Happy Holidays

Our Americanisation is almost complete. This year we sent out ‘holiday cards’.  I think this is a truly American phenomenon. A family photo taken in the Autumn/Fall, or taken at a christmas tree farm, generally wearing themed outfits – denim, plaid or Santa hats I’ve noticed in general.

We decided to get in on the act, but without a formal photo shoot and thankfully, featuring just our photogenic son.  Looking through Pinterest I saw lots of lovely ideas for ‘staging’. Of course none of that worked well in real life in our garden! We were pleased with our finished product – which we ordered through Shutterfly – but I thought I would share the ‘out-takes’ today on the blog.  I just think it’s so funny to see what really goes on to get just one good photo.

Why sit still?

How many ways can you think of to encourage a toddler to smile?

“If you’re happy and you know it….”
Let's try jumping....
Let’s try jumping….
A good close up of the snotty nose.
A good close up of the snotty nose.

And here’s the final product:

IMG_5671 I know we’re biased but seriously, how cute is he?!



A literary drought and historical finds.

Over the summer I really got back into reading. After what has felt like a literary drought (oh no wait, I mean a sleep-averse baby), I decided that I was going to make more effort to read.  I wanted to read the book club reads in advance, rather than speed read some of them the week before we met.  I covered a lot of literary ground.  One of the books I chose to read was ‘A Clearing in the Wild’, recommended by my mother and mother-in-law and inspired by a trip with my mum to a local town, Aurora.


Aurora was founded as a religious commune in the mid 19th Century by a German man, Dr William Keil.  Here’s a little story about why my mum wanted to visit Aurora when she visited in the summer:

While on her 2007 holiday to Washington State and Oregon, mum wanted to read a book set here.  She chose ‘A Clearing in the Wild’ by Jane Kirkpatrick. It is a novel based on the true life story of Emma  Giesy and how she follows her husband from their Missouri home to find a new place for their religious colony out west in Oregon. Mum enjoyed the book and recommended that my mother in law read it before coming out to visit us here for the first time.  Taking it a little further, the MiL read the next two novels in the trilogy and visited the Colony Museum when she came last summer.  She recommended that mum and I visit the museum this year. We did.  After my visit I finally decided that I’d like to read ‘A Clearing in the Wild’. 

Aurora is probably more well known for it’s antiques these days but we didn’t explore this aspect of town at all.  We concentrated on the Colony Museum and took a walk around the small town centre to visit the other colony buildings that still stand.  It was really very interesting.


What I especially took away from the visit was some information that I was told by one of the volunteers at the museum.  There were many beautiful quilts on display that the women of the colony had made.  The volunteer explained to me that for the colony women this was the only way that they were really able to express their creativity, such was their life and beliefs.  Not just beautiful, these quilts were intricate, and in some cases very contemporary in their style. It was this, along with some anecdotes from the book that mum had told me while we wandered around Aurora, that really intrigued me about Kirkpatrick’s book. What was it about the life they led that gave them such limited voices? What persuaded these women – and men – to move out west? The protagonist, Emma is quite a character.  She was brave and different and spoke out for what she believed. And she secretly sewed ruffles into her dress, bucking colony rules.

The novel was not actually set in Aurora but reading this after visiting the town brought me a much greater understanding of the colony’s beliefs. I also learnt more about the women who would have made such expressive and beautiful quilts. I had put off reading this book – I don’t know why, perhaps I thought it was going to be ‘dated’. But I was wrong to think that.  It was interesting, gave me insight into the Oregon Trail and made me want to learn more about all of the people who made the journey west, not just those extending their religious colonies.


So the literary drought is thankfully over! My favorite reads so far this year have been Longbourn and The Martian but there was something about The Girl on the Train that I just couldn’t put down. I would certainly welcome any reading recommendations now that I am back into the swing of things.  Feel free to suggest away.

A week of salad

This was drafted forever ago….

Last night week I made soup for tea.  That means we are officially in Autumn. However it reminded me that last month two month’s ago, Nick and I specifically ate salads for a week, to keep summer going and to reinvigorate our healthy eating. We picked seven of our favourite salads and planned meals around them.  (N.B. I do meal plans, however it’s usually based around what we get in our vegetable box, rather than what we fancy!) We do love salads so we found it hard to pick our favorites.  This was a great week for us. And it was still easy for us to plan around our veg box too.

