Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wait, you speak English?

One of the strangest things I've learned about living in England is that there really is an American English and an English English. And that yes, once in a while you need a translator.

People travel to England because they think, "Well, I could go to France or Italy but I don't have any foreign language skills, so I guess I'll go to England. At least there we speak the same language."

They couldn't be more wrong.

True overall, yes, 90 percent of the language is the same. We conjugate the same (basically). We use the same syntax (again, basically). We even, for the most part, use the same verbs.

But damn, those nouns will get us.

Take, for example, the casual American phrase, "I had to change my pants 'cause I got them dirty while working in the garden." Fairly inauspicious.

Until you remember that "pants" in England means "underwear."

Suddenly, having to change your underwear because you were working a wee bit too hard in the garden takes on a fairly different, slightly nastier tone.

The other day I was wearing a vest. A brown, knitted vest. "Vest" by American standards. And, according the Scotsman I was asking, that would be called a tank top. And the American "tank top?", I asked. "A wife beater?" "That's a vest."

British folk casually throw about words that I think archaic in some cases. Including, in particular, "waistcoat." Waistcoat to me inspires images of Regency-era dandies in brocade fancy vests dancing minuettes. But to my British friend, my exterior-wear down vest would be referred to as a waistcoat. Or, well, another French name that I can't remember. But definitely not a vest.

Vest, tank top, waistcoat.

That's not even getting to the difference between puddings, biscuits, crisps and chips.

Food translation has been one of the hardest ones. Without getting into the grams versus cups issue with cooking, I've found more than once that I don't need "equivalents" for something...I literally need the British name for the ingredient. Any dessert is called a pudding. A cookie is a biscuit but crackers are just crackers. French fries are chips. Potato chips are crisps. Ground beef is minced beef. Cilantro is fresh coriander. Molasses is black treacle. Some reverse translations were needed too. Gammon steak is some sort of thick slice of ham. Not to mention sub-categorizing of food: back bacon vs. middle bacon vs. streaky bacon vs. bacon lardons, for example. They have more versions of regular wheat flour here than I've seen in my life....and what exactly is "strong" flour anyway? Flour fit for superheroes?! And don't even get me started with how many different types of potatoes I can buy in a bag for under a pound. Not a pound in weight. A pound in money.

I will say that I am in love with the dessert called an Eton Mess, but you also could just describe it as berries and whipped cream mixed up with bits of crumbled meringue. In this case, I would say Eton Mess sounds more fun to eat, but only because the nine-year-old in me wants to eat anything with the word "mess" in it.

The funny thing to me is everyone will say, "Oh, you said it our way. Bah-sil, instead of Bay-sil." And if you argue that the "American" way of saying something is correct, it's not just the English who will get on you. Ironically, the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish will all say, "You're not saying it correctly." I try to bite my tongue on that one, but apparently it seems a need for adherence to pronunciation only applies when you're from a different continent. Get a British computer nerd in the same room with an American computer nerd and ask whether the correct pronunciation for a computer relay device is a "roo-ter" or a "row-ter" and you'll be at risk of starting World War III.

Well, maybe World of Warcraft III.

I'm not complaining. But it's been one of the most unexpected and sometimes most intriguing things about living here. Is how much our language has evolved culturally. While most Americans have had fish and chips at some point and understand that fries means chips, we still expect that vest means vest and ground beef is ground beef. Things that are generic and commonplace in our daily vocabulary can still, even in this global landscape, be foreign here in Great Britain. Well, not foreign exactly. But the words have been twisted over time and geography and cultural divides to the point where even if they're recognizable, their meanings are significantly changed.

At least the important things are the same. When I ask for "Cabernet", everyone knows what I mean.

Cabernet Sauvignon.

But I suppose that's 'cause it's French.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Yeast and Flour and Water = Heaven

Tonight my house smells of cinnamon and cardamom....and for me that smells like Christmas.

This evening, for the first time ever, I attempted to make pulla, a Finnish sweet bread full of, you guessed it, cardamom and cinnamon along with raisins and sugar. And while this is something that is second nature to me, as familiar to some people as bologna sandwiches, I realized that in a strange way my perception of it has changed. Instead of being the constant of my youth, the sweet baking aroma of the rolls rising in the oven has taken on the adult perception of a holiday.

Because that's the only time I have been home to smell it.

I've never been a good bread maker. My mother baked all our bread for as long as I can remember, to the point where as 10 year old a loaf of store-bought bread was a highly prized birthday present. Even now dozens of frozen loaves of home made bread litter the large freezer downstairs in the garage in my parents' house.

But all I could bake were hockey pucks.

I'd tried. Maybe I wasn't patient enough. Maybe the water was too warm for the yeast. Maybe I just didn't have the skill, the baking magic that I watched my mother do for, literally, my lifetime. The swirl of the yeast in the water, the salty-sweet-sour smell of the liquid before the flour was added. And the beautiful, crusty, tasty perfection of a over-buttered slice of a freshly cut, hot-out-of the-oven loaf of bread. Nothing, not even sushi or lasagna, can come close.

