drawing of a cardboard box and some bubble wrap in an empty room

I’ve moved house over sixteen times in my lifetime (more if you count step-homes). Apartment to house, city to city, state to state, country to country; I’ve done it all. I’ve even lived in a couple pseudo-communes with over 6+ roommates. Thinking back, I realized I have little phrases –some synesthetic little audio cues– attached to each major life change. Here’s a handful of my favorites.


In 2003 I got accepted to JET Programme and would be moving to Japan for one to three years. You apply in December, interview in January, get accepted in April, and leave in July. It’s a sudden transition for an overseas move. In April I found out I’d be living in a small town called Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture. It looked cute, had a castle, and the town’s website had an animated gif of a dancing mayor. Part of the JET Programme’s tradition is that your predecessor writes you a little note introducing the town and job before you arrive. In July I got an email and inside was the following phrase repeated seven times…


Yikes. It’s two weeks or so before I board a plane to live in a country I’ve never even visited. Although self-evident by the tone of the letter, I later learned my predecessor had a hard time in our small town. She entered a relationship with another JET teacher and when they wanted to live together that caused a local stir where city hall got involved. That’s small town life for you.

What an ominous letter to get before you move overseas!

“Do you like breakfast?”

We rolled up to our house in South Austin in a bright yellow Penske truck. We trekked across the desert from California and would officially become homeowners that day. As we were unloading the truck a neighbor in her mid seventies stepped out to meet us. She was so kind and after some small talk she asked a question I’ll never forget…

“Do you like breakfast?”

And that began almost 9 years of weekly breakfasts at Dan’s Hamburgers with our neighbor Cleo. She’s more than a sweet grandmotherly neighbor to our children, she was their best friend. Every day my kids would wake up and demand to go see Cleo.

I also can’t forget our eighty year old neighbor Nellie’s big entrance after meeting Cleo. Fresh from cataracts surgery wearing a night gown and an eye-patch, she stumbled across her yard into the street to start giving us all the gossip we could ask for on the neighborhood. “That’s old Gene and his wife died…”, “She’s an old maid…”, and another line I’ll never forget…

Tread lightly with them over there…

About as Texan as it gets. We stayed in that house nine years and saw the street turnover. We outgrew our 2 bedroom/2 bath house, so we moved north in 2018. There’s lots to miss about the old place (big yard, proximity to Dan’s Hamburgers), but we miss our friend Cleo the most.

“We mow our lawns and decorate for Halloween”

When I introduced myself to my new neighbor in North Austin, she was friendly but a bit somber as she mentioned her husband passed away six months prior. She welcomed us to the neighborhood, asked about our kids, and then proceeded to lay out the two ground rules for the street…

We mow our lawns and decorate for Halloween.

I felt shame looking down at my unkempt yard. She handed me a business card for her mowers and I hired them that day. And she wasn’t kidding about Halloween. Our street is basically the street in the neighborhood for Halloween. We have a 9-foot tall inflatable Beetlejuice sand worm in our yard every October, so I like to think we’re fulfilling our neighborly obligations… but my yard still looks like shit.