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Asian Salad Wraps. I love these and you can add anything to them. For me the two must-include ingredients are coriander (cilantro) and spring onion (green onion/scallion).
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Beetroot Salad. I think this could be my second favourite salad ever. Roasted beets (three different colors shown here, thank you Beaverton Farmers Market), chèvre, chopped hazelnuts, we used rocket (arugula) and then a balsamic dressing. The best beet salad I’ve had in Portland was from Lovely’s Fifty Fifty restaurant.I highly recommend it.
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Classic chicken caesar salad. You can see Nick was not impressed at having to wait to eat his meal! I was also adamant that we would have a traditional caesar salad and would not include the tomatoes in the mix.
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Pork & Peach salad. Because my mum is awesome, when she has been to visit us she brings a handful of recipes she’s pulled out of magazines for us to try – easy meals that she can make while she stays with us, or that she just thinks we will like. This Fruity Summer Salad technically includes chicken and prosciutto, along with peaches, salad leaves, mozzarella and mint. It is delicious, and I would recommend it to anyone. Easy to prep in advance if you’re having lunch guests, as the meat can be hot, warm or cold. It’s the dressing that makes it though – balsamic, oil, honey & mustard, mmmm mmmm!
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Favourite ever salad. Caprese. Look at these amazing Working Hands Farm heirloom tomatoes and super-sized basil leaves. We saved the last of our Oregon Olive Mill oil & vinegar for this treat on a plate.
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A lovely autumnal salad that I have made throughout the year. Kale salad with a warm cranberry dressing. This is a Pinterest Win and no mistake! (click photo for link to recipe on Gimme Some Oven)


We finished off our week of salads with a bit of a treat. Pulled pork & coleslaw. Is coleslaw technically a salad? This was heavily debated chez Farrar. However, we both love it so it made it onto the menu plan. I very rarely buy coleslaw and always make it. I base it on a combination of a Jamie Oliver recipe (click photo for link to recipe) and remembering what I have seen my mum do! Nick thinks that it’s the thing I make best. (Note that there is no cooking involved!)


Hike it baby, hike it!

I took Alfie on our first Hike it Baby hike just over a year ago. It was September, he was nine weeks old and I had no idea what to expect.

I am no ‘hardcore’ hiker and I do not go on lots of Hike it Baby hikes each week.  But I do like to get outside and walk. I think herein lies a British and American difference.  We Brits walk a lot. We walk to the shops, we walk to the pub, we walk to school, we go for a walk. In America there seems not to be so much walking. But there is hiking.

As children, me and my brothers grew up going for walks most weekends.  In the country, by rivers, across farmland, in and around the villages or towns where we lived, around National Trust-owned properties.  We complained incessantly about it. Yet as adults, all three of us regularly go for walks on our weekends and time off and enjoy doing so.  It has certainly shaped who I am. It has made me curious about the natural world, aware of seasonal changes, respectful of nature, and I think, more in touch with the places that I have lived.

But back to the ‘hiking’. I imagine any Americans reading this would think “That’s not walking you’re talking about. That’s hiking.” To me, hiking is way more serious. It’s sturdy walking boots and a backpack complete with maps, compass and whistle.  It’s a day-long, multi-mile excursion involving some pretty big hills.

So when I heard about Hike It Baby, I thought I could be pretty much out of my depth. Because yes, I could walk and enjoyed walking. But hiking  – and with a tot in tow – seemed somewhat challenging.

A year later and Alfie and I love ‘hiking’ and we have Hike It Baby to thank to opening up our ‘hiking’ world. It doesn’t matter whether it is a ‘hike’ to the park or a four mile trail hike, we are getting outdoors and getting to know more about nature and the place in which we live.

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September’s Hike it Baby challenge was to hike 30 miles in 30 days.  As a stay at home mum with just one baby to care for, I am lucky that I can get out during the working week. I felt quite confident that we would be able to reach the target mileage.  The ‘extra’ challenge that I set for Alfie and I was that we would use September to get back into going to Hike It Baby organized hikes and do new to us hikes and park toddles.

photo 1In the end we logged just over 43 miles, which I was pleased with.  Yes, there were a few more walks to our local park than I would have liked (I thought we should be more adventurous!) but you know what? That’s a 1 – 1.5 mile round trip and one that Alfie loves to walk himself (sometimes) and we’re still outdoors! The challenge gave me a really good insight into how far we do walk on a given month.  It did inspire me to get out a little more often than usual – going out more than once a day, tagging neighborhood hikes or park toddles onto already planned activities or appointments – but by and large, logging our miles showed me that we probably do walk around this distance each month.

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We saw lots of new parks and trails and attempted (although shamefully did not fully complete) two of Laura Foster’s Portland Hill Walks that I’d been wanting to do for a while.

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I didn’t get to as many Hike It Baby organized hikes as I wanted to.  Alfie does not love being in the carrier entirely and so I know that some of the hikes that I choose are very much for me and not necessarily for him.  I sometimes find it hard to justify that ‘me’ time, so to speak. Like all toddlers, he has lots of energy to burn off and I know that being carried for a couple of hours, if I haven’t been able to get his wriggles out earlier on, is just not going to wear him out enough to sleep well.  I wholeheartedly agree that getting outside is vital for young minds and little legs. I love that Hike It Baby enables and encourages me to get Alfie outdoors and know that I can meet friends at the same time. But even hearing about all the hikes that people do makes me want to get out with Alfie on my own.  And for me, that is worth even more.