But last week I took a course on baking. Rosie, who runs a professional cookery school up the street, took pity on a couple of locals and gave us a quick 6 hour session on baking pies and bread. While I can make a pie....and have since I was 9, begging my mom to let me make a mess of her kitchen in pursuit of the perfect cherry pie...bread has always escaped me. But somehow that day I got it. I could see all the little things I had done wrong before. As fragile as an orchid, the wrong temperature can kill the yeast, not enough yeast can kill the bread....but, like an orchid, if you know how much to mist it, it turns shiny and golden and fantastically delicious.

So today, I made a loaf. On my own. Unsupervised. And it was lovely and crusty and tasty and glorious.

Otis even agreed.

And then I got cocky.

I really have wanted to make pulla. The favorite offering of Finnish tea parties...or, well, coffee parties...everywhere...well, at least everywhere in was something that I could not consider myself a Finn until I made. With one loaf of regular bread behind me, I decided to take the plunge and crossed the world of cross-cultural cooking many cups in a gram, how many pounds in a cup, how many degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius. And the pulla came out golden brown and beautiful and tasty. If not perfect, at least it tasted right, it looked right and it smelled right.

And the smell...

As I sat in the living room, drinking my chef's...sorry, baker's glass of wine (or two) waiting for the pulla to cool off I kept feeling like suddenly as if it was Christmas. There was no pine smell, even from the little black dog on my lap (who often smells like the tea tree oil used to combat a stubborn ear infection). No candles or trees or elves or candy canes. No jolly red men in suits.

But instead, I realized, I'd unintentionally created Christmas in my house.

I haven't lived at home for about 20 years. I haven't lived in the same state as my parents for over 10. While I might have gone home for the occasional week in July or August, those are times of barbecues and outdoor living. But Christmas, in its cold midwinter, with everyone focused around home and hearth, the cardamom and cinnamony sweet scent of pulla pervades the house and has become, for me, solely associated with Christmas. My home. My family.

And I realize that the ability to recreate that is a bigger achievement than all the biscuits or bread loaves or focaccia I could have baked in my lifetime. I can recreate the smell of my home. My family. Whenever I want to.

I'm no Christmas fanatic who puts up their Christmas lights at Halloween and keeps them up 'til Easter. But the idea that I can make my own house smell like Christmas at my parents' a huge achievement.

It'll never be as good as actually being there....but, if push comes to shove, it'll be a damn good second best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Today My Prince Arrives...Though He'll Probably Smell Bad

This afternoon I will have a dog again.

It might sound strange to some of you who aren't pet owners, but as someone who's had, for the last decade at least, a menagerie surrounding her, the lack of pet life in the house for the last six months has been a strange, sometimes lonely existence. I've had loaner pets like Lily the tabby cat, Docker the whippet and Murphy the black lab, but occasional pats and walks are not the same as the strange affection you get for an animal that will trample on you in the middle of the night.

But after six months of waiting, Otis arrives. Today.

As I write this, he's on the plane, waiting for takeoff. It won't be fun for him but 12 hours from now it will all be over, fingers crossed, including the vet and customs clearance. And, once again, I will have a dog.

In a weird way, Otis has become a figment of my imagination. So to have him arrive again is as if Prince Charming has popped out of Sleeping Beauty and landed at my feet. Strange and surreal, but hey, it's Prince Charming. Well, maybe Tramp from Lady and the Tramp is a better Disney analogy, but still in many ways it's as if the dog that I received under the Christmas tree when I was four is suddenly coming alive and once again Otis is a real being, like Pinocchio becoming a real boy.

Augh. Enough Disney already.

It's been a long road to get him here, and a financial outlay equal to the worst vet bill, but thanks to some hard working and loving sisters and generous, helpful parents, Otis is on his way.

But those who were around in the last 2.5 years know how much I've fought for this particular dog. As he was attacked in the park by a pitt bull I (insanely) stepped into the fray and helped to beat off his mangy attacker. When he went missing after the gardener didn't lock the gate right and Otis decided to go on walkabout, I didn't give up on him - 3 weeks on I was still putting up posters in Sherman Oaks and posting notices on Craigslist. Sleepless nights and buckets of tears - and after all that I was lucky for the chance to ransom him back. I've paid for two tumors to be removed, attempts to cure stubborn ear infections, haircuts, vitamins...he didn't sleep on satin sheets but I think that's the only thing I didn't pay for.

People can say, "But he's a dog. Rehome him." Which, actually, my mother actually did say when we first heard the original price of shipping him - which, luckily for me, that estimate was $1,000 over the actual $1,500 to ship him. To be fair, I had sticker shock as much as my parents did. But there's something about the magic of Otis that everyone who meets him, who lives with him, who spends time with him seems to understand why he's a special little dog and worth all the expense.

And if they don't understand, they're smart enough to keep their trap(s) shut. At least around me.

Otis arrives tomorrow. Well, today. This afternoon. 12 hours from this moment I'll have my dog again. Not A dog. MY dog.

And what a lovely, lovely thing that is.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A writer writing once again....

I have returned.

And, once again, I have something to write about. And not just in blog format.

