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Quel disaster.

Quel disaster.

48 hours. A little less, actually, before we leave the U.S. and get into the big silver sky bus and head back to the other side of the world. I have so much to do in those 48 hours.

In that time, I have a short visit to our “neighborhood grandma” in NOVA, a stop by a friend’s to meet her new dog, Watson, late morning breakfast with DiploDad’s aunt and uncle, an early afternoon visit with a good friend and her two kids (friends of DB2’s), and a very early coffee date with a fellow CLS alum who just had a baby. Oh wait – there’s also dinner with as many of the Accra People as can make it too. How on earth could I forget that? You probably won’t believe it, but I wish that I could fit in even more visits. I feel like I really only saw one-fourth of the people I wanted to. “Next time,” I keep telling myself.

In addition to the visiting, I have to prepare my suitcases. No, not ours, MINE. I am the Boss of the Suitcases and I determine whether or not you get it into the suitcase or it gets mailed in a box to arrive whenever the Pouch Fairies say it does. It’s a bit more stressful on the way back home than on the way to the U.S. Whereas I had literally WEEKS to adjust and pack stuff to bring to the U.S., I will have about a couple of hours to finalize it for the trip back. In true control-freak, FS planner mode, I did a little bit of pre-packing earlier this week at DiploGram and DiploGramp’s house. Two suitcases have been packed to the very edge, weighing in at 49.5 and 49.6 pounds respectively. DiploDad is gonna make me take out another pound each, you just wait and see. He’s nervous like that; I just figure I can give the DBs a secret signal for them to melt down and the check-in guy will take pity on me and fudge it. It could happen. Maybe. It’s more likely that congress will revoke the Fly America Act during the next congressional session or United will permit two bags on the 15-hour flight to India, but whatever.

A big part of what is in the suitcases is stuff I’m muling back. “Muling” is the verb I use, and I’d like to think I coined it. (Maybe I did.) There are drug mules, and then there are FS spouse mules. Stuff we can’t get in our duty stations because it’s refrigerated, liquid, or contains a lithium battery gets packed in the suitcases. American brown sugar, butter spray, cheese, and lunchmeat are all things that have been muled back on previous trips. Other times I’ve brought back German sausages, fondant, superglue, and spicy mustard. Enough “comfort stuff” to get us through another year of birthdays, holidays, and special occasions, including a bit for random days when we are SO homesick we are actually wishing for things like, say, BBQ-flavored pork rinds.

DiploSis sends me a lot of stuff for the holidays, but even she can’t mail a bottle of Bloomery Sweetshine to this homesick West Virginian. http://bloomerysweetshine.com/ ‘Cause it’s, like, illegal. So into the suitcase it goes.

There is an art to muling. You have to have enough clothing (preferably newly-purchased) to pad all the bottles and jars and cans. The balance must be just right or you’ll go over that 50lb/suitcase restriction and incur costs of about $100/bag. Ouch.

For those new to muling, I offer the following tips:

  1. Mail back everything you possibly can that is powder, fabric, or permitted by the U.S. postal service. Case in point: Yesterday, I mailed about 130 lbs. worth of stuff for the bargain basement price of $81.34.   For those of you who balk at that, I got almost three suitcases of stuff for less than the price of one – the cost to me otherwise would have tipped out at $300. You used to be able to send it “slow boat”, aka, parcel post, but congress put an end to that. Now your only option is First Class/Priority Mail, where it goes asfastasitpossiblycan to Dulles, only to languish there until the Pouch Fairies say it goes into the shipment. It’s still worth it.

    Those LEGO toys the DBs bought with their allowance?  Into the box.  Just tape that shopping back shut and toss it in.

    Those LEGO toys the DBs bought with their allowance? Into the box. Just tape that shopping back shut and toss it in.

  2. Keep liquids that are in boxes such as almond extract, children’s ibuprofen drops, and certain body washes in the original box to protect them. You can put these into Ziploc bags for extra protection. All Ziplocs can be regular, not freezer weight – live a little on the edge, people.
  3. Any piece of clothing that you would just DIE if anything happened to it has to be bagged. Or you’ll be sorry.
  4. For bottles and other fragile glass items, get these things — http://www.thejetbag.com/ (Pssst – they are also available on amazon.com). They work – we had a bottle of wine burst once and to no detriment to any other item in our bags. Plus, they are reusable. They are lined with that stuff they make baby diapers out of. (Now that I’ve told you that, I’m sure someone is going to come back to me whining because they tried to make their own or use diapers instead. Don’t be that person.)
  5. Pack the glass items and “won’t take an impact” items in between clothing.
  6. For items like lunchmeats, sausages, and salmon (I tip my hat to a certain Health Unit Physician’s Assistant who muled back several bags of Kirkland salmon), freeze it and keep it in the freezer until the absolute last minute before you leave for the airport. Then, get yourself a couple of Trader Joe’s insulated bags http://www.amazon.com/Trader-Joes-Extra-Insulated-Shopping/dp/B00BAF0XQ0 (Wow, so you can get THAT on amazon.com too?). First, add a layer of cold items that cannot or should not be frozen if you can possibly help it, like cheese (I am partial to the TJ’s rosemary and olive oil asiago).
    Cheese, glorious cheeeese!