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So whether it is hiking or walking, it doesn’t matter.  We got outside a lot this September and we plan to keep on getting outdoors this fall. Thanks to our Hike It Baby community.



JRob’s Journal: Jaded, jetlagged yet joyful.

Dear Reader, last Spring, Laura asked me to write a Guest Blog about my first visit to Portland. Now that I’ve returned from my third visit, I felt it was time to write another blog.

Flying in over the Rockies
Flying in over the Rockies

This June, it was a Team Robinson holiday: I was joined by my sons Nic and Tom, and Tom’s girlfriend Karen. As Tom and Karen hadn’t travelled to the Pacific North West before, we flew into Seattle so we could visit Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St Helens, before travelling onto Portland. Despite our long flight, plus a lack of sleep for two of the party, the beauty of Mount Rainier certainly raised our spirits, and early the next morning, we set off for the Johnson Observatory for a close look at St Helens. Nic and I had visited it before yet, like Tom and Karen, we were amazed once again by its raw beauty and the power of Mother Nature. Then after lunch at Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House, Toutle, (Graham and I had also eaten here in 2007), we were on our way to a family reunion. The past 24 hours had given us the opportunity to acclimatise to the heat and the time difference, although I couldn’t wait to see little Alfie, as you might expect.

Loading up the hire car.
Loading up the hire car.
Straight to Mt Rainier for fresh air and sunshine after the flight
Straight to Mt Rainier for fresh air and sunshine after the flight

There followed a wonderful eleven days together. We celebrated Alfie’s birthday with an early party (Vintage Airplane theme) for some of his little friends and their parents, and the actual day itself at a beach of the Columbia River on Sauvie Island, followed by a late lunch at Portland’s food carts. So much choice! We also spent time on Arcadia Beach and visited Cannon Beach so Tom and Karen could see Haystack Rock with its Goonies connection, after stopping for breakfast at Camp 18. We all agreed that the pancakes, known as flatcars there, and the huge cinnamon roll were fantastic additions to our savoury choices.

Happy birthday Alfie!
Happy birthday Alfie!
Playing in the Columbia River.
Playing in the Columbia River.

Tom and Karen were determined to see as much as they could and try as much of the local food as possible. Working in a gastro pub as they do, they were obviously interested in the range of food on offer, the wide choice at the supermarkets and the wonderful Farmers’ Market at Beaverton. We all enjoyed a meal at Irving Street Kitchen, discussing the menu, décor and service thoughtfully and appreciatively, though Tom also relished the food at Bridgeport Brew pub. We enjoyed a picnic and wine tasting at a winery in the Chehalem Hills, then visited the Working Hands Community Farm so Laura could pick up her fortnightly vegetable box; its contents dictated the menu planning and supermarket shopping. Graham had an allotment so I am used to fresh produce in the growing season, but of course Working Hands’ bounty was a little more exotic. The squashes were certainly beauties.

The view from Penner Ash Winery.
The view from Penner Ash Winery.

The seven of us spent a long weekend on Whidbey Island, Washington State. We had a comfortable beach house with fantastic views over Puget Sound; we even had our very own bald eagles perching on marker poles in the sea right in front of us. For a small island, Whidbey seems to have it all: attractive coastal communities and beaches, a community shop called The Goose (nothing like that in ‘The Archers’, BBC Radio 4’s long running serial of every day farming folk!), forests, farms, countryside, and even a prairie. We visited Langley Farmers’ Market (loved the white tents, the tastings and the live music!), Laura and Nic went sea kayaking and I finally got to see orcas! Nic, Tom and Karen joined me on a five and a half hour boat trip from Anacortez round the San Juan Islands. The crew were very knowledgeable and although they didn’t raise our hopes of seeing whales, they were clearly delighted to recognise Cappuccino, then, a little further on, Blackberry swimming ahead of the boat. Seeing wildlife like this is absolutely amazing; I’m so glad I finally got to see not one but four orcas.


Whidbey Island gave us all the opportunity to relax, and Alfie enjoyed the bench running round the deck, the right height for a one year old practising his newly acquired solo walking skills. There was a fire pit on the lower level, and once we had eaten on the Saturday and Alfie was asleep, we lit a fire. There was wood provided at a small charge, and I’d gathered beach driftwood for kindling, so we soon had a blazing campfire. Nick had insisted that we try an American institution – S’mores. For those of you who don’t know what these are, we toasted marshmallows then sandwiched them between Graham Crackers with a piece of chocolate, which melts slightly with the heat. For chocolate aficionados amongst you, the Hersheys chocolate melted more easily, but the Cadburys Dairy Milk tasted better! We didn’t really need to eat two S’mores each, but with our waterfront setting, the sunset behind the headland, the twinkling stars, the warm glow of the fire … well, it would have been silly not to.

View from the deck at Mac's Landing, Whidbey Island
View from the deck at Mac’s Landing, Whidbey Island
Enjoying the fire pit (pre-S'mores).
Enjoying the fire pit (pre-S’mores).
Snack time!
Snack time!