I took a seminar today for all of £5 on writing for Newspapers and Women's Magazines through the Frome Arts Festival. It was only an hour, the speaker was funny and great and, more importantly, I was once again inspired to write. Throughout the session I started and kept adding to my list of articles that I would like to write for various magazines. I'd already had two ideas recently - one about the experience of moving to a small village in England after LA and NYC and then the other about the challenges of my experience of getting Otis here.

The most important thing was that I found a writing inspiration again. When I first moved here I had ideas of writing a book on estate cottages but that quickly, and obviously, lost its momentum when my own estate cottage turned out to be such a nightmare. While I'm thrilled things worked out as they did and I am now where I am, I in some ways lost my writing voice when things no longer were chaotic and I settled into the house here. I have kept up the idea of writing, but not clear what I was going to be writing or how and where to start.

I never wanted to be a grand novelist, though maybe if when I become a writer that actually gets paid for writing instead of just jotting my brainwaves down in a blog for free, I might then find the motivation for a book. But for now, small, short and sweet newspaper and magazine articles is the perfect beginning.

Well, it will be once I actually write something. So

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Own Little World...

I made the move to England with an open ended plan, with no timelines for a return or deadlines for some specific goal to be accomplished. I've always wanted to live here, really as far back as I can remember. So I was surprised after first after arriving that I questioned the move. Did I make the right choice? Was this really what I wanted? Am I completely insane? The chaos of the first home and all the drama that went with it weren't helpful, but even once everything settled, a sense of impermanence remained. I signed on for a year here in Nunney, but I found myself already thinking of where would I go next. Would I go back to the States? Maybe Maine. Maybe South Carolina. Or maybe Europe. Maybe France or Tuscany. 'Cause though I moved with an intention to stay, I felt disconnected, a long term visitor almost, even as I was building a new world. I couldn't quite shake this feeling of not being in the right place, even though at the same time I felt that I was. A weird internal conflict that had no clear resolution. It wasn't homesickness, exactly, but just a sense of being transient.

Then my friend Dara came to Somerset. She was here for her sister's wedding last weekend in Maiden Bradley, coincidently 10 miles from Nunney. I went, excited to see her, having not seen her for five years, and looked forward to an evening outside of the village.

But what surprised me is that after seeing her, talking and laughing with her, my world, in a way I didn't expect, simply gelled. The life in the States had been connected now to the life here in England. And I realized how detached I'd actually been feeling. Even though I've been welcomed, warmly and generously, and feel many good, close friendships growing, getting to know everyone and everything, from your neighbors to the personality of your house, takes emotion and energy and is subtly, constantly wearing.

When I left the States I realized that while this wouldn't be the first time I'd be packing up and leaving a life behind, this would be the first time that anyone would not be making the move with me. When I moved to New York from Seattle, Julian, Kenny, Natalie and many others moved with me. When I moved to LA, Dan was already here, Tami had just moved and Heather would follow soon after. And while I expected the lack of traveling companions, per se, to affect me, I think I actually forgot how important that was. But, suddenly, seeing someone who spanned both worlds, both lives, made all of it feel...normal.

And now I look at my cottage and look at options. Think of buying it, though that would be a long time down the road. Think of what I'd do to it to make it mine. The long term planning, the setting down of roots, has finally begun to happen. I'm still getting to know the house, learning which floorboard creaks on its own, still putting bits away, just as there are people still to meet and footpaths to explore. It's just somehow not as tiring as it was.

I can't say that I'll live here forever. Who knows where the next adventure will take me. But I am no longer looking for a future away from here either. And so this cottage, and this village, has finally become, simply:


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If I Had a Hammer....

There are moments when it feels like this whole venture is doomed.

And I say this on a day when lots of good things have happend. One sister asked if she could drive my car and sell hers, my car that's just sitting in my parents' driveway collecting dust (they already have two cars). Fantastic idea. Rather she used it and saved money than me paying money to Volkswagen and it sitting unused. Check! I made plans with another sister to come visit her in June and take care of her kids while she takes off for a well deserved Paris vacation with her husband after a very hard Swedish winter. Check! Check! And I finally got live, actual working Internet in my house after a month of retarded, ridiculous, almost comical calls to British Telecom, my internet provider. Check! Check! Check!

And then....I got a $775 ticket from the city of LA for a running a red light in West Hollywood after the chaos of an ambulance running through the intersection. The ticket was $445 in November, but never actually received the citation. I remember running the light and seeing the flash so actually thought I'd get a smacked and made a verbal note of it on my phone....but never got a ticket so thought I got off. Until yesterday when a collections notice arrives at my dad's, forwarded from LA, and now with fees totaling a whopping $775. And to petition the fees I'd have to be there in person or hire a lawyer to represent me. Both of which will cost more than the $300 difference between the actual ticket and the current charge. Sneaky LA.

There are moments when I just feel like I'm constantly being beaten down. I'm not someone who goes into a decision like this lightly...or, I should say more accurately, after making the wild and crazy decision does not plan appropriately. Research was done, history checked, questions asked. And yet this whole move I feel like every time something should be settled I end up being smacked in the head with a sledgehammer. From the cottage-that-under-all-circumstances-should-have-been-beautiful-but-ended-up-being-derelict to the complications of getting a bank account with an actual working debit card, I feel like everything else has gone ass backwards.

