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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

New Build?



On Christmas Day we went to look at a site where we could potentially buy a plot and build a new home on the eastern edge of Eugene. We've viewed the house plans and it's within our budget, but until the house is built it's so hard to be sure exactly what you're getting for your money. There are no houses in the development at all at the moment, but all the roads are down and services are plumbed into each plot.

Our feeling now we were standing on the site was that despite the beautiful location the size of the plot might not leave much garden, so your neighbours could be looking right into your windows, and the noise from the I5 down in the valley, noticeable even on Christmas Day, could be intrusive.

With a new build on the back burner, we took a fresh look (online) at the 40 or so currently available houses that fit our search criteria, and selecting five possibles, drove round to take a look. Now we're living in Eugene it is of course much easier to view possible houses as soon as they are listed, and you can only tell so much from an online listing.




Of the chosen five we very quickly three rejected from an on-site inspection due to non-existant gardens or undesireable neighbourhoods, but this one did take our fancy, and we happened to catch the lady of the house for a chat. The house is on a cul-de-sac, backs onto a creek, and is at the current northwest corner of the city, so it's a quiet location, but still only ten minutes drive from all the shopping areas.

The house is about 2,500 square feet in the main building, but also had a third garage with a spare room above, so it's plenty big enough for us. We're having a look inside tomorrow, at the owner's invitation, and she is aware that we aren't in a position to buy until our London house is sold, but the house has been on the market for several months with only one other person showing interest so we may be lucky.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Herding Cat

Christmas Eve about 9:15pm, the cat decided it needed a sniff of the air. We've been slowly re-acclimatising Elbie to the outdoors for the last week, taking him first on a lead, and then as he doesn't go far or fast, just following him to be sure he doesn't get lost.

Beth escorted Elbie out, and I waited a few minutes to put on a hat and coat. I didn't bother with shoes, having my slippers on, as he wouldn't normally stay out for long in this freezing fog.

So, following Beth, we met up at a corner of a parking lot at the edge of the complex. Elbie was sniffing in the undergrowth as usual, then suddenly dived under the six foot tall boundary fence which had a 4" gap at the bottom. Nuts. I could see him through the gaps in the fence, but he was having far too much fun sniffing around and wouldn't come when called. Slowly he got further away, totally ignoring us.

Beth went back to the apartmenbt for cat treats, as Elbie can sometimes be enticed by the crumpling noise of the packet. She came back in minutes, which I had spent watching a black splodge slowly recede into the dark and fog, sniffing happily, until it vanished.

Beth followed the fence line which lead her away from the suspected cat location, while I head home for a flashlight, shoes and a mobile phone. Returning to the point where LB had gone under the fence there was still no sign of him, so I boosted myself over the fence and followed the line I thought LB might have taken. This lead me along the southern edge of a grassy field, (while Beth was making her way along the northern edge) and eventually to a corner next to a locked gate, and a couple of small trailers parked there. I use my flashlight to check under the trailers, then boosted myself over the chained gate, into a parking lot with two sheds, one of them up on blocks, and while I was checking the sheds Beth approached across a parking lot from the north, having walked rounds three sides of the fenced-in field.

There was still no sign of the cat. Our shoes were damp now, and we were not far from a road with occasional traffic. Beth headed towards the road, to follow it round to the south, while I scouted back north along the fence, still using the flashlight to check dark corners for a black cat. Nothing.

I passed through another parking lot, this time with cars and apartments round it. By this time it had become clear that if the cat was to be found by us it would be a miracle, and he'd have to return under his own steam, of be found by someone reading the nametag on his collar, which thankfully we had put on him a couple of days before.

Damp-footed and annoyed, I returned to the apartment, to discover LB sitting patiently on the mat outside, and very happy to be let back in again. I rang Beth, whio was only a couple of minutes behind me, and we were all home again in time for The Mentalist at 10pm, which turned out to be a repeat.

So we are now happy to let him wander unwatched if he wants to, as we know he can find his way home. Today he hasn't bothered to go more than a couple of yards from the door, so maybe he got a little rattled by the experience too.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Limescale

As all Londoners know, limescale from tapwater is a curse.

One spot of water left to dry leaves a small spot of white dusty scale. Kettles clog with limescale and have to be periodically de-scaled, pipes furr up so washing machines, central heating systems, baths, irons, showers and taps, all accumulate crustings of yellowish gunk, either visibly where they can be dealt with at enormous fuss and expense, or invisibly, where you hope they won't destroy your property before its time.

In Eugene, no limescale. Not one iota. After two weeks using the shower, kettle, and all the other situations where water meets heat or indeed just air-drying, not one spot of limescale to be seen.