Monday morning saw us sadly packing up to leave. Sadder still, Nic, Tom and Karen would be leaving us after lunch, to spend two nights in Seattle before flying home. But we had a lovely last meal together at The Crab Market on the marina at Lake Union, celebrating Tom’s birthday in fine style; Alfie, with his fixation with lights and ceiling fans, also appreciated the setting and the bread rolls, along with his own lunch. I certainly enjoyed my house salad with crab; seafood and fish is a particular favourite of mine when visiting the Pacific North West. With views of the Space Needle and boat planes taking off and landing in front of us, I felt I was in an episode of ‘Frasier’.

All too soon it was time to take our final photos and make our farewells. I had had a wonderful time with Team Robinson, and was delighted that everyone had enjoyed it as much as I did. It made all the angst of Nic and me trying to book flights on New Year’s Day, with costs rising before our very eyes and the Delta website crashing on both of us, less of an issue. And so Nic, Tom and Karen drove on into Seattle, and I travelled back to Portland with Laura, Nick and Alfie, my visit not even half done.


Making new memories

I think that I will always remember August 30th. It will always be the day of the year that my dad died.  Two years later and it still feels quite new. I wonder when that will change?  I know grief lessens with time but on occasions, wow, it really can give you a bit of a shock in its cruelness and intensity. You cannot grieve on demand and yet once again it felt as though the end of August came around and I couldn’t stop thinking about this time two years ago.

I felt strongly that I wanted to commemorate the passing of the first year by going out and doing something. This year, I surprised myself by having that same feeling and just as strongly.   I find it difficult to explain why. I think I would feel odd simply staying at home doing my regular Sunday jobs and activities. It would feel so trivial. Inconsiderate even.

Last year, my mum and brothers went away for the weekend to a childhood holiday destination in Devon.  This year, they spent the day on the Yorkshire and Lancashire borders, again places that hold fond childhood memories.  5,000 miles away, I do not have the option of taking a trip down memory lane.  But I can do something that my dad would have approved of and enjoyed. And perhaps, as I came to realize today, I can make new, happier memories for August 30th.

This year our little family took a trip to the Oregon coast. We lunched in Astoria and wandered along the riverfront there and then spent the afternoon at Fort Stevens State Park, on the beach and exploring old war batteries.

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We ate at Buoy Brewing. Nick had tried their beer a month ago and we both agreed that we thought it had one of the best labels! Turns out, they have a pretty fantastic brew pub – and not too shabby beer either.The brew pub had a section of glass flooring so you could see the seals that hang out underneath the riverfront. Alfie thought this was brilliant!

The brew pub had a section of glass flooring so you could see the seals that hang out underneath the riverfront. Alfie thought this was brilliant!

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In so many ways, I couldn’t have felt closer to my dad today. Day trips with the threat of rain. Walking boots packed into the boot. A nice pub lunch with a glass of beer. Sweaters, sandcastles and whistling winds on a wide, sweeping beach. Family.

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Unidentified mollusc. Any ideas?



As I knelt down in the sand, building one sandcastle after another, a little voice “Dig dig. Dig dig.” in my ear, I realized that more than just a trip that my dad would have enjoyed, today would have made him even happier because we were making new memories. My dad is with me more often than I sometimes realize.  The very act of me taking my family out for days like this, days like I experienced as a child because of where our parents took us means that I don’t always need August 30th to commemorate him. Any day of the year is fine.

Oregon jamming

I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know how the jamming actually went after mine and my mum’s fruit picking expedition….


I really wanted to make marionberry jam while in Oregon, it being so very local. And it has such a short season that it’s nice to think that we can keep enjoying their taste throughout the year. Or, that was my hope.

Mum was keen to learn about canning, as opposed to the method we Brits usually use (seal and hope!). As last year’s strawberry jam set so well I think she thought that it might be a better way to ensure a good consistency. I wasn’t sure whether it would take as much out of me as last year and was pleased to have another set of hands to give it a go this time.



In all honesty, we started making it way too late in the day/evening, particularly when your one year old wakes at 5am and you’ve been up for hours and are a little tired and emotional.

Here are the things that I did not do right:

1. I did not make the jam soon enough after picking the fruit.  We had to go through and sift out some of the fruits that were going a little mouldy.

2.  Instead of picking one recipe, I had a couple of different ones up for reference. Research is key but you definitely need to follow just one recipe. Jamming is a science.

3. I should have followed the instructions on my pectin packet! They know their product best.

4. I doubled the quantities.  Way too much fruit = badly set (barely set) jam.

So after the first go I essentially made syrup. I was not pleased.


Keen not to waste all of the amazing fruit or the time and effort that my mum and I had put in,  I researched how to remedy it. Complete do-over really.  I split the jars in half, and re-boiled one batch at a time with a little extra pectin, sugar and lemon juice mixture and then canned them again too.  I also decided to add a little cinnamon in which many of the recipes had suggested but which I omitted the first time around.