The only miraculous thing is that I ended up in Nunney with a bunch of lovely people, amazingly kindred spirits. And I mean that sincerely, honestly and am at times surprised at my luck and good fortune at landing here.

Other than that there feels like a cloud of doom over the whole endeavor.

I pay my taxes. I pay my parking tickets. And I damn sure would have paid a red light ticket, even if it was an exorbitant $445.

But the worst part is that money was for Otis. $1000 was budgeted to be set aside next paycheck, two weeks from Friday, for the pets. It was about a third of what I needed, worst case scenario, to bring Freebie and Otis here to England. And now $745 of it is going to go the Beverly Hills traffic court, leaving $345 for Otis. I will still be able to put the money away before I need to fly him here, but the stress and worry associated with the paperwork and the travel for them is so overwhelming at times that just knowing that the money would be put aside would have been a huge relief....hope the Beverly Hills traffic court appreciates it as much as I would have. He's having a fantastic time with my parents, going to Costco, garage sales and birthday parties and helping my dad in the wood shop so at least it won't bother him too much.

But for me, crappy days like today, where a bunch of good things happen but they get overwritten by the one overwhelmingly, majorly shitty thing that smacks you in the head out of the blue....those are exactly the days that you want your dog with you.

And he's now $745 dollars farther away than he was yesterday.

And that's heartbreaking.

Monday, March 29, 2010

To Script or Not To Script....

So this weekend I have been invited to go up to Derbyshire, about 100 miles from Nunney and, apparently, quite remote and cold, to visit the set of Jane Eyre. A script supervisor who I've never met in person but have known for a few years from an script supervisor's Yahoo! group, is welcoming me onto their set for the day. She's never met me, but knowing I've worked on network television is taking a leap of faith that A) I'm not a complete nutcase and B) that I know how to behave on a professional film set. The B in this equation being I think the more important question than the A.

So Jane Eyre. One of my favorite books of all time. The wilds of England. Beautiful. Men in frock coats. Do I need to say more?

But what I think is interesting is that in my head, as burnt out and tired of the entertainment industry as I am, the idea of being on this film set is exciting. True, the best part is that I'll be like the producers, sitting in the background, getting to read my magazine and enjoy the takes instead of trying to figure out which hand Rochester used to pick up the candlestick.

But this is good writing. Well, starting with a classically well written book anyway as I haven't read their script. But my last year in the industry I was reading the trite, often silly dialogue of 90210 while working at a network television ridiculous pace with no prep time and a lot of behind-the-scenes production drama.

So it makes me I sick of the industry, sick of network television, sick of production bullshit or really just sick of silly, badly written teenage dramas?

There was a huge part of leaving the industry that was about not having a life. But that's part of network television. On a film set, you shoot for two months and then can be off until you take the next job. In LA, I hadn't done a feature film for now almost three years, the last being Stiletto that I did with Stana Katic a year before she took off in Castle (yay Stana!). But I love the puzzle building of a feature film. In TV, the pace is constantly relentless, the puzzle changes regularly and you don't get time to accurately prep and everything feels, well, almost slapdash. A film set is just that tiny bit more civilized.

We'll have to see what happens when I get up there. There is a magic of a film set that's like no other. And I probably could work here if I wanted to as a script supervisor (after joining the union and all that). I expect I'll have a lovely time and enjoy being there. But the curiousity, at least on my part, is if I will feel that spark again, that joy and excitement of building something as a team. And that I think is what has been lacking in TV. The bond with the director (in TV they change every episode) and the additional burdens of dealing with writers and producers and egos that suddenly become the script supervisor's responsibility. I haven't been on a set since November (a Sarah Silverman commercial for Comedy Central) and haven't been on a narrative project (TV or film) since 90210 last March. But I'm intrigued. So while I feel that I'm done with the industry...maybe I'm not quite as burned out as I thought.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

And a couch makes all the difference...

I got my couch on Tuesday. Sounds like nothing special but when you've had nowhere to sit in the house other than the kitchen table, suddenly a home starts to take shape. It's a lovely, green velvety type couch, 1940's, extremely comfortable but it's more about it just being a piece of furniture. Suddenly, because it feels like a living room, I want to actually use it as a living room. I cleared away clutter, put things into a cabinet, took the books out, put the suitcase upstairs.

Today I even was motivated to put my clothes into the closet. Now that's progress.

I've been focused very much on working and getting to know people the last 2 weeks - yes, yesterday was my two week anniversary in Nunney! - and so in many ways the house organization has been low on the totem pole of priorities. But at the same time the fact that things were not organized has been difficult and draining...I definitely have had "what the hell have I done" thoughts over the last month and a half at the same time that I'm embracing and exploring my new neighborhood. Thoughts of running back to Seattle or Maine or North Carolina where people drive on the correct side of the road and things are familiar definitely has its appeal at the weak moments. And where it won't cost over $2500 plus headaches of paperwork and additional administrative fees just to have Otis and Freebie with me. But then I look out and see the castle again or drink at the pub with new friends or just think of all there is still to explore and things come back into focus. Where I've landed is indeed about as perfect a location as it can be to see if this is where I'm supposed to be. Having a car will make things easier in the exploring sense....opening up more social opportunities than just Nunney, but at the same time it's still foreign. But I've been here 1.5 months, 2 weeks in this house, so really even if this was Maine I think I'd be feeling just about as fish out of water as I sometimes do here.

