and lack of warm fuzzy feelings about the company.
So, I'm driving and John is taking his hits me that I had seen a job posted for Norway on this particular headhunter's website the day before. I start wildly gesticulating and whispering 'ask him about the Project Manager's job in Stavanger!!!' John gives me his best combination of 'What are you talking about?' and 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' looks. I can tell he is getting annoyed, but I persist....he finally inquires...and long story short; here we are in Stavanger.
For John it meant his Florida holiday was cut short by 2 weeks. But it was hard to feel too sorry for him since he'd been pretty much on vacation since June. I was just about to ask him if he was retiring since he hadn't exactly been out there trying to land a new contract since we had left Azerbaijan 6 months before. I didn't think we were quite ready for that off he went, with a suitcase full of new winter clothes we bought at Macy's black Friday sale. I stayed behind in Orlando, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. He flew to Norway to check out the company, the position, and the fine print. I expected nightly reports about the weather, the restaurants, and the grocery stores.
It all checked out and the best part was a job he could get really excited about. The company was small, but not brand new. They wanted him to oversee the roll out of a new product; to take it through testing phases and into the market. I think the idea gave him goosebumps (the good kind)....the kicker being that the market they wanted to explore first was North America, and we would be expected to move to Houston in 6 to 12 months. Perfect! We have been anxious to get closer to home for a while, become a little more settled...maybe even buy a house....close to a Kroger....close to Rotel tomatoes. It's the little things you miss the most sometimes.
While John was away, a wrinkle in the plans turned up in the form of a job offer with a big company in Singapore. I had high hopes for continued time in nice hot weather (excessive humidity notwithstanding). I could picture myself planted in an air conditioned high-rise where I could still afford a housekeeper. John, however, couldn't deny his affection for the Norwegian job, so he decided to let the Singapore one go. Sigh....Hope he's not sorry when he sees his first paycheck and most of it is missing.
I'd say the biggest negatives about coming to Norway are the high taxes and the high cost of living (gas costs more than $10 per gallon). The company has given us a housing budget. We might be able to find something we like within it, but from checking out rental prices online, it seems like it might be a bit light, and we'll have to kick in some money of our own. It's not exactly free housing either, the value of the rent is added to income each month (as is the company car), so you have to pay income tax on it. This is the same in most countries, but it's something it took me a while to remember when I was trying to figure out how much money we would net each month.
On the positive side, there were plenty of reasons to come here. Most people speak English which makes life so much easier. You can actually rinse your fruit and vegetables with safe-to-drink tap water. The scenery is very nice, and there is a terrific public transportation system. Buses are clean, frequent, and go everywhere; live close to the commuter rail and you've got it knocked. There is a reliable public healthcare system so you don't have to leave the country to get your annual check-up or see a doctor, for that matter. There probably isn't much in the way of government corruption. Where we lived last, in Azerbaijan, people spoke either Russian or Azeri; you get by with a few words and some hand signals. In Azerbaijan, it was best if the tap water didn't come in contact with your food; buses weren't recommended for expats, drivers were; and no thanks on the doctors....come to think of it I was never healthier than when we lived there. It was nice that you really didn't need a prescription for anything at the pharmacy, you could just go in and buy what you need...not so nice that you had to try and communicate your needs with your hands.
Another plus was that Norway would be an easy sell to our families back home. My mother becomes an expert on every single place I tell her we are considering for a move. She used to comb through her stacks of National Geographics looking for relevant articles and photos, but now she has Google, and she knows how to use it. I get her feedback much earlier in the decision process than I once did. John's parents are limited in their computer abilities, but they know a lot of people who all have heard one thing or another, and have formed opinions (right or wrong) about each and every place in the whole wide world. 
John reported back that it rained most of the time; the stores are closed on Sundays; and that the restaurant food (while priced in the stratosphere) was at least better than what you got in Denmark for the same amount of money. Moreover, he loved the company and the people at the new office. The fix was in. He'd be back in Orlando in time for us to drive up to Canada for Christmas. We''d stay long enough to celebrate the New Year and #1 son's 30th birthday, then off we'd go. The date was set and the tickets were bought....January 19th we'd be flying to Norway.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Skills Assessment

Every time a new class begins, the instructors always wants to find out what we already know how to do....hence the "Skills Assessment" is usually the first assignment. And every time I see that first assignment, I swallow hard and think "why don't you just teach me something first" maybe a little refresher? Anyway, that never happens and I'm left to muddle through on my own. One good thing, though, I've realized that it doesn't take me as long to get up to speed as it once did. Must be actually assimilating some of this stuff, after all.

For this one we were supposed to create a 4 page brochure about anything we chose. We had to use Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign....packaging the document for print with InDesign. He gave us a list of things he wanted us to do, but beyond that free reign (which to me is check all the things off the list and pass it in). Thank heaven for and her online tutorials, the best refresher course ever. I think it was over 2 years ago that I last used InDesign!

Well, here is Project 1 all packaged and ready for the printer.

Onward and upward....Project interactive travel brochure for the web and the iPad. It looks like this will be the last print document for this class. I'm really excited about being able to design and produce web pages with more coding (at least for some things). Not sure how they are getting around the "Flash" thing for iPads, though....this InDesign for the web thing seems to be based on just that.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Why I Don't Blog Very Often....