It's an unplanned boon, but one that every day I count as a small blessing.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Trash

In London we had to keep all our rubbish for up to a week before it could be put out for collection, and separated food waste, plastic, cardboard/paper/tin cans/glass, and garden waste, into different receptacles. Anything that didn't fit into those categories went in a general black plastic bag.

As we lacked a garage, all the rubbish bags, boxes and bins would sit outside the back door in all weathers, so it was usually wet through by the time we were ready to carry it dripping through the house to the front door. The rubbish was collected once a week on a Tuesday sometiem between 6am and 5pm, but by three different crews at three different times, so we had to put it all out either last thing Monday night, or first thing Tuesday morning.

We would frequently come home to find something left behind, and always, but always, mess strewn across the road due to bursting bags and lazy dustmen. There might be a road sweeper round later in the week, but not reliably, so usually I would pick up the largest pieces of litter and put them back in our bins for the next week.


In our apartment complex in Eugene, we have the benefit of dumpsters located in each of the parking lots, so although we've generated a huge amount of trash recently, mostly cardboard boxes from new purchases, we don't have a huge pile waiting to be collected stacked outside the door. We keep a small plastic shopping bag for putting small items in as they are generated, and tie this shut and put it in the dumpsters as necessary. Cardboard and plastics are recycled, and they go in a separate dumpster.

My favorite thing by far, however, is recycling drinks cans and bottles. In Oregon, and many other states, cans and bottles carry a 5c deposit, so when you have finished your drink you wash out the receptacle, store it in a plastic bag, and when you have enough you take them to a recycling centre. These are located at most big stores, so there's no need to go hunting for one, and you don't need to take the cans back to the particular store you bought them at.

You feed the cans and bottles into recycling machines one at a time, and when you're done you get a receipt totalling 5c each item, to use against purchases in that store. There are washbasins and paper towels provided so you don't have to go away with sticky hands. This is the sort of convenience that the US is great at providing, and the UK doesn't seem to see the need for.

It also guarantees that there is almost no litter on the streets, as throwing away a drinks can is throwing away money.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Our First Eugene Session (as residents)

On Thursday evening we went to a music session at a local friend's house. A session, for those not into Traditional or Folk music, is an informal gathering of musicians for the purpose of playing together. There are sometimes listeners who are not musicians, but they are a side issue. This is not really a performance, and not a practise, though new tunes are picked up at sessions, so that a common repertoire becomes established.

Our friend P holds these monthly, and we had attended one back in June so we already knew a few of the musicians, and our host. Sessions can be a little intimidating until you find your feet, partly because you usually find you're not as fluent at your own tunes as you thought, and partly because you won't know many of the favourite local tunes. Both problems are fixed by practise, and the latter of course requires attendance so you know what tunes are likely to come up.

The common practise at this session (and another we went to in June) is to go round in a circle with each player starting a tune, or set of tunes, of their choice. In one evening the circle may go round 3-5 times, so a good plan is to have 8-10 tunes, in maybe 5 sets, that you are absolutely comfortable playing. I ought to have that and plenty more, but lack of recent practise and playing time severely limited my options when it came to my turn to lead a tune. I had my Fiddle as my main instrument, and Melodeon too which I played one set on, and Beth was on Whistle and Concertina.

We enjoyed ourselves, and the other musicians enjoyed having new members, and this session will be a regular social event for us. There are others on in the city, and we will be seeking these out too. The focus of a session we can enjoy together, and get home from easily and quickly, will (hopefully) encourage more practise from both of us.

I like Driving in my Car


On Wednesday, delayed a day because of the wi-fi installation problems, we drove 47 miles up to Corvallis to check out a second-hand car we hoped to buy.

Beth had been searching online for a station wagon, under $8,000 with less than 80,000 miles on the clock, and located a 2002 Mercury Sable at a dealership called Power. We wanted a station wagon partly because Beth has owned one before, a Ford Taurus very like the Sable (in all but name, they're the same model both made by Ford), and partly so we would have plenty of trunk space should we need it.

We got there in pouring rain, and located our salesman Frank. The other salesmen looked like he'd just stolen their candy.

We spent about 20 minutes going over the car minutely, noting dings and small dents, checking catches, aerial, tyres, fluids and other things, before taking it for a 30 mile testdrive with Frank in the back guiding us. Partway we changed drivers (Beth to me) so we could both get a feel for the car. One rattle developed while I drove, which proved to be the rear numberplate coming loose at one corner.