It's been different than I expected. Harder but not in a way I think can be described. I don't feel lonely exactly. Nor do I really feel alone. I lived alone in LA. I spent nights without going out or meeting people in LA. But I think it's the knowledge that I had a wide breadth of friends, in LA or in New York or in Seattle, to call upon for entertainment, and that there was a wide variety of entertainment available should I have wanted it, that makes now not having that deep support system difficult. I'm meeting friends here, many people in the village who I luckily like a great deal, and love so much of being in a village....when in LA would I have hung out with an octogenarian who used to be a casting director for the National Theatre and gave Colin Firth his big break? Those are the moments that seem straight out of The Holiday...but moments that in LA would never have occurred because your social circle in a way was just too vast. Here everyone interacts, rich, poor, young, old, and that's fascinating and interesting and different. And fantastic.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The First Night in an Old House

Hey all! This was written on Friday but now that I've figured out how to get internet inside the house wanted to post this up. Took pictures today and when I have a second I'll upload them to Flickr so you can see not only the town but Lillybatch and all the rest.

BTW....I found out that this house was built in 1750 and the original tenants for some time were a family of bakers. There's a weird alcove in one of the walls and it turns out it used to be a baker's oven. Nice.


There's nothing quite as strange as spending the night in a new house. It's almost as if you and the house are in a sort of dance trying to figure out who is the leader, who dances the tango better or, in my case, who has the dodgy back. The creaks aren't familiar. The smell of the house is like meeting a perfumed stranger on the train. Their perfume is exotic and lovely but overwhelming in its lack of familiarity.

I pulled out my favorite stuffed dog tonight. The one I got under the Christmas tree when I was four and who has, since then, made the trips to college, New York, Los Angeles and, now, England. I realized that tonight is the first night in years that I haven't spend the night with another living being in my house. True, I have neighbors across the way (about 25 feet) and next door, but in the house technically I am alone. And that is a very bizarre feeling. Unsettling even. So while this stuffed dog is no Otis, he will, for the time being, do the trick. It's about comfort, familiarity at its most basic level.

Finally today the adventure I started on begins. In some ways the excitement of the move has been tempered with the reality now of 30 days in England - I moved in today, March 5th, exactly 4 weeks to the day that I arrived. And during that time I've gotten a different view of England than I expected. Moldy, dirty cottages that should be sparking and brilliant, hours spent looking for the perfect house to find most of them are not well kept and that heating in general, not just central heating, is in many ways a luxury here. But at the same time I've learned to love sunny days again, because after a couple days of enjoying the rain the sun peeking through is a present instead of monotony.

I've also learned that sheep are fascinating creatures. From my room at my aunt and uncle's house you could see the pasture and I found myself watching them for ages. There's something incredibly intriguing about them. Cows are fine, birds have their charm but there's something about sheep that's mesmerizing. Unexpected and fascinating.

I haven't been writing because there hasn't been much to write about. The thrilling excitement of dealing with the complications of setting up an international bank account or spending hours on the Internet looking at various decrepit cottages really didn't seem to inspire much imparted introspection. But now, in a cottage overlooking a river, in a village full of it seems extremely friendly locals, with a ruin of a castle with a moat in the center, with my trusty stuffed dog at my side and much to look forward to, now, again, it seems I am motivated to write. And, I hope, there will be much to write about.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Better late than never....

So forgot to post this...was written about a week ago on the plane (2/5/10), before we found out that the cottage was in an almost derelict state (filthy and pretty much uninhabitable)...getting a refund though still mulling over offering them a few months' rent for me to make it habitable as it is pretty special. That's probably news to some of you, but stay tuned...waiting to write about that until I know where I'll actually be living. Extremely grateful for my aunt and uncle who are letting me stay with them in Salisbury...ah the adventure continues.
I no longer live in Los Angeles.

After 4.5 years that sounds strange to me but as I watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and the lights of LA fade into the distance, I realize that where I live, at this very moment, for all intents an purposes, is in this airplane seat.

I have a home I am going to, a cottage in the English countryside. In Somerset. A cottage I've paid my months rent and deposit for...but one I've never yet seen except for the romantic, idyllic pictures posted online by the estate agent and the aerial view from Google earth. I don't know what the interior looks like...and my aunt who lives in Salisbury is convinced there is no running water in the 200+ year old cottage. Tomorrow I find out.

I leave behind a life in the film industry as a script supervisor, the last few years in network television. Where 15 hour days, 65+ hour weeks meant no social life. To go live in the middle of nowhere where it's going to be hard to find a social life. Interesting trade.

A series of flukes led me to the website listing my cottage for rent. A cottage on an estate with the prosaic name of Lillybatch Cottage. And all of a sudden it became WILL I do to live here instead of what COULD I do if I lived here. The wheels started turning, the plans set in motion and today I find myself on a plane to a new house in a new country and a new life.

