Reinvention, Part Two: Unpacking

When I last posted, I was using a borrowed cot to sleep on and a deck chair for sitting, counting the days until the shipping container arrived and I could have my own furniture and household goods again. I also quickly burned through my phone’s hot spot internet allotment, so…no blog posting. (DSL was connected a few days ago.) Time on our hands, the boys and I became better acquainted with the new house and yard as well as the local neighborhood.

The house is quirky, but that suits me. The original house was built in 1957, so it’s the same vintage as I am, meaning I can relate to and forgive some wear and tear. In 2014 the previous owners slapped an addition onto one side of the old “cottage,” keeping an old doorway to allow access between the two sides. Each side has a separate unfinished basement below it. The furnace, hot water heater and a water pressure tank for the water system, as well as the oil tank fueling the furnace and water heater, are all under the cottage. The new section of house has only a wood-burning stove for heat, something I plan to rectify as soon as possible, probably with a heat pump because there are no ducts to bring air from the furnace on the other side.

I was prepared for water seepage in the basement under the cottage, as that was disclosed in the inspection. But what hit me upon entering my new home through the collage front door was the smell: the unmistakable smell of dampness in old wood. Not quite the smell of mildew, but close, and distinctive.

That smell, coupled with what I saw upon entering the original kitchen/eating area caused an instant and pleasant flashback to my early childhood. When I was four or so, my parents purchased a small lakeside cabin that had been built in the ‘30s or ‘40s. The cottage looks exactly as I remember that old cabin! Right down to the wood cabinets and handles, the kitchen sink and counter, the tiny bedrooms with narrow doorways, and the old bathroom sink with mirror, cabinet and lights. Growing up, my family spent several summers there before finally replacing the cabin with a new, year-round home that we moved into when I was in third grade.

In a most strange and unexpected way, the appearance and smell of the cottage was like going home again. Being home. An unexpected welcome.

This space now contains my washer and drier, and will essentially be a large laundry + mud room, the entrance the boys and I will use most of the time.


When the boys and I weren’t exploring our yard or neighborhood, I was cleaning, preparing for the arrival of my stuff.

Of course, the shipping container would have to be unloaded once it did arrive. I needed help.

A long-time friend back in Washington (we grew up next door to each other), who is also a friend on Facebook was following my moving progress. After reading a post about friends helping me load all my stuff into the shipping container at my Idaho home, Brian sent me a message, wondering who would help me unload in Vermont. I admitted I hadn’t nailed down that detail yet, that I would worry about it after arriving in Vermont. The shipping container would take an extra two weeks to get there, so in my mind, that detail could wait, thinking I’d hire some local people through a town Facebook page.

Brian, who happens to be Mormon, noted that Mormons often help people move and he was sure some Mormons near my new home would be willing to help me unload my stuff. He assured me that they wouldn’t try to convert me. Next thing I know, Brian has called the Mormon bishop for the part of Vermont I’m moving to, chatted me up to him, and while I’m on the road (in Madison, WI I think), I return a call from a man, Allyn, who lives in the neighboring town to my Vermont destination and is part of the bishop’s church. We chat, and after I explain the logistics of the arrival of my stuff, agree that I will get back in touch once I know when the container will show up at my new home. “We can definitely help you unload. I just need a few days’ notice to get people together,” Allyn said.

Well, that was easy!

The shipping container arrived pretty much on schedule, on Thursday, July 22nd. I contacted Allyn and he arranged for a moving crew to arrive at my home on the following Saturday morning. The crew consisted of the local bishop (also the area eye doctor, it turns out, and much younger than I was expecting) with his wife and three kids; a man of about thirty; and Allyn, who I’m guessing is 60-ish. Earlier, in trying to give Allyn an idea how long it might take to unload the container, I said it took just under two hours for my friends in Idaho to load it. I wanted to assure him it wouldn’t be an all-day job. Allyn shared this information with the rest of the unloading crew in advance, and they took it as a challenge to be faster. They succeeded!

Everyone I met that morning was kind, upbeat, and welcoming and so helpful, including the three children – two teenage boys and a girl of about eleven. The bishop’s family are all runners, which was a cool thing to have in common (I was wearing an old race t-shirt). In all, it was a fun and pleasant experience, confirming my good feeling about where I’ve landed.