Beth had checked this car thoroughly online beforehand, including the Blue Book price, and service history (via Carfax), so armed with this knowledge we went into Frank's office to negotiate. Long and short, we knocked $700 off the sale price, getting plates & registration included(these normally add about $236), and a couple of things fixed too (new bigger wipers, trunk window hydraulic replaced, all fluids topped up).

Beth, again the US expert, had arranged insurance so that if we liked it we could drive it home that day. As a result we drove home separately, now proud owners of our own wheels. We need to go back in 2-3 weeks to get our own plates attached, and also the hydraulic window bar fitted as it wasn't in stock.

Beth had a good drive home in the new car and we decided to return the hire car a week early, since two cars at this time is an unnecessary luxury, so on Thursday afternoon we returned the Budget Rent-a-Car, a Pontiac G3, and saved about $280 on our expected rental costs.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Clubhouse

A few times in the past week I've referred to "The Clubhouse", so I thought I'd show you a few pictures of what I've been talking about.



The clubhouse is the only single-storey building in the complex, and the site of the rental office, so if you have any problems or comments this is the place to go.



The hallway, with doors through the back to other apartments. There is a pool (not open in the winter) and a hot tub out back.



To the left of the front door is the gym, with machines open for use by any residents, and TVs to watch while you work out. We haven't used these yet, but we plan to.



To the right is the TV lounge, with a huge TV with cable access, and a kitchen out back. The TV is on a 1st come 1st served basis, but as most residents have cable in their apartments it's usually free. Here I watched the Monday Night Football game.



At the rear of the building is the rental office, and a layout of tables and chairs, used by staff and residents. There is free but unsecured wi-fi access throughout the building, but we now have secure access in our apartment so we won't use this much now.



There is also an internet room, with three computers with internet access and a printer, free for residents to use but not abuse. We haven't got a printer at home, so this has been very useful if we need to print receipts, maps etc.



Finally there's a racquetball court, similar to a Squash court in the UK. The racquet has a larger head and shorter handle than a squash racquet, but otherwise the game works the same. There are also restrooms with lockers and water fountains which I haven't bothered to show.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Supersize Me


One great benefit of moving to the USA is the ability to buy food in larger quantities. Without a car in London, we were limited to buying only what we could carry in our arms, or sometimes loaded onto a packhorse bicycle.

Not only do we now have a car to carry the shopping home in, but the package sizes are generally larger, conferring a great saving through bulk buying. Many American foods are sold in larger sizes regularly, such as milk in 1 gallon bottles (3.78 litres), and cereal in 400+ gramme boxes. Potato chips (crisps) regularly come in packs weighing 10-15 oz, up to ten regular English servings in one bag.

On top of that, we have the opportunity to buy frequently used food and household items in big boxes, such as 48 toilet rolls (the biggest UK size is at best 12 rolls), or three 44oz (1.25kg) bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup in one pack.

Buying in bulk means financial savings, and fewer shopping trips. It also means more food in the apartment, and the opportunity to stuff oneself stupid. It's all too easy to sit down with a 15 oz bag of chips and not rise until the bag is empty.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday 11th Dec - The Cable Guy

Today we were tidying up a few loose ends. Beth took her written driving test to transfer her Washington driving license to an Oregon one. To transfer a license within the US there's a 35 question multiple-choice test, and you need to score 80% (28/35). Beth being Beth scored 34. I'll be happy to scrape the 28 when it's my turn, but I can't take the test until I have my social security number, which should arrive sometime early January, and I'll have to do a physical driving test too.

Beth also registered to vote in Oregon, and there's a big vote coming up in January.

We bought a cell phone at Fred Meyer so we could make a few urgent calls, as our T-Mobile phones won't show up till Wednesday at the earliest. Then back to the apartment to wait for The Cable Guy. He turned up a bit late, and then, not through any fault of his own, couldn't get the connections right after a couple of hours work, and someone's coming back tomorrow to finish up. This is a little frustrating, but he offered a $25 refund for the inconvenience, and that pays for the first month's connectivity.

A bit later than planned, we drove to a friend's house in pouring rain to collect a couple of boxes we left here in July. He's actually the friend of a friend, and it was very nice of him to hold these for us. He hosts a music session in his house once a month, and we'll be seeing him again Thursday evening for that.

There was just time for me to grab a Carl Jr's burger (wouldn't bother again) on the way home (Beth driving) before settling onto the clubhouse sofa to watch the Monday Night Football game, Cardinals vs 49ers. Three hours later I abandon the game with ten minutes still to play, as the Cards have turned the ball over six times and there's not time left for them to come back and win.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sunday = Football Day

I've been a fan of (American) football, and specifically the Philadelphia Eagles, since I first saw a Redskins vs. Eagles game in 1984 while at university, and one thing I've been looking forward to is being able to watch games on TV as they happen, rather than listening on the radio or watching a game I recorded during the night. On the west coast we're 3 hours behind the east coast, so 1pm kickoffs start at 10am here, and the Sunday Night Game coverage starts around 4pm.