Well, this week got me back in the saddle again.....two classes on the go now. One design one, and one filler...."Exploring World Religions". I guess the college doesn't consider the Humanities requirement 'filler' but being as I'm as well rounded as I ever expect to become, it's filler. The first project we had in Digital Publishing was to prepared a 4 page brochure on anything of our choice, as a skills demo. I think I am FINALLY getting to the point with all of this that I can take months away from my Adobe programs and yet come back to them with relative ease. Used to be, I felt like I was having to relearn everything each time I started another class. Thank goodness! I was beginning to think I was hopeless.

Our next project in this class is to design a web travel brochure for any place we choose. I'm looking forward to this one and have begun to compile some images of my own and some from the web to round them out. Next I'll do an outline of what I want the content to be, and follow that up with some thumbnails. Feels good to be designing again!

John is at the office preparing bonus packets for the guys. He hasn't been paid yet this month....which is not unusual. He gets paid when his boss remembers to do it, and if the end of the month comes and no money has shown up, John feels it's okay to ask about it. Small companies, eh? There is this job I found online that would be perfect for's back in Dubai. But he does like this one....a lot. Hmmm......

No pressure or nuthin'

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter Vacations Can Be Fun, Too....

December wouldn't seem right somehow without Christmas or a little jaunt into the States for some shopping and Christmas concerts. Most years lately it's been just shopping and no concerts but this year I got lucky again and managed to make it to Clay Aiken's shows in Stamford, CT and Shippensburg, PA. Mom and Lorraine we along for the adventure, and Lorraine even managed to get a little facetime from the best seats she ever had....but sadly no video of the occasion has surfaced as of yet....which is totally weird. There's got to be some out there somewhere....just have to dig harder for it I guess.

I took some photos at the concerts with my outdated equipment (compared to what everyone is shooting with now....I'm about 10 mega pixels and 20X zoom behind) and after fumbling around in the dark with settings because I couldn't remember where the buttons and controls were by touch anymore.....I got some not too bad ones. Though, I didn't take nearly as many as I would normally do. I just kinda wanted to sit back and enjoy it. There was an open camera policy this time around and cameras were plentiful....there would be lots of pics without me squinting all night and adding to my crow's feet.

From Stamford...

From Shippensburg....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Here We Go Again...

The winter semester (though, I think the college calls this the spring semester) started this week and, as usual, I'm just dragging my butt getting back into doing school work again. The winter break is so long! And per usual, I was going to spend all my free time after I got back home brushing up on the software I'm going to have to use....that I haven't touched in many moons. This time it's Advanced Digital Publishing, and we'll be using several Adobe products....but concentrating on InDesign as a way to publish directly to the web and to iPads. According to the syllabus, the final project is going to be writing and publishing an app for the iPad.....YIKES!

I enrolled in this class last semester, but had to drop it because I didn't want to overtax my little old self by doing two classes and an international move at the same time. Unfortunately, the whole syllabus has been changed, and instead of working on advanced design for print materials.....I'm being dragged into the 21st century where I'm expected to learn how to ePublish. Yep! Who'd a thunk it? I suppose that's a hazard of doing a tech-type degree over a period of years; or perhaps it's a good thing. At least, I'm avoiding obsolescence. Some of the stuff I learned back at the beginning of this no longer applies. You can do websites without coding now! I've already taken two courses in Flash, and Flash is really and truly on the way out....and there is one more Flash course on my degree plan. I think I'll just hold off on that one as long as possible and hope that the college changes the curriculum for that course, too.

So, here I am....first project due on Sunday and I'm messing around with rewrapping my brain and trying to get those creative juices flowing again. You'd think finally having a mac to work on would be inspiration enough! For three days, I was procrastinating, but today I made myself sit here, and at least get started on the busy work of selecting images, and sketching out some ideas.

On a more exciting note, we got to Paul's last night for some absolutely remarkable steaks. The place was packed and it was Wednesday night! I guess good food will always draw a crowd, especially hungry male expat carnivores. Tonight, it's up to me but there's no way I can beat what we ate last just open a couple cans of beans, and settle in to watch American Idol until John has all he can take of Mariah and Nikki, and makes me turn it off.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Tearing myself away from James Patterson for a while....

John went off to work and it's Sunday, but the oil patch has no respect for Sundays. I think I'll start a Project Runway marathon (Season 8). I bought those DVDs for just such an occasion. Season 7 was supposed to be for daily-girl-alone-time but John accidentally caught one episode and was hooked. The rest of that season ended up being last week's prime time fare, and I spent my afternoons with my good friend J.P.

We tried to get reservations for Paul's last night but there wasn't anything available. The expats must all be back in town after the holiday break, so I'm going to make a note in the "Notes" section of this fancy new fangled machine to call them mid-week to get us a spot. So much for the mouth-watering steak I'd envisioned since Thursday....instead we had barely passable food at the Hong Kong restaurant at the top of the street. For some reason, quite a few people who obviously don't have a clue what decent food is were there, too. Maybe, they were there because the management and staff let any children you might happen to bring with you run around like they are in a McDonald's playroom instead of a grown-up  kind of restaurant. The last count I took, there were about 8 little lovelies chasing each other and climbing over the banquettes with not one parent even giving them a second glance. They weren't all locals folks from Norway? I'm looking at you, too. Your kids are horrible little pains in the ass.....

Maybe, I'm a bit grumpy about losing my Sunday to work, and the best thing for me to do today is go back to my serial killer novel and enjoy....