    Cheese, glorious cheeeese!

    Then, put the frozen items on top,

    Frozen stuff - freeze at least 24 hours prior.

    Frozen stuff – freeze at least 24 hours prior.

    and finish with another layer of cold items.

    Adjust as necessary.  Pack in extra bubble wrap or whatever if necessary.

    Adjust as necessary. Pack in extra bubble wrap or whatever if necessary.

    This means that you will have the cold items on the sides and the frozen items as the “core”, which will keep them frozen longer and keep all the contents of your bag cool for your trip. Then, pack it into your suitcase, preferably on the “bottom side” of the bag, so that when you roll it along, it’s at the bottom.

    Like this.  Note where the wheels are. And the ultracool WV T-shirt.

    Like this. Note where the wheels are.

    Check the bag. Yes, you read that correctly. Underneath in the checked luggage compartment, it is COLD. It will keep your items cold. I promise. I arrived in Ghana once after an hours-long delay in NYC and many of my items were still frozen.

There is, of course, one major caveat: If things go sideways and your baggage is lost or delayed, you are in for a disgusting “treat” once your stuff finally shows up. This has yet to happen to me (dammit – did I just curse myself or what?), but if it does, I am planning to throw the entire suitcase out without opening it. So don’t pack your family heirlooms in with your muled items. You should be carrying them on anyway.

Finally, weigh your suitcase. For as little as ten bucks, you can buy your peace of mind in the form of a luggage scales. I won’t recommend a brand, as amazon.com has several of these as do travel specialty stores. In fact, go back and revise the list above. Change #1 to “Buy a travel scales”. You’ll thank me later. If any bag is over 49 lbs., juggle some of the stuff around – move items among suitcases, find another box to mail, buy a bigger carry-on or shove stuff into your kid’s carry-on (they’re not going to use that coloring book anyway). Reweigh, and then either head to the airport or put all the cold stuff back into your fridge until you repack it with exactly the same items as you weighed them with right before you leave for the airport.

After I figure that out, I start on the DBs’ carry-ons. Each carry-on contains a carefully selected assortment of junk and quasi-junk food.

Skip the fresh stuff, unless your kids really, truly will eat it.  Otherwise, the AgriDogs will be on your case.

Skip the fresh stuff, unless your kids really, truly will eat it. Otherwise, the AgriDogs will be on your case.

There have to be enough things like nuts, trail mix, and Slim Jims (or beef/turkey jerky) to keep them from having a horrific sugar crash, but there also need to be fun things like ring pops or jelly beans. I’ve almost figured out what that combination is. If you have, please email me.

Each bag must also contain at least one fully charged personal electronic device, and all parental timing controls must be off, or you will find your 7yo is restricted from finishing watching his Scooby Doo movie three hours into your 15-hour flight. It is also of paramount importance that you personally know how to adjust said parental controls and do not rely on the other parent to do so if you are not flying with the other parent.

Each DB bag also contains a quality book I think that he should read such as Little House on the Prairie, a book of dubious intellectual quality (comic book, Skylanders book, etc.), a change of clothing, a hoodie, tissues, toothbrush and toothpaste, and a packet of wet wipes. Any space leftover is mine and will be taken up by cheese or possibly the new purse my MIL bought me for my birthday.

Once the DBs bags are packed, they are Off Limits to the DBs. Once the suitcases are packed, they are off limits to DiploDad.

As of this moment, I’ve got two suitcases out of four sorted, the DBs carry-ons are set, and I’ve still got an empty suitcase ready for perishables. There’s still time for DiploDad to shake things up, and I’m counting on it. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to require a lot of additional time juggling. You know how I know this? Because I still have people to visit, folks, and every minute is planned. Every box that can be mailed has been dropped at the post office. So it’s inevitable.

After all these years, I’ve finally figured out why he does it. He wants me to feel needed. Message received, honey. Now, did I mention that I mailed all your underwear?