Before a day of slouching in my recliner, cat on lap, the only exercise I got was walking to the clubhouse for an early morning Skype chat with my parents in England, 8 hours ahead. My wife went out shopping as I settled in for an eye-watering marathon.

I'm now watching the Eagles at the Giants, so no time to type any more!

Mattress Hunt

Saturday, I learn that a recliner is comfy for a couple hours nap but maybe not the whole night. I've also had the cat on my lap most of the night, nice for him, but restricting for me.

We have the u-Haul van until 3pm, so our plan for today is to source two mattresses and then use the truck to collect them before returning it. Unfortunately there had been freezing rain overnight, and the sidewalk outside the flat was a skating rink, the roads not much better, so we decided to delay our start until 10am to allow a chance for some thawing. Meantime we did some online stuff, and discovered that Beth's credit card had been blocked AGAIN, "for unusual activity". Once was OK, as she hadn't used it for ages, and not in Oregon at all, but a second time, after we had visited a branch to sort it out, was trying. We phoned from the clubhouse, and sorted that out again, this time with the casual mention that if this happens again we will be taking our business elsewhere.

10am we set out in our hire car to PetSmart, to get a cat tree for Elbie. He hasn't had one before, but we wanted give him the chance to sit and look out the window. They had a goodly selection, and we wedged one into the back of the car, and as we were close by we went back to CostCo for a proper look around, possibly for side tables and a TV stand.

Nothing much there for us in the furniture way, but we bought some food basics, including 8 tins of Clam Chowder for which I am developing a taste after first trying it in Boston in the summer of 2006. Also 3 huge bottles of Heinz Ketchup, a huge pack of paper napkins and two bottles of Parmesan cheese. Purchases of this magnitude are impossible for most people in the UK.


Then off to Sleep Country to source mattresses. Unfortunately they don't carry stock, and we would have to go to their Springfield branch to get at least one mattress, though they did have one they would sell us on the spot. We consider this, but head off to Mattress Mania on West 11th Ave to see if they had anything in stock.

No. They don't have any stock space at all, so after a quick glance through the window we got back in the car and headed home to collect the van to drive to Springfield. On the way, further up West 11th, we spotted American Mattress Manufacturing, and diving in quickly discovered that this was the place for us, they had a huge amount of stock of both beds and mattresses, and after trying a few mattresses we bought two, ready to be collected in an hour or so.

Back to the apartment complex to collect the van, and I took it back to AMM to collect our mattresses. For now we are getting two twins, as we have bedframes being shipped over from the UK that they will go on, eventually for spare bedrooms. When we have bought a house we will be getting a King size bed with all the trimmings.

Mattresses unloaded (it's good to have a strong wife who can share the carrying), and we have an hour for a late lunch before returning the van to u-Haul. I highly recommend them, it cost us just $70 for the van for the day, including $15 of gas we put in. When we haveb to move into the house we'll get a big u-Haul for the job, and possibly rope in a couple of friends to help lift and shift.

After returning the van we stopped off at the Post Office for Beth to send a package, then to Wal-Mart to get two floor lamps (we call them standard lamps in England), a couple of cheap side tables to use with our recliners, and a TV stand. The TV stand we chose is a cheap $24 design of plywood and plastic, but works very well for our current situation. We'll get an even bigger TV when we have a house, and use this one in ther bedroom, though as I've had the same 21" TV for over 17 years the 32" seems pretty big, but we are now in the land of big.

Home at last, we assemble the lamps and TV stand, stand the tables up, and then realise we have no bulbs for the lamps. D'oh, I go to Target to get those, then have a drive towards Toys'R'Us for a look at their shelves, but fog has descended, darkness has fallen, and I can't find the store! Giving up on that I stop by at Albertson's, our nearest food store, and stock up on further food items and some Oregon Ducks caps and a t-shirt.

Home after 7pm, we watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV, or most of it, because we're both too tired to see the end. By 9:30pm Beth is rolled up in her bedding on her new mattress, and within the hour I joined her.

D+2 - Friday - Uhaul and Recliners

We slept until 6am this time, though the floor was a little hard on my hips and backside, so early mattress acquisition was desireable.

We went up to the clubhouse to get online, and ordered the T-Mobile phones and booked a U-Haul van for 3pm. Then Beth discovered that her credit card that we had bought everything with was blocked "for unusual activity", i.e. we'd actually used it. That meant we couldn't get started on shopping until we'd been to the Bank of America (or called them on our non-existant phones) to sort that out problem, but we were planning a Bank visit anyway at 9am, so it wasn't a big deal.

