Saturday, August 29, 2009

Notes from a Small Island - Book Review

I recently finished Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, a travel log of his adventure to see as much of Great Britain as he can before moving back to the states after residing in England for over 20 years.

Bryson has an excellent way with words, capable of both exceptional humor and beauty as well. I laughed, many times (causing my husband to glance at me sideways more than once while I was reading on the train to and from our visit to my family up north). I found myself in awe of the descriptions of landmarks and landscapes. And it helps give me a sense of the country that I will soon be calling my home, even if it was written about 12 or 13 years ago.

When I arrive, I'll be living in Newport Pagnell, which is just outside of Milton Keynes. Bryson has no kind words for this city. I can't say I blame him. I saw for myself last April that it was basically a very large shopping mall (one of the biggest I've been in) surrounded by office buildings. It's a bit bleak. I have yet to experience the confusion he describes the underground walkways to be (the idea of underground walkways seems a bit weird to me anyway), but now I want to see if they're as crazy as he makes them out to be. I do like Newport Pagnell though, which starkly contrasts most of what San Diego is like and yet manages to vaguely resemble one of my favorite neighborhoods, albeit with more charm.

Bryson can at times be preachy (the preservation of old buildings comes to mind; he mentions it quite often*), and sometimes comes off as a bit... grumpy? I'm not sure that's the right word. I did find myself questioning his actions on a few occasions**, but I guess after being on a trip that long I would get a bit grumpy too. So ultimately those bits are easily overlooked.

All in all, it's a well written book that's easy to read and gave me some insight that might help me along the way. And I do want to read about his experiences back on American soil in I'm a Stranger Here Myself, as well as A Short History of Nearly Everything which has been consistently recommended to me (by many friends and by my psychobiology professor when I was still in college***).

*Which makes me want to pay attention to the buildings more when I'm back over there. I didn't really notice how out of place the plate glass windows are, but perhaps it's because I live in a western state. We have less history than the eastern part of the country, and have a tendency to tear down what old architechture we do happen to have, or add plate glass to it.

**Mainly giving the kid working at the McDonalds in Scotland flack for asking him if he wanted an apple turnover with his breakfast order... I wouldn't doubt the kid was mandated to say this to every customer.

***This was when I had delusions of double majoring in psychology during my 5th year at San Diego State. I later decided to just read some Oliver Sacks books and be done with it.

Next Entry: Starting to pack early

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How in the hell did I end up with all this stuff?

I am, to put it lightly, a pack rat. I get this from my late mother (though, thank goodness, not nearly on the same scale). So after nine years of collecting and hoarding, I have a boatload of stuff. And this is after several moves worth of whittling down that I've done. In short: you really never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move.

So this weekend's task is sorting and listing things for sale on Craigslist and eBay. I've got to tell you... it's really hard to see some of this stuff go! Sure, I won't miss my penguin-shaped humidifier that much, or my desk (which is already in pieces in the garage), but the artist/designer in me will definitely miss my printer (which can print large sizes) and my uber photo scanner. Alas, they cannot come with me because of the wiring differences in the UK. I may also have to sell a large painting that I created a few years back, and one (if not both) of my mannequins*.

The thing that seems to be daunting on me more than anything else though is the sheer amount of books that I own. The entire top shelf of my wall-length closet is full of them. I've already decided that I'm only taking a small portion of them with me, and the rest (after I make a list of the ones I may want to read again) will be either donated or sold... somehow. I haven't quite figured that out yet. At the very least, I'm going to have a garage sale in a week or two, and they can be sold there.

Proceeds from all these sales will help go toward replacing the hard drive and keyboard in my failing iBook, a couple of trunks to take my things over in, and my plane ticket. I actually found one for just under $500 for a one-way... with an eight hour layover in Reykjavík. It's a rather long time, but for the price I can't pass it up. I've also never been to Iceland (the only country besides my own that I've been to is England, since visiting Tijuana does not truly count as visiting Mexico), so I'm viewing it as a sort of treat, even though I'll be exhausted. But I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here.

The truth is, it's hard to get rid of your belongings. My original plan was to start taking care of all this months ago, little by little. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The idea of the move was just so overwhelming. It still is, but now that I have a real deadline it feels more real and grounded.

Even after I've sold and given away everything else, I've still got what's left of my clothes, a laptop, a bunch of my artwork, as much of my art supplies as I can fit, and all my little bits and bobs (as Michael would put it) to squeeze into two trunks I've yet to purchase and a suitcase. My mind still boggles a bit at that. But it must and will be done.

*Yes. Mannequins. Two. I like them because they're a bit creepy, and I was using them in art pieces in college. The tall one is going to go, and I won't much miss her, but I'm hoping to be able to bring over my kneeling child mannequin. She's a nice conversation piece.

Next Entry: Notes from a Small Island - Book Review

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Begin again at the beginning.

This past Monday, while I was on the long train ride* back home from visiting family and friends, I realized that my move to England had officially started. The end of that trip signified the real beginning of the process for me, even though it had been planned for months and Michael and I got married back on July 27th.

At any rate, my time in San Diego is going to come to an end sooner than I know it. And there's still so much left to do! I've got to replace some parts in my old iBook, sell and donate and chuck ungodly amounts of stuff that I've accumulated over the last nine years or so, get my supporting documents for my visa sent off to the UK consulate in Los Angeles, get some final medical appointments taken care of, get a plane ticket, pack my life into a few bags and trunks, and finally make my way across the pond.

It all seems a bit daunting with only five weeks to go!

I've started this blog/travel log to write about my experiences of moving to and living in a new country, and partially because I wanted to get more in the habit of writing. And maybe someone else down the line will read this as they are scouring the internet for other stories of expatriation before the embark on a journey of their own**.

First entries always feel a bit formal and awkward to me, so I promise to be a bit more interesting next time. ;)

*Well, train then bus then train. It's a long way from Stockton to San Diego!

**This spot is reserved for a shout out to UK Yankee, whose forum especially has been so immensely helpful through everything thus far, and (I'm sure) will continue to be so. You can find them at

Next Entry: How in the hell did I end up with all this stuff?