And no fear. Strange but true. So for the next 10 hours I live on American Airlines, but when I step on the plane, I am not visiting England. I live in England. I will be a resident of England.
And that sounds magical.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Adventure Begins

I sit here in my almost empty house waiting for the hard part to be over. The contracts are signed, the deposits are paid and all that remains is the final vacuum and a full house moppage and then we will be on our way. The car is packed, the luggage stowed and once morning comes, the travels begin.

The response to this adventure, only in its first stages of infancy, has been incredibly, overwhelmingly positive and I am immensely thankful for that as it's the only thing that has guaranteed I won't tuck my tail between my legs and run like a chicken to a bungalow in Pasadena instead of a cottage in the English countryside. People have told me they think I'm brave, but truthfully I'm just purposely trying not to acknowledge the terrifying reality of what I'm about to do. Don't get me wrong...I'm ecstatically excited with the potential that lays before me. But leaving everything I know behind, from friends to currency to systems of measurement, inspires occasional moments of incredible panic. And so I must say huge thank you to all my friends. To everyone who has drank with me, ate with me, emailed me, trekked to the Valley to see me, voluntarily cleaned my oven or just held my hand, literally and figuratively, as I've stressed and organized through the last few weeks, I could not have made it here without you and therefore, in so many ways, this adventure is yours as well as mine.

One of the biggest surprises for me is that along with anticipation and elation has also come extreme fatigue and a fair amount of depression, the latter of which I attempted to conquer by letting myself sit on the couch on a rainy day and read a trashy romance novel. It helped. But acknowledging the negatives I think is as important as looking forward to the opportunities. As I choked back surprise tears I explained to one close friend that it wasn't that I didn't want to go, but that I wanted everyone to go with me. Having no one close to me there to share in the adventure makes the obviously solitary experience that much more lonely, even while acknowledging that the solitary nature of the experience is what makes it such an adventure. And so I must say thank you to Tami for setting a date to visit...9 months hence, but there ahead is a date that at some point I'll be able to share the life and adventure with those I care most about. I hope and expect she will be only one of many to come and visit.

Tomorrow, Otis, Freebie, Fredo and I set out to Seattle via San Francisco. A day late...there was just too much to do and so our departure was pushed 24 hours. A great, and I think perfect, new home awaits the jittery Fredo, while Freebie and Otis will wait in quarantine purgatory until I can fly them to be with me. The moment we hit the freeway, the adventure will have more luggage to pack, no more houses to clean. Just an open road...and who knows where we'll end up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

English Country Time - Part I

Since the idea of moving to England began I have been prepared, mentally at least, for the imminent arrival of "English country time." To me that conjures up images of sitting in your car as herds of sheep mull about in the middle of a one lane road surrounded on both sides by hedgerows preventing any quick escape. Or an ancient shopkeeper slowly counting out my change, penny by penny, only to start over again when he can't remember if he was at 87 or 88 pence. Or going to post a priority mail letter only to find the post office, part of the local butcher shop, is closed for the afternoon for the postmaster's daughter's school play.

But what I didn't expect was that I would start to experience English country time before I even left the United States.

I am selling all my personal items and moving to a new continent for a cottage I haven't seen in person, haven't seen the interior of, and, with two weeks to go, do not actually know they are going to let me rent. I think so. I believe so. And I see no reason that they wouldn't. But until I have a lease in my hand and keys in the mail, it's the only thing about the entire plan that makes me apprehensive. If, for some reason, the house rental goes awry at least I can stay with my aunt in Salisbury for a bit, but my whole vision of the adventure would be changed. And so, I wait for English country time to catch up to my current LA mentality.

I started asking for an application for this house in mid-December. I received the application on December 30th. Submitted it right after New Year's and then after 2 days of pestering finally got the bank information for where to wire the application fee. Three days after the wire was sent, finally got confirmation that they received said wire. Then, about a week later, checked on the status and the agent asked for a confirmation of employment from my boss. My boss, not realizing this was holding up the application process, took a couple days to send the confirmation letter. So now, with two and a half weeks to go before I leave LA for England I have no confirmation that this house I'm planning a huge life move around is even mine.

Whoo. Deep breath.

Now, to be fair, there's this small little holiday called Christmas that sort of slowed down the initial process. But as all the holidays were over and done with before I put the application in, unless they have really, REALLY bad hangovers in England, the holidays can no longer be the case. So all I'm left with is English country time. Doing things whenever they get done.

English real estate time is very different from my experience with New York real estate time. In New York, you see a freshly posted ad on Craigslist or hear a tip from a friend about an apartment for rent. "In the neighborhood I want to be in? Really? And at a price range I can afford? Oh my god." You literally drop whatever you're doing and call the broker while you're in a cab on the way to the apartment. And if you like it you fill out an application before you leave the premises, then rush to the ATM to get the cash for the deposit while they're running your credit. Literally you know in 24 hours, or less sometimes, if the apartment is yours. No sheep blocking the road here.

Los Angeles is a little mellower, but only by a day or two. I found my house here in Sherman Oaks on Craigslist, made an appointment for a couple days later, took an application after seeing it, sent it in that night and knew in a couple days that it was mine. No real sheep here either.