Off to the Bank then, and after they unlocked the card we also sorted out Bank accounts (checking and Savings) for me, and a joint checking account. That was all very quick and easy, and I was impressed with their efficiency. I walked out with a temporary debit card I could use, something I haven't encountered in the UK, and very convenient, especially considering our current needs.

Then off to CostCo, a discount warehouse where you have to be a member (for $50 a year) to shop, but you can buy in bulk a great prices, and they also sell TVs, various furniture and other stuff, and also food and clothes. We decided to become Executive Members, an extra $50 fee, but you get the $50 and more back at the end of the year if you spend enough. We may well buy a big 50" TV here when we get our house, which would be more than enough to get the cashback. Beth also ordered an American Express card linked to CostCo (the only credit card the accept) which confers other perks. Havinggot our membership sorted out we had a look round but didn't buy much, as we planned to return another day.

Back to Fred Meyer to order a second recliner for Beth. The sales assistant had been a bit too pushy the first time, and put Beth off, but we decided that having two matching recliners would be better, so we ordered a second to be colelcted that afternoon, then got a 32" LCD TV, an Oregon Ducks T-Shirt for me (they are in the Rose Bowl 1st Jan 2010 - GO DUCKS!), and soe foodstuffs, before heading back to the apartment to set up the TV.

Now this may seem foolish, but I hadn't realised the TV needed a separate aerial, I had assumed it was all included, so I would have to go back to FM to get that. We also discovered two packages missed while we were out, one left at the Leasing Office and the other mysteriously not, so I would have to go to the FedEx centre in Springfield after 5pm to collect it, or wait for a redelivery on Monday. The FedEx package was my laptop, so I determined to collect it.

We collected the second package, a replica Philadelphia Eagles Helmet for me (for display, not use), went back to FM and got a Digital Aerial for the TV, and finally home to get it all set up. This provides us with about a dozen channels, the main ones CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, plus a few local stations.

After some lunch we went to u-Haul to collect a van, and then back to FM for the third time today to collect the two recliners and a flat packed table. Home again to set them up, and dispose of acres of cardboard packing. It had started to rain, and it was interesting manouvering the boxed chairs into the house, but we got them set up OK, and now each had somewhere comfy to sit, and a TV to watch. WE did not yet have beds to sleep on, just bedding, but we decided to leave the mattress hunt until Saturday.

Beth had a job interview lined up now, that she had arranged before we left the UK, so she drove off in the increasing rain and encroaching dark, while I went off in the van to collect my laptop.

Well it's a simple drive to Springfield in good weather and daylight, but a tense one in an unfamiliar van, with freezing rain lashing down and in the dark. The Beltline highway was my route for 90% of the way, and I saw a couple of crashed cars that had obviously fallen foul of the poor conditions. I drove slowly, peering through the murk to see mty way, and not unnaturally missed my turn the first time and had an interesting 15 minutes navigating the backstreets of Springfield before, more by luck than judgement, happening across the FedEx office. I collected my package with a polite enquiry as to why it wasn't left at the office (and not a very satisfactory answer), then hauled myself back into the van to carry my new toy home.

Beth arrived home from her interview, which went well and she has a second interview next week. We watched a bit of TV, but were too tired now to have much interest, and collaped again, Beth in her bedding, me rolled up in my comforter in my recliner.

Friday, 11 December 2009

D +1 - outfitting the flat

After waking at 3:30am, Beth and I were both jet-lagged, so we chatted until 6am when breakfast was available. It was freezing outside, and we had to warm the car before loading up and setting out. Waffles and syrup plus a cup of tea for me and OJ for Beth, and we were ready to hit the road around 7am.

Elbie the cat miowed intermittently on the drive down I5 to Eugene, but seemed tired and sleepy and much of the time was silent. I slept a bit too, and Beth did all the driving. We arrived around 11am, finding our way to the apartment complex easily, and meeting C. who ran us through the paperwork. I've never signed and initialed so many sheets of paper before, but after about an hour we were in our new apartment and able to release Elbie. He hid behind the tumble dryer while we unpacked a little and planned our first shopping trip, to get a better litter tray and various cat essentials to make him more comfortable.

We have never needed a litter tray for Elbie before, as he had a cat flap and outdoor access anytime he wanted, but before we went out this time he managed to christen our makeshift one. When we got back about an hour later with a brand new litterbox with lid plus "Scoop Away" kitty litter, we couldn't find him anywhere in the flat. A panicked search ensued for about ten minutes, until B discovered him inside the tumble dryer. There was a cat-sized hole in the back of the machine (for no obvious reason), and he'd tucked himself in there and got stuck because of his cat collar. I had to pull the machine out gently, ease him out and remove the collar (not necessary indoors anyway), and then we shut the doors on the utility closet.