Sadly, the crew were also the bearers of some bad news. “I’m afraid your desk didn’t survive the move,” one of them said from inside the container. What?? My matching desk and credenza – pieces I purchased as a young lawyer in the mid-1980s to furnish my first solo office and have loved and used ever since, making my home office(s) functional and comfortable – were loaded early, with boxes piled on top of them. It seems the sides of the desk couldn’t tolerate the load over 3000-plus miles of transport.

Here’s what I now know about a long-distance move: there’s much shifting and movement that occurs in the contents of a shipping container as it travels over many miles. Bumps in the road. Starts and stops. Sharp curves. As I unpacked and set my furniture in place, it became apparent that virtually NOTHING escaped the move unscathed. Everything that wasn’t boxed had some sign of abrasion (wood surfaces, fabric-covered furniture), despite the liberal use of packing blankets. Because I carefully packed breakable dishes and pictures inside boxes, they arrived mostly intact, although two small pictures had broken glass. But whenever two items rested against or very near each other, abrasion occurred. It would have required bubble-wrapping every item individually to avoid the damage.

The pieces of my desk were unloaded onto my dirt driveway, looking sad and forlorn. It didn’t help that it rained the next day. I didn’t have the energy to cry, even as I remembered how Conall would always curl up underneath the desk each morning as sat there to eat my post-run meal (toasted bagel with ham) while reading online news, Finn to my right, both waiting for their “last bite” piece of ham after I finished my sandwich. So many memories tied to that desk. Before Conall, it was Finn who claimed that spot under the desk, and before him, Maia.

It is now abundantly clear to me why moving companies who pack for you and transport your stuff in vans with better road cushioning charge twice as much as the do-it-yourself company I used. They make sure those abrasions don’t occur. If my furnishings had been relatively new or of high value, I’d be very upset. But most of my furniture is old, some of it second hand/thrift store finds, so I quickly told myself that this is a first world problem and to get over it. The money I saved not going with high-end movers (like, $7,000 saved) could easily replace the things that were damaged, but honestly, I’ll adjust. It’s just stuff.

Luckily, I did pack a cheap backup desk I bought years ago from a box store and put together myself. It has several abrasions on it now, but again – it was cheap and is replaceable. I didn’t use it in Idaho and was tempted to sell or donate it before moving, but thought I might have a use for it in Vermont. I was right. It’s not as comfortable as my old desk, especially for writing, so I’ll be on the lookout for a replacement at estate sales, but at least I’m not in a hurry.

After the container was emptied, the moving crew left and I was confronted with a house full of boxes and furniture that was placed in appropriate rooms but would need rearranging as I decided where, exactly, I wanted things.

The next couple of days were spent placing furniture and opening boxes, always holding my breath and hoping to find the contents unbroken before placing things in appropriate drawers or cupboards. Hours flew by as I worked, barely stopping except to take the boys for walks. That accomplished, I started hanging pictures and textiles on walls. I’m sure I’ll rearrange some eventually. It’s strange, trying to make decorations that fit one home fit in a new home with very different spaces. Mostly, I just wanted things of the floors and onto the walls.

I did have some unpacking surprises. Upon opening one large box, flour billowed out, covering my hands and spilling onto the floor. The box’s contents were also covered – my rice cooker, some vases and other miscellaneous kitchen items I’d packed together, thinking the barely-used bags of flour would be good cushioning along with some towels. Wrong! I had to carefully remove and wash each item, leaving the busted flour bags in the box rather than breaking down the cardboard for recycling. The box became a garbage can for non-recyclable packing materials.

I learned that it’s not worth packing soap for such a long journey. You know those hand soap dispensers with a small pump on the top? I screwed the pump to the “off” position on two, then wrapped each in plastic before packing into a box with other bathroom items. What arrived in Vermont was plastic covered in soap, lots of soap, the dispensers nearly empty. Useless.

Here’s another weird thing I can’t explain: my queen bed mattress and box springs seem unscathed from the move. No punctures, anyway. But now, whenever I shift position or roll over in bed, there’s a crinkling sound emanating from the mattress that wasn’t there before, as if the internal stuffing (or whatever’s in there) has somehow crystallized or solidified in some way. So strange. The mattress is still comfortable and firm, and I’m sleeping fine, but the new sound is taking some getting used to.

The boys think my bed is just fine, not too noisy at all.

Unloading the container, pushing or dragging heavy furniture around, lifting heavy boxes for opening and unpacking, re-moving the living room furniture after an area rug I ordered arrived…all was too much for my spine. I knew as I was doing these things that I would likely spring a new and significant CSF leak, but it couldn’t be helped.

