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.