With his new litter tray he really went to town; he must've been holding back the floodgates for a couple of days. My fears of Elbie littering round the flat were immediately banished, and we concluded that he had been trained to use a litter tray by his previous owners.

Cat now more settled and comfortable, we set out again to get some basics for ourselves. First plan was to open a bank account for me so I could have financial independence (my US funds were being held in one of B's saving accounts), so we stopped off at a Bank of America, but they were too busy and slow, and we had a lot to do in a few hours, so we abandoned that until the next day. An odd aside, the bank teller, when she saw our address, gave a gasp of astonishment. It turnes out she is our upstairs neighbour, her address being just one digit different to ours. Small world, or at least, small city.

Next stop was T-Mobil, but we were foiled again, as they didn't have the (cheap) phones we wanted, so we determined to order online instead, and to out up with a few days delay to get the right phones.

We moved on to Fred Meyer, one of the big department stores in the Pacific Northwest, and purchased bedding and towels, a comfy armchair (bought with a gift of money from my aunt), various foodstuffs, dining table and 2 chairs (flatpacked), and a shower curtain and rings. The table and armchair we couldn't take immediately as the car was too small, so we arranged to collect them the next day. Everything else we crammed into the car, and as Beth was now very tired I drove home.

We barely had the strength to munch our meagre rations before Beth slipped into unconsciousness, and I soon joined her after a stroll round the block. During the stroll I bumped into our upstairs neighbours, the bank teller D and her husband, so we chatted for a while, until the shivering of their small dog reminded us all that it was well below freezing. I dived back inside, rolled myself up in my new comforter, and drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

D-Day - Arrival in the USA

Yesterday was the big move day. We woke around 5:30am and spent 4 hours doing last minute cleaning and tidying, filling about six black bin bags with junk we didn't want to carry or leave in the house. We had a slight bit of cat-juggling, as we wanted Elbie to have a chance to do his morning sniffs and perambulation, but be sure he was available when we needed to leave.

A minicab came at 9:30 to take us to the airport, via the Animal Quarantine Centre for our cat Elbie. He miowed quietly and regularly in the cab, but settled done, and we handed him over to the cat courier around 10:15. On to Terminal 5 for the humans and their luggage, we got our boarding passes quickly but couldn't check in our luggage as we were an hour too early. Lots of walking/standing space but very few seats is my main impression of the terminal.

Time to check luggage, and a minor hiccup occurs, our bags are too heavy. However we have a bigger checked allowance because we had upgraded our seats, so I nipped to a luggage shop and got a small duffel bag for £25, into which we loaded our excess weight so all 3 bags came under the limits. Phew.

On through security, the usual queues but no problem. At this point we have one carry on suitcase apiece, plus an instrument each (fiddle and bag of concertinas), and B has a laptop as well. I also have my melodeon in my carry on suitcase as well, as it's by far the most valuable small and easily broken item I have.

Still no boarding gate announcement, so we go to Boots (the Chemist) to buy some sandwiches and drinks, using the last of my loyalty card points. We sit and munch these on a couple of seats under the announcement board (design note - you can't see the board while sitting), and read books. After about an hour we have a boarding gate, A10, and move to the next stage.

I had hoped to get some duty-free Jameson's Irish Whiskey for one of our Eugene friends who had been storing some boxes for us, but they don't have Jameson's, just Scottish brands so we skip that and wait for our boarding announcement. It comes and everybody piles forward and onto a bus...

A bus? Yes, despite the swanky new British Airways terminal building, we still have to pile onto a cattle truck to drive several minutes to the plane. The good news is we get right next to the exit door, so when we arrive on the tarmac and walk to the plane, B and I are first up the boarding stairs and into our seats, so we can stuff our overhead bins full before other greedies get there. We are flying World Traveller Plus, slightly bigger seats and slightly smarmier service with a doubled baggage allowance.

So we settle into our slightly bigger seats and play with the footrests and back recliners while the plane fills, but there's a hold-up because someone has taken a funny turn, and we're delayed an hour before actual takeoff. 1st Class get drinks served during this time, but our section do not, so we read, listen to iPods etc.

We're off, the wheels lift off the ground. We have left UK soil. When will I be back?