The living room that keeps getting rearranged, new rug still a bit rumpled.
Notice how the window on the left looks into the cottage living room/my new home office? Quirky. And the wolf-motif blanket? It hides a hole punched through the fabric below the left armrest of that chair.

A few days later I paid the expected price of a CSF leak: significant headaches, louder-than-usual tinnitus, a stiff neck and tight back, excessive sleeping (up to 14 hours a day for several days in a row), and low motivation for roughly two weeks. I was glad I took advantage of the few days before symptoms started to get all that unpacking and arranging done.

I’m better now, the leak slowly repairing itself as they always do.

The timing of that down spell when I was sleeping so much was good, though. Turns out my car decided that driving 3,000 miles from Idaho to Vermont was asking a lot, almost too much. Not long after arriving in our new home, the transmission started complaining. Loudly, and noticeably. I worried about it giving out completely, so after learning I couldn’t get it repaired until the week of August 9th, I drove only once a week, for groceries. Since I wasn’t leaving home, sleeping as many hours as my body needed to repair the leak was easy. My car is now repaired and I’m looking forward to exploring a little more of Vermont.

There are still things about the house that need addressing, things I knew going in even though I never saw the house in person before buying it. First and foremost is a dog fence for the yard. I found a contractor and they sent out someone to view the yard for an estimate, but that was two weeks ago and…nothing, even ignoring an email inquiry as to when I can expect a quote. So frustrating. A heating system guy is scheduled to visit tomorrow to assess heating options (beyond the wood-burning stove) for the newer part of the house. And I’m still looking for a “handyman” person who can tackle small jobs, like replacing a couple of missing roof shingles before it snows.

It’s odd. For once I have the money to spend (thanks to the sale of my Idaho house), but no one available to earn it. All in good time, I guess. I’m practicing patience, while reminding myself that this inability to find reliable contractors isn’t any different than what I experienced in Idaho.

Without a reliable vehicle until just days ago, the boys and I explored our neighborhood on foot. On one of our early walks along the road we live on, a neighbor drove by. He stopped and asked if I was the “new neighbor from California.” I smiled and said, “Well, I’m your new neighbor, but I came here from Idaho.” He introduced himself as Andy, and asked about my dogs. He then said that an AKC Retrieving Trial would be going on in the fields across from my house in a couple weekends, with lots of booms to simulate shotgun fire. He quickly added that some of the other neighbors were coming over for dinner that evening and invited me to join them. I readily agreed, especially because I needed to learn more about the “booms” Andy seemed to think were no big deal. He obviously didn’t know about Conall’s fearful reaction to gunshots, one of the bigger reasons we left Idaho.

I’m so glad I was invited, and that I went to that dinner. Not only did I meet some nice, dog-loving people, but I was granted access by Andy and his wife Wendy to their land, over 300 acres of open fields and wooded areas to take my dogs, most anytime I wanted, so long as I didn’t interfere with their own training of their black-coated retrievers. In December they depart for another state and invited me to ski and snowshoe there anytime I want.

One of the sculpted ponds the boys and I now get to visit regularly, complete with fake ducks for training retrieving dogs.

All of the couples at this dinner, including the one living directly across the road from me, have flat-coated retrievers and enjoy putting them in trials and shows.

And, as it turns out, the husband of that couple – Bill – is a former family court commissioner who knows all about the guardian ad litem work I’ve always done and hope to continue doing in Vermont. We agreed to get together to discuss that soon.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only was I granted access to an amazing off-leash play area for me and the boys by one set of neighbors, just steps from my door, but another neighbor could be the key to me getting occasional GAL work in Vermont.

A couple days after the dinner, Andy was buzzing up and down the road in his car with one of his dogs (they currently have five), preparing for the AKC trial he’d warned me about. He saw me walking the boys, stopped again, and asked if I wanted a walking tour of the land so I’d know where to take the boys. “Yes, of course!” I replied. I quickly put Finn in the house (he’s no longer good with strange dogs), then Conall and I met Andy and his dog Flyer at an entrance to the field. The two dogs quickly got acquainted and were instant friends. I got a tour of some of the “trails” Andy has created on his acreage. I’m sure I was grinning ear-to-ear the entire time. Conall sure was, playing with Flyer.

The weekend of the AKC trial, I hiked out to watch how its done. Interesting. That may be fodder for a later post.

Since the trial’s conclusion, the boys and I have been playing in the the field almost every morning. I’m so grateful.