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The result is much better.  It is perhaps a little over-set now. But it is certainly edible and it is pretty tasty.  Maybe I’ll stick to the Hood Strawberry again next year. At least I know the recipe works!

NB: Guess what I found out while picking marionberries? John Wayne was born with the name Marion. Marion Robert Morrisson.  I had no idea!




This is a totally self indulgent blog post about our gorgeous son! Recently Alfie seems to be growing and changing exponentially. His face seems to change daily, his legs grow that little longer, his opinions become more defined, his skills develop and his expressions are priceless.  Although we take lots of photos, everything feels so fleeting.  Nick took some photos of him playing in the garden this week and honestly, they just crack me up. I want to remember this exact week, when he was all about shouting at things and people, fake laughing and cheesy grinning. Without further ado…. the many faces of Alfie Farrar.

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Park Touring 2. Peninsula Park

Alfie and I actually visited this park for the first time before the ‘park challenge’ began.  However it is a beautiful spot, as you will see, and we recently returned so that we could review it fully and explored areas we had not seen on our first visit.

I had wanted to visit Peninsula Park after seeing photos of some amazing picnics there on Instagram.  It looked like an ideal picnic spot to me.  So one morning, before going to visit a friend who lives nearby, I packed up some tasty treats and we headed to North Portland (NoPo).

Peninsula Park includes one of the original Portland rose gardens, after which Portland got its nickname the City of Roses. It is very different to the International Rose Test Garden, located in Washington Park in the city centre.  These are formal gardens complete with a spectacular fountain.  It smells amazing.  The smell hits you as soon as you descend from the street level.



The picnic was certainly not Instagram-worthy, like those I had so coveted and which had led me here.  It was my first solo picnic with my very messy eater of a son and I was under-prepared and very stressed by the whole experience. Certainly a learning curve in the practice of outdoors eating with a miniature human.


But both of us enjoyed it and the fountain was quite the draw for Alfie.


On our second visit we explored the other areas of the park.  A large grassy area, great for picnicking and stick collecting, with sports fields, a big (and busy) splash pad in a shaded area – so uncommon for the majority of splash pads in Portland parks – and a truly enormous play park.  It was a little overwhelming and busy for Alfie so we stuck to the safety of the swings.


For me, the best things about this park are the beautiful rose gardens – I mean, that’s really what makes it different to many of the other neighborhood parks – and the splash pad.  We didn’t try the splash area as we were not prepared for it and it was incredibly busy, but I will take Alfie back there after the summer holidays for him to have some splashing good fun!


Fruit pickin’

While JamJar (my mum!) was visiting I decided that I would like to fill jam jars with some homemade jam.  I decided that her extra pair of hands would be useful in my second attempt at canning. (Do you remember my first attempt with the strawberry jam? It was, as it turned out, about a week before Alfie was born: the first week of my maternity leave. I got so hot, bothered and exhausted by the activity that poor Nick did not get the planned home cooked meal that night and instead had to ‘make do’ with a Five Guys picked up on the way home from work.)

So we were going to make jam. And this year I was determined that I would pick the fruit to make the jam, rather than just buying it from the Farmers Market.  My mum and I headed out early on a Friday morning with the plan of picking marionberries with which to make jam. Marionberries are a berry native to Oregon and only available here. They are a cultivated cross breed of two different types of blackberry and are more conical in shape than a regular blackberry.



We visited Blueberry Hill Farm, the closest U-Pick to us, but one that I had heard to be a good one.  As the name suggests, the farm specializes in blueberries but at the top of the hill and around the corner, was about 10-15 rows of marionberries. We had started the fruit picking trip by heading up to the raspberry fields (thinking it was the way to the marionberries) only to be very disappointed with what was there.  It took us a long time to pick just a punnet full, so we gave up and headed off in search of our marionberry goal.

We picked lots of marionberries- way too many as it turned out – but they were so plentiful and tempting.



Once we had picked these we decided to pick some blueberries too, as neither of us had ever picked them before (such Brits). I also thought it would be good to make a pie to celebrate July 4th the following day.  After the prickles of the marionberry vines, blueberry picking was an absolute delight.  You can pick handfuls of berries very easily, they just fall off into your hands and there’s no need to bend down or stretch too much – everything is at the perfect height!

Can you spot JamJar?
Can you spot JamJar?



I would certainly recommend Blueberry Hill Farm. Despite a lack of signage to tell you where the different fruits are grown – the marionberries really were out of the way – the fruit looked gorgeous and it was very reasonably priced. I think Mum and I were very happy with our morning’s work.

I did make that blueberry pie….



Next, we just had to make the jam.  But that’s another story!

Park Touring 1. Summerlake Park

As I return from yet another fabulous Portland (area) park I am inspired to get on and start what I think will be the first in a lengthy series of park-related blog posts.