The flight is smooth, we sleep in snatches and miss bits of the films because they're on a fixed loop, unlike Virgin Airlines where you can pause and change choices at any time. Never mind. I watch some GI Joe action movie on a screen not much bigger than my iPod screen, the guy in the seat in front lurching about like a beached whale joggling the screen frequently. Not the most edifying in-flight entertainment, but at least I have a footrest and an iPod. I finish my book and give it to B to read.

We arrive at Seattle-Tacoma airport on time (4:10pm local time, midnight:ten London time) thanks to good tailwinds, grab our baggage and shuffle off to immigration. They announced on the plane that there were three different sections, US Citizens, visitors, and US Residents, Green Card Holders and immigrants, but that was misleading. We get steered towards the right section, and I'm clutching a sealed big brown manilla envelope with my details. This is the big moment, we are first in the queue again (woo hoo) and Officer Anderson is quick, polite and efficient, a nice change from some previous experiences. In about 30 minutes I am processed, visa endorsed, fingerprints taken etc. they have our new apartment address (we had used my BIL's in Texas previously), and we're off to collect our checked bags. I should receive my Social Security Number in about 3 weeks (equivalent to a National Insurance Number in the UK), my green card not for six months, but the stamped Visa serves the place of both for now.

Due to checking in early at Heathrow our bags are ready on the conveyor belt, so we grab them and pass though customs in minutes. Then we have to put them on another conveyor belt to get to them main part of the airport while we board a train. At the other end there is slight confusion as to where to get our bags again, but we soon locate the correct baggage carousel. The carousel isn't moving yet, so we head off to the car rental desks to get that sorted while we wait. Second small hiccup of the day occurs here. The normal Budget Rental desk is closed and has been moved to a different location on a different floor, so we split up temporarily, B going to organise the car while I got back to the carousel to ensure our bags aren't stolen. We arrange to meet at the carousel.

However the bags arrive in seconds, so I stupidly decide to try to drag them to where I think B may have gone. I can only explain this madness by pleading tiredness from the flight, eagerness to be moving after ten hours of butt-numbing stillness, and my innate level of stupidity at messing up carefully arranged plans. So I start dragging four wheeled suitcases, two shoulder duffel bags (one filled with concertinas), a long fiddle case (with just one shoulder strap) and the plastic bag from Boots with my overcoat and a few munchies in. I left B her laptop bag at least. I manage to get to the car parks via an elevator, but have no idea where the Budget desk is located, and I realise B has probably done and gone back to the carousel where I am waiting. Oh no, I'm not there anymore am I?

So, t-shirt soaked with sweat but outside temperature hovering around freezing, I drag the landtrain back towards the carousel (using the elevator again, which mercifully was empty both times), just in time to see a puzzled B looking all round for me or the bags. I shout pleadingly, but she doesn't hear me and starts walking away, faster than I can drag the cases. Panic, I stop, cup my hands into a cone and shout her name again. Mercy, she hears me and comes back, still looking puzzled. I disguise my stupidity with bad temper, and she heads off to the information desk to find out where we collect the cat.

Given a few minutes to cool down mentally and physically, I manage to summon a smile for B when she returns, and we wheel and lug our worldly goods off to the rental car, which B has upgraded to a mid-size or we wouldn't get everything in. It's a good choice, a Pontiac which we haven't driven before, and we put down the back seat and load up. I put on a fresh t-shirt, and then my fleece and overcoat, and put the car heater on max, because it is now below freezing.

We set off into the dark Washington State evening, and soon find Menzies Aviation where the cat E is waiting quietly for us in his carrier. Quietly, that is, until he hears our voices (first time in 17 hours), and I comfort him with finger through his cage bars while B sorts the paperwork. We need $35 cash to pay, and fortunately I have $36 in my wallet from our last trip so all is well and we claim our prize and load up again.

As we head south on Interstate 5 Elbie is miowing again quietly, not really distress, just confusion and reminding us that he's not 100% contented, so we drive for only an hour before deciding to stop the night. Quality Inn accept pets ($15 extra), so we check in there, unload bags into our room via nearest fire escape door, and release the caged beast. In fact he's happy to be back with us, and wanders round the room as cats do checking the new arrangements, before finding a lap to sit on and start purring. We order Pizza Hut Pizza delivered to our room (we'd prefer Papa John's but it's not available here), have a swift much, quick scan of the cable TV channels, and collapse into bed around 9:30pm.

I wake at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30, finally deciding to stop fighting jet lag, and get up and shower. D+1 has started.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

D -1 Last day in London

We had various small jobs to complete today.