I keep pinching myself, thinking I must be dreaming because things are almost too good to believe. I took a leap of faith in moving here, sight unseen, and so far, Vermont is far exceeding my hopes and expectations. All the other stuff (damaged furniture, dying car transmission, lack of fence for the yard) is just background noise; like my tinnitus, I can mostly ignore it, making adjustments while focusing on all the good things around me.

Post script: As I typed that last sentence, I received a text from Wendy: “The blueberries are going crazy. Come and pick if you wish…”

I really can’t believe my luck!

Next up: Reinvention, Part Three: Differences.

Featured image: the view of my white house from across the road, in the field, taken August 15, 2021 at the end of a morning walk with the boys. Nestled in all the greenery, I can imagine it being a cottage in Ireland…

22 thoughts on “Reinvention, Part Two: Unpacking”

  1. What a great post Rebecca. Love your attitude! Yes the dings and scrapes are insignificant when compared to the warm neighbourly welcome, potential work, and private trails for the boys. And wild blueberries too? Wow! Vermont was a great choice! Happy settling in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I had no idea moving was so hard on furniture (and your car). It sound like you’ve dropped into a great location, and the photo at the top of your post reminds me how beautiful Vermont is. I’ll be seeing it in person in two weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is beautiful here. I now understand why tourists and travel writers gush about Vermont. And I’ve yet to see most of the state.

      I assume you’re bringing Sophie back to Burlington for her second year of college? Enjoy your trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done Becky. All the trials and tribulations and then wonderful people, property and a place to grow roots. We are replacing two sides of our fence (third side the back neighbors did a few years ago. You know Beth. Three quotes with two coming in about the same (lumber is twice as expensive right now) and the third about 3,000 more than the other two (why?) We decided to go with the first company but needed one other section measured that wasn’t included earlier. Beth sent email. Crickets and more crickets. No reply and we too were ready to purchase. So we went with fence #2. They responded immediately, got set up and will commence in a couple of weeks. Have money will spend if the company will respond (also weird…lazy?). The place looks good and I’m very impressed with the huge area across the way with the pond. It makes me happy that the folks you met are all Retriever fans. Retrievers are such NICE dogs for the most part. Sweet dispositions. Hooray. The house looks great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Shelle! Still struggling with getting a fence, but will find a way because the boys and I are all tired of them not having the freedom of a safe yard. Contractors aren’t known for their communication skills, and I’m probably too patient, hoping to hear back. I’m learning to be quicker to move on to someone/a company who can put actions to words.

      Yes, love retrievers! So far, all the neighbors’ flat-coated retrievers that Conall has met have been wonderful. Those that aren’t so friendly, they keep home. Nice being around dog people who understand dogs well enough to avoid negative interactions.


  4. Wonderful news! That’s a shame about the desk and other furniture. It’s as if Fate said, “OK, you wanna start over? It’s gonna cost you.” But the positives you mention are more important. Regarding the dog fence and other work, any contractor will tell you it’s hard to line something up in the summer. A few years ago we needed some slates replaced on our house and barn. In the spring we contacted a local company with a good reputation. They said they’d “fit us in sometime” because we weren’t a big job. In October we finally gave up and called another contractor, who came right away and charged twice as much. We probably should have waited a little longer. When it comes to contractors, communication is usually not their strong suit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fate will have her way! Your mention of fate reminded me of Ernest K Gann’s memoir Fate is the Hunter. I met him when I was about 13 years of age; my father knew him through Washington state aviation circles, and one day our family flew up to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where Ernie and his wife had a home and studio (and lots of acreage, as I recall). I remember seeing several of his paintings in his studio; at that point in time he was more focused on painting than writing. I had no idea how famous he was. Oh, to go back in time and do it over!

      As for contractors, yes, I’m relearning how poorly many of them communicate, despite all my efforts to make it easy and conflict-free. Oh well. Just another challenge to meet. I’m also learning to cut my losses quickly and move on to someone who will show up, even if they cost more. Their time is valuable, but so is mine!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How neat that you met Ernest Gann, even if you didn’t know who he was! We do so many things when we’re young that we wish we could do over with the benefit of hindsight. They’re usually things we’re embarrassed by or ashamed of, but the rest tend to fall into the category of “missed opportunities.” 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad to hear most of your moving in experience is going well, Becky. You were so lucky to have helpers on both ends of your move! It looks like such a cozy place to live. Your dogs must have been happy to have some familiar things back to make your house a home. That’s great that you have dog-loving neighbors who are willing to share their property with you. Hope your good luck continues as you settle into your new nest.

    Liked by 1 person

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