We are very lucky to live within a short walk of Summerlake Park.  I literally can’t tell you how many times I have been there over the past year.  It was where we took Alfie for his first ‘walk’. It’s where I did my first postpartum run. It’s where Alfie had his first go on a swing.  It’s where I am doing Stroller Strides classes now.  I love this park and I love how close we are to it. Over the winter months when I wanted to get out of the house but didn’t have the inclination to go far, this park was our almost daily saviour for a dose of the outdoors.





We’ve seen ducks and lots and lots of geese. There are at least two grey herons that regularly wade in the shallows, a couple of months ago I saw a beaver and was delighted to get incredibly close to a buzzard, perched in a tree next to the path just couple of days ago.



It’s a great size of park; there are paved paths throughout and the main loop around the lake is about a mile in length.  There is even a short ‘off-road’ section through a wooded area. There are two play parks, one newer than the other.  The newer one is one that we have only recently started to explore as Alfie has grown increasingly mobile and so far only early in the morning when there are not so many ‘big kids’ there.

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We have enjoyed watching the ducks and geese, and seen ducklings and goslings grow from tiny chicks to fully fledged birds.



We have watched the seasons change in the park and it has been a joy to see.


Having Summerlake Park so close makes us lazy as by default I feel we end up going here A LOT. So this summer I have embarked on a small challenge in which Alfie and I will visit a new park each week.  Although he doesn’t care as long as he can have a swing, play with bark chippings and go down a slide, it keeps it entertaining for me and I like to think I am doing the groundwork for future years. The Farrars are Park Touring and we will be reporting back regularly.

Weekend on Whidbey

While the family were visiting, we thought that it would be nice to get away for a long weekend all together.  A chance for them to experience more of the Pacific Northwest, for us to see more of the Pacific Northwest and for us all to take a vacation.

We went to Whidbey Island, an island just north and west of Seattle on the Puget Sound. Nick and I had really enjoyed seeing Bainbridge Island when we visited Seattle and wanted to explore this area more.  Whidbey Island was the perfect place.

You know you're going on a holiday when ride a ferry to get there.
You know you’re going on a holiday when you need to take a ferry to get there.


The little cove where we were staying.
The little cove where we were staying.

We stayed in our first AirBnB property and what a find it was.  It was right on the beach – the garden gate led directly onto a rocky beach and the house looked west so we experienced beautiful sunsets over the Olympic National Park.  My ship-loving brother was so excited that we were on the Alaskan shipping lane and we all made use of the binoculars to check out the traffic and the birdlife populating the Sound.




Whidbey reminded me quite a bit of Devon or Cornwall.  A naturally rugged coast, quaint little towns, corner stores, smaller roads (well in American terms) and a relaxed, laid back and friendly vibe.  We explored the local area a little and it was nice. There was much eating and drinking, kayaking, shell seeking, whale watching and relaxing.

What I most enjoyed about this long weekend away was that I was able to spend some wonderful and quality time with my family.  We all felt like we were on holiday and the house was perfect for doing that.  Big tables we could eat meals around. A large outside deck for lounging on, reading on, enjoying a drink on, displaying freshly picked shells on and for watching the sunsets from. A games room with a pool table and darts board. A fire pit to roast s’mores on (a first for all of us). Big spaces for a new toddler to explore.  A kitchen filled with every utensil a family of foodies might need.  We were all relaxed and we made use of the space.  The weekend was a happy mix of island exploration and family downtime.



Alfie’s first holiday was an opportunity for him to try out a holiday wardrobe
Toasting s’mores (Graham Crackers (digestive-ish biscuits), chocolate and marshmallows) was a first for all of us. We need a little practice.













Hello good readers.  Yes, it’s been a while.  I’m sorry.  But only a little.  I didn’t intend to take a blogging break, it just sort of happened.  You see, almost two months ago my family came to visit.  My mum, my two brothers and my brother’s girlfriend all headed over from the UK to stay with us here in good old Portland.  It was a busy time. Day trips, weekends away, birthday celebrations and lots of catching up. I wanted to focus on spending time with them and didn’t worry about when I would blog or what I would blog about. Nic, Tom & Karen were in the States for two weeks and spent time in Oregon and Washington State. My mum stayed with us for four weeks.



When my mum left I did think about blogging and I had lots of ideas for blog posts – after all we’d just spent the last month taking the family to our favourite Portland and Oregon spots and taking trips out of state ourselves.  But then I decided that I wanted to make some changes to the blog.  These changes have taken 18 months to come to fruition. (They started life at a blogging workshop I went to in January 2014 – and even blogged about them, not thinking they would take this long!) There are still things I want to tighten up with the blog and other ideas I have but I feel happy to launch this first…I don’t want to use the word draft as it’s more permanent than that, but you know what I mean…. version? Anyway, I hope you like the new style.

And I’m glad that I had time out from blogging.  While the Robinsons were here it really made me  appreciate the importance of family.  I wanted to be present for it, eke out every last moment of it.