First, put on last clothes wash and hang it out to dry, then visit the local council office to get our Council tax exemption registered (for leaving the house unoccupied we pay less tax until it is sold). Next we visited the Estate Agent and reduced the house price (we always thought it was a little high, and we've had no offers yet after a month on the market). Then a short walk to a London Underground station to get the £3 each deposit back on several Oyster cards. These are credit card size passes that you use on buses and tube trains, and we had accumulated half a dozen spares over the years.

On to my parents house, with sandwiches, to say goodbye and show them how to work several electrical items we were giving them, mostly digital radios and digital TV tuners that won't work in the US.

Back home via an ATM to get some cash for the airport taxi in the morning, then a quick whizz round with the vacuum, clean the bathroom and kitchen again, and I collapse for an hour or so while industrious wife puts a last coat of oil on the new kitchen work surfaces and starts going through last minute paperwork.

I get in the washing (it hadn't dried much outdoors but you have to try), put it in the tumble dryer, take down the old washing lines in the garden and add them to the growing pile of junk my parents will be disposing of after we have gone.

Join wife on paperwork sorting, and we take the opportunity to upgrade our plane seats. It's a ten hour flight so we figure it's worth it for £100 each. Check through papers we're leaving with the house, papers we need on the flight, papers we need when we arrive, insurance papers, papers, papers.

It starts raining heavily.

Off to our favourite Sushi restaurant for a delicious supper (no washing up, wahay!), stopping on the way at the local library to take a photocopy of my UK driving license (just in case) and back home to say goodbye to our neighbours who are keeping an eye on the house for us. Long chat about our flight, the cat's flight, relative size of the city of Eugene to the borough of Ealing (half the population, twice the urban area) and the use of Skype.

Drag heavy suitcases downstairs ready for the morning, and pack the last few items including just dry clothes.

Update Blog.

Phew, usually the last day before the start of a journey I get a bit antsy, but I didn't really have the time today. I'll have to wake up at 5am to get it done tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Wife

I knew my wife was a pretty amazing person before I married her, but getting through the whole emigration process would have been impossible without her. Not merely because I wouldn't have qualified for a spousal visa unless I was married to an American Citizen, or had her to sponsor my application, but because she is fantastic at finding information on the internet, filling in forms, planning and organising.

The Visa process is immensely complicated, requiring a string of forms, certificates, affidavits, photographs, financial statements and goodness knows what else. I have mostly taken a back seat while my wife put together the various packages required and sent them off, got me to the interview and answered their questions with me, and ensured that we were always four steps ahead of the process.

So a big thank you to my wife for being more than just a calming influence, but a leading light in my life.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Toast

In one of those "life could be a little bit better in tiny ways" moments, I burnt my toast this morning. Not because I had the toaster set too high, but because the pre-sliced bread was bigger than the toaster, so I had to turn the slices and do them twice. That was too much for a partly toasted and pre-heated slice, and I had some scraping to do.

Is it too much to ask designers of toasters to make them the right size to fit standard bread slices, or the breadmakers to make loaves in dimensions that fits a standard toaster?

My days are filled with moments life this, where poor design leads to poor results.

Yesterday I was driving a hire car, a Vauxall Astra, and it was a lovely, almost brand new vehicle, but one design feature frustrated me. The indicator lever, rather than having an up (indicate right), middle (no signal) and down (indicate left) position, was designed so that after flicking up (right) or down (left) it returned to the centre position.

That's fine if your turn will cancel the indicator, but if you're driving on the interstate (or in this case, the motorway) and are just changing lanes, then you need to cancel the indicator yourself after changing lanes. How do you do this? Obviously you have to flick the lever in the other direction. Normally, i.e. on every make of car I have ever driven before, across two continents and six countries, in 25 years of driving, this returns the lever to the centre, non-indicating setting. On this whizzy new design of Astra however, if you flick too far you end up indicating back the other way, so it looks like you're changing back to the lane you just left.

Someone must have designed this new style of indicator, and no doubt got an award, but apparently never actually drove the car to try it. At least 60% of the time I tried to cancel an indicator I ended up indicating the other way, and often when trying to cancel that wrong indicator I'd end up indicating again the way I'd just turned. I'm not a bad driver usually, I have never had an accident, but I came pretty close a few times with this stupid indicator switch.

If anyone from Vauxhall (or General Motors, or any other car manufacturer) should happen to read this, I will not be purchasing one of your car models if it has this kind of indicator, no matter how new and shiny and well laid out the rest of the controls are, because it's stupid and it doesn't work.

Well honestly. While we're on the subject of car design, drinks holders the driver can reach are a good idea, even in the UK. 'nuff said.

Oh, and to the toaster manufacturers of North America, I will be taking a loaf of bread to aid my toaster purchase decision in a week or so, and if the bread won't fit your toaster, I won't be buying one. You have been warned.

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