In both cases, from hearing about the house to signing a lease was at most two weeks. Definitely no sheep.

At this point, I'm going with the assumption that there is actually a sheep blocking the door to the estate agent's office, preventing them from getting inside and being able to process my application.

We all know that once in a while the dog actually does eat our homework. So maybe, in the English countryside, the sheep occasionally really is the culprit.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Blame It on Sir Walter Scott

My passion for books began when I was 12 years old. My parents took me to a monthly "special books" sale at the Bainbridge Island Library and down in the library basement, on a table with a bunch of other oldies but goodies were two of the still most beautiful books I've ever seen. Two volumes from the late 1800's, one of The Lady of the Lake and other of Marmion, both by Sir Walter Scott. With gilt embossed covers in elegant Victorian scroll, gold-trimmed edges and finely drawn ink illustrations, these books sung to me, awakening a passion previously unknown. From that moment on I was hooked. Lovely, elegant, fanciful books were my weakness but any book with character and style and quirkiness would catch my fancy, a habit I finally had to start to tamper down or else I'd become a hoarder, living in a bedroom surrounded by a lamp, a glass of wine, a cat and mountains of books.....a book collector's both fantasy and nightmare.

To be fair, I can't blame it all on Scott. My love of books began earlier. Much, much earlier. At a young age my brilliant, and I mean that literally, parents told us that we could go to bed at 8:00...or we could stay up and read until 8:30. Suddenly what to some might be a punishment to us became a privilege, a way to sneak past your bedtime. Something to be desired, not resisted. All five of us became voracious readers, passing books between ourselves, and, eventually, our parents. It didn't matter if it was the perfectly written book as long as it was entertaining. And sometimes it didn't even have to be entertaining if, in my case, it was pretty and looked good on my shelf.

I look at the treasures of books I have collected and having to narrow them down is as difficult in some ways as having to choose among pets. I attempted to give up a pet very recently to a good home but was relieved and thrilled to have the animal returned. While a pet is obviously much more difficult, to a book collector each book on the shelf takes on an individual personality, sometimes even embodies a moment in your life and reminds you of where you've been and where you want to go. Though some books I'm surprised are easy to get rid of, like the possessions I previously thought precious but could easily sell, others I had thought I could part with are surprisingly hard to let go, even at a price. One book I love, don't need to keep and can't bring myself to sell will be sent to a very pregnant best friend in New York as a surprise. It, like a pet, needs to go to a carefully selected loving home that will value and care for it. Warts and all.

My friend Ana, not knowing of my particular love of old books, gave me yesterday one of the most beautiful journals I've ever seen. Lovely leather binding, crisp, untouched pages. It makes me long for a quill pen and a jar of ink. I won't journal in it per se....I'm much too sporadic and spontaneous of a writer to really be a successful journaler. I've tried, and I love the romantic Jane Austen-esque notion of it, but inevitably I fail. However, I am a notorious list maker and idea jotter and that book can be the outlet of my moments of brilliance that happen in non-computerized situations. Today walking Otis I thought of this very blog and wished I had the book with me to write down ideas. In the movie theatre today I had a similar thought, though that might have pissed off my viewing neighbors if I'd taken the book out and started scribbling. So the little journal from now on comes with me and becomes the scratch pad for my future inspiration.

I had a moment today where I realized how funny and fitting it is my life has taken this circle. Looking at this beautiful, incredibly rendered film I realized that I don't have a passion for making films. I love storytelling. But not filmmaking. And, more specifically, I love books. I'm crazy about books. All my life. At every stage. I want books. I love books. I gift books. I covet books. And the only things that compare for me at that level of interest are houses and England. Whenever I go to someone's old house I pester the owner to know what year was it built, who lived there, what its history was, are there any ghosts, what are its quirks. Houses to me are living creatures that in a way take on the personality of the people who live in it and look after it. Years of growing up going to the library as a treat or sneaking that last chapter after "lights out" created that passionate bibliophile. Similarly, those same years watching Masterpiece Theatre, All Creatures Great and Small and The Two Ronnies, taking highland dancing lessons after school and listening to the Black Watch in the car with Dad reinforced the anglophile in me. So while no one's paying me to do it....yet....the thought that somehow I've stumbled upon a career that includes living in England and writing books about houses just makes me wonder.... did I not think of this before?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I think I'm going to be in trouble

Not because of packing. Not because of logistics. Not even because I haven't seen the inside of this dreamily-fantastic-too-good-to-be-true-house-that-I-don't-yet-know-is-mine-but-I'm selling-my-furniture-like-it-is-and-hoping-they'll-soon-tell-me-one-way-or-the-other.

I don't know how to make a good pot of tea.

Sure, I can make a cup of tea with a bag. I love tea. I drink tea regularly. I even make iced tea with lots of bags (and no sugar...leave that sugary tea to you Southern drinkers).

But with the loose tea leaves? The proper way?

Blech. Barf.

I'm screwed.

I'm moving to England and I don't know how to make tea. OK, so a couple years ago I watched a cheesetastic reality show called American Princess where they took the most retarded, backwards, socially inept girls they could find from all over America, brought them to England and had them compete to become the next American Princess - with nothing less than Paul Burrell, Princess Diana's former (tell all) butler as a head judge. And I laughed when they couldn't make a cup of tea. Of course it was all so formal, swishing the pot with hot water, put the right tea leaves in, strain it out, hold it with your pinky while you wear the proper dress and keep your knees together, etc. But come on. It was tea.

But I that was before I tried it.

So my bright idea today was to do a little practicing at what life in England would be like so I decided to make a pot of tea. With loose leaves. I almost never use loose leaves and definitely not in a pot. Not so successful. The lovely organic Earl Grey tea that my sister sent me from Sweden turned into a sour mess with a big mush of tea leaves at the bottom and was undrinkable. The pomegranate green tea I got at the pirate festival was drinkable but pretty weak and still ended up a big mush of tea leaves at the bottom and you needed to floss your teeth after drinking the tea. And, on last resort, the pot of tea made with Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast tea bags? It was bitter. Tannins galore. I needed heavy cream to help that one, not the rice milk in my fridge that curdled into little bits when it hit the mug.

Oh man. I need help.

Or maybe I'll just spike everybody's tea with whiskey and we'll all be happy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Master of Properties

There is something liberating about getting rid of one's possessions. In a way I really didn't expect. While I realized that I have pack rat tendencies and love shopping....I also have great affection for the items I surround myself with. They're by no means more important than people...but I carefully select them as they set the tone for my house, the ambiance, the feng shui, whatever you want to call it. My house is me and I am it, so says the my favorite book as a child, The Big Orange Splot. That door knob, that book, that chair, that vase of twigs create the environment I want to live in and therefore are important to me. My house is where I want to be and it looks like all my dreams. So says Mr. Plumbean.

Only the dream's changing.

But what surprised me is the relief you feel at liberating some of what you formerly considered prize possessions. When moving out of the country, the unique, 1930's Japanese-inspired spinet piano becomes a burden but one that still needs the perfect home. Thank you, Maryam, who will love it and cherish it and value its originality. The 1920's, ironically English, arts and crafts armoire that has crossed with me and my life around the country from Seattle to New York to Los Angeles, sadly cannot make the journey back to its country of origin. Someone offered me a fair amount for it but told me they intended to paint it white...I had to refuse on principle. The idea was too horrific....I would rather have donated it.

When first considering moving out of the country I looked around the house and really tried to assess not just what I loved but what was irreplaceable. Unique watercolors and pastels, the cat-around-a-fish-bowl cookie jar that was gifted from my late Uncle Tom, the small round brick with holes in it that I found on the beach while at my brother's wedding in England, the white jar with a red lid with a masking tape label, written in Finnish designating "rye flour", written in my late mummu's (grandmother's) handwriting. Those things I can't replace. You realize that what has to make the trip isn't your favorite pair of will find another favorite pair when you arrive. But the things that have sentimental, personal, or irreplaceable meaning....those have to stay. Even if I can't take them this first flight, I will pack the storage room, whatever size I get, with travel sized boxes or luggage that visitors can retrieve and bring to me.

Part of the adventure is realizing that moving doesn't mean parting with everything that doesn't fit into the suitcase. That just because I have a certain allotment financially and physically on the first airplane ride doesn't mean I have to give up the things that are important to me, be it photographs, knickknacks, pets or friends. But at the same time you realize that one little bowl I found at the flea market isn't important but the one that sat on my other grandmothers' shelf is. It may not be valuable. It may not be precious. But it's specific. And therefore irreplaceable. But at the same time you realize that "because I love looking at it" is a valid enough reason to try to take it along.

But it's not just about the possessions - I love buying things to sell on eBay or at the flea market or, even better, just to give away as that perfect surpise gift, given for no specific reason. The pewter tankard for Daniel or perfect vintage dress for Tami or a Hawaiian shirt for Dan or the vintage Indian salt & pepper shakers for Trisha found while scavenging at Goodwill. But when you sell your own things all of a sudden the idea of moving isn't about uHaul or bribing friends with pizza and beer to lug heavy furniture. It's a clean slate. A new vintage. A crisp, open pond with small stepping stones that only lead a few feet into the water that are basically asking you, challenging you to find a way across. I won't go alone or empty handed, but I will have to find my way....and in a way I haven't done since I left for college. And perhaps it's even more of a clean slate than that. I'll bring only what's precious; nothing extraneous.

What's also strange is I'm ready for these "things" to go. I think perhaps for the first time I understand minimalism. The lightness of the soul in traveling without burden. Of course, I have most of my furniture still so I'm not there yet, but the big items are actually accounted for and the rest of it I've talked to an auction company about. I suppose there is the bright light that whatever I sell, whatever money I earn from the sales, is money I can use to go shopping for something just as fun and fantastic. Antiques Roadshow: Kirstie Bingham: U.K.

Today I call to get the information to wire my application fee to the agency, which should put a "let agreed" sign on my cottage....meaning, for all intents and purposes, it will be mine. The holidays have interrupted the plan but today I get to take the next step. But for all of those who know me, love me and had potential doubts I was serious, here's all you need to know:

Today I sold my wine glasses on eBay.

Now you know I'm definitely going.