Living away from close and extended family is hard.  Yes, me, Nick and Alfie are a family of three, but I am talking (in my case) siblings, parents and grandparents. I feel incredibly lucky that I get on well with my family and that we enjoy spending time together.   I also realize how fortunate we are that they can afford to come and visit us and want to spend their time doing so.  I am under no illusion however that the biggest draw for their visit was actually to spend time with Alfie and eat burgers. I’m a grown up, I can take it.






Whenever people ask me what I miss about the UK, I always say friends and family.  It’s true, it isn’t a cliche. Since going to university at 18 I haven’t lived on the doorstep of my own family, so it’s not like I was ever used to seeing them daily, or even weekly.  But put 5,000 miles and a 13 hour journey in the way and things feel very different.


Spending June with my family was wonderful.  I don’t know how else to say it.  I am blessed that I feel so comfortable in their company, so relaxed, so assured and so ridiculed. I find it difficult to say how amazing it was to see relationships develop between Alfie and his Grandma and Uncles. It simply gave me such joy to see.  They all relished each others company.



It has been bittersweet. Seeing them all leave was especially hard this time. But in just over a week, Nick’s parents are coming to visit, so we have more special family time to look forward to.


The one with the birth story

This time last year I was in labour with Alfie.  Time really flies doesn’t it?  Everyone tells you this when you have children and it is a cliche but it is so very true.

Writing down the story of Alfie’s birth was something that I wanted to do and have been meaning to do, along with I don’t know how many other things, since Alfie was born. I thought I’d share an abridged version so that I at least have the highlights written down before the first year is done!

My waters broke at 5.30am on Tuesday 17 June. That’s the first thing that they said wouldn’t happen in our birthing class. “Don’t think it will be like the movies, all waters breaking and gushing fluid everywhere.” Well actually, it was a little bit like that and therefore somewhat of a surprise. Even more so that it was almost three weeks before Alfie was due. Naturally, Nick didn’t believe me.  I mean, he didn’t have his bag packed and ready, therefore it wasn’t time. It was also far too early in the morning for him!

I called the hospital and they said that I needed to come in – although at the time, I had not had a contraction – so we got everything together and headed off, wondering what was going to happen in the next few hours/ days.  It’s so true that you just have no idea how you’re going to feel.  A mix of excitement and fear, and relief that it wasn’t yet rush hour.

We arrived at the labour and delivery suite just before 7am and I was checked by the doctors to confirm that my waters had broken.  Well, they had! However, my cervix had not dilated at all – hence the lack of contractions. As a result, I was given a drug, placed directly on the cervix to help the dilation along.

9 hours later….. I’ve not yet had a contraction, we’ve had some lunch, I’ve tried to read a book, I’ve walked and moved about the room and labour ward (as much as you can while attached to a drip and monitor) I’ve cancelled the haircut and lunch date I had booked for that day, Nick has tied up some loose ends at work and claimed to be bored…. but the drug is starting to work and I have dilated to 4cm.


After telling our parents that I was in labour early in the morning, I had been exchanging texts with my mum but had said that I was going ‘offline’ earlier in the afternoon so that I could better concentrate on the job in hand.  Nick was keeping her and his parents up to date.

I’d actually dilated enough for me to be given Pitocin to help induce contractions. It was at this point I was glad that I had listened to one of the things that the birthing class was useful for – suggesting you have an IV line put in as soon as you go into hospital just in case. I should have paid more attention to what they told us about the effects of Pitocin though.

Anyway, I think it was only a couple of hours later when things changed for me and I would say that labour kicked in. Nick had gone to get himself some dinner and came back with beef tacos. We had America’s Got Talent playing on the TV.  It started with me feeling that the TV was just too much.  I felt like it was an assault on my senses.  Then, I could not bear the smell of Nick’s food – making him finish eating it outside and brush his teeth afterwards.

Before going into labour, I was convinced that a warm bath would be my saviour, so our nurse (who thankfully was also a midwife -it’s a different system here in the US) ran a nice warm bath for me.  Gosh, I hated being in there.  I was uncomfortable and hot and wet. I did not last long. I remember crying when I got out.  It felt like when you’re little and poorly and just too tired to dry yourself off. You know when you need your mum to do it for you?  Thankfully the heavenly midwife and Nick helped me out with that.  Imagine, you’re in labour and crying because you can’t be bothered to towel yourself off.  I had to pull myself together to be bothered to do a lot harder before the night was out.

To be honest, I don’t remember very much after that.  I know that Nick was amazing, rubbing my back continuously it felt like and just being really present and so encouraging. I also know that without the midwife, we would have been in all kinds of trouble.  When I felt un focused or didn’t know what to do, or when Nick didn’t know what to do for the best, she stepped in, changing the music, turning down the lights, suggesting a new position.

The next thing I remember was feeling like I wanted to push and telling the midwife so.  Not long before this a doctor had been in and they had suggested that it could take a while longer yet, so I didn’t think that this could be right.  The midwife checked and confirmed that sure enough I was fully dilated and therefore could push.  Nick said that this was when my attitude really changed and that I became very internally focused.

It also got a little hectic in the room!  Nobody was quite ready for the laboring to take place so quickly and they certainly weren’t ready for the pushing to take as little time as it did. There was no time for hanging around as the doctor and midwife got the room and all the necessary instruments ready.  My OB/GYN walked in the door just in time.

At 3.22am Alfie James Mortimer Farrar made his entrance into the world.  The doctor plopped this amazing, tiny, damp little thing onto my chest.  All I can recall now is just looking down and seeing this beautiful, small head with a whole lot of hair and it just feeling so normal and right that this little body should be lying on top of mine, rising and falling with my breath.

The pushing part was quick.  Too quick really.  I know some would say that is a ridiculous comment to make but… well, Alfie came out pretty quickly so the pushing didn’t clear the fluid out of his lungs, nose & throat properly.  As a result they had to take him straight over to the special care area which was right opposite our room.  We decided that Nick should go with him, while I got stitched up. We didn’t want Alfie to be on his own.  They would monitor him for an hour and if he was doing well, he could come with us to our room on the ward but if he was not doing as well as they would like, he would go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).


I don’t know how it can be, but despite the fact he had been in our lives for less than ten minutes, I already felt bereft without him.  Nick came back in to see me and showed me some photos that he had taken and it just didn’t feel real.  He also told me that although there was some improvement, they thought it would be best if he went to the NICU. On the way down to the ward, I was allowed to go into special care and see him and touch his tiny hand. Again, Nick walked down with Alfie to the NICU so that he would know that he was OK and settled.  Meanwhile, the midwife took me down to the ward.

Seeing Nick and Alfie go one way as I was pushed another was so much harder than the labour itself. (Which, yes, I do still remember hurt A LOT. That ring of fire is real.) Of course there were tears.  I was so scared for Alfie.  I knew he was in the very best place but I just wanted him to be with me.

Not being able to see Alfie at this point was just so hard.  Nick was able to go fairly freely but I was not encouraged to get out of bed for the first few hours. I was encouraged to use a breast pump as I couldn’t nurse Alfie, but that is a whole other story! I felt very emotional.  I felt like I just didn’t know what Alfie looked like.  I didn’t know what he smelled like and it was so hard to believe that what had just happened had actually happened.

And so it was, almost 12 hours after giving birth, I was able to go and see Alfie and finally cradle him in my arms.



24 hours after that Alfie was able to be with us in our room.



And 24 hours after that, we brought him home.


A first birthday party


This weekend we celebrated making it through the first year of parenthood with a small party for Alfie’s first birthday.  It was lovely to be able to celebrate with my family who are currently visiting us here in Portland.

I chose a vintage aeroplane theme because of some decorations I already had in and I was really happy with how it all turned out. Most of all, Alfie really seemed to enjoy it.

Here are some lovely photos taken by my brother Nic and my brother Tom’s girlfriend, Karen.

Birthday boy checking that everything is to his satisfaction.
Birthday boy checking that everything is to his satisfaction.
The outdoor entertainment space!
The outdoor entertainment space!



I made the cake. It’s a three layer yellow sponge cake filled with jam and buttercream and covered in buttercream and meringue clouds.









Happy First Birthday little man!

Happy First Birthday little man.  It’s been quite the year and there are so many more adventures to come.

House Tour!

How is it June already?  We have lived in our house for one year. It’s safe to say we all feel very well settled here.  When I blogged about our house move, I made reference to giving you blog readers a full house tour when we were ready.  I didn’t think that it would take a year.  To be honest, there are still a few things on the list that we need to do. I had set myself a deadline of doing things within the year and although I haven’t quite met it, I’m close. Maybe they’ll feature in future blog posts!

So, here we are, our house tour….

Welcome!  The view as you come through our front door.
Welcome! The view as you come through our front door. Nick painstakingly painted each and every spindle before we moved in.
If you take the wide view when you walk through the door, you will also see this sight. We love the nice, bright and light space.
Owning a sideboard makes me feel grown up. Especially as it is filled with glassware and serving dishes. The things you need for entertaining. Grown ups entertain.
Owning a sideboard makes me feel grown up. Especially as it is filled with glassware and serving dishes. The things you need for entertaining. Grown ups entertain.
This is the view from the sideboard and you'll see why the room is so nice and light.  Huge windows and a high ceiling.
This is the view from the sideboard and you’ll see why the room is so nice and light. Huge windows and a high ceiling.
I took the photos of this from in the evening.  It's my favourite time of day in this room because the light is beautiful.  Every now and again, I'll just sit on the sofa reading and watching the word go by outside.
I took the photos of this room in the evening. It’s my favourite time of day in this room because the light is beautiful. Every now and again, I’ll just sit on the sofa reading and watching the world go by outside.
When we first moved in, we said that we wouldn't have many toys in here and we'd use it as a grown up space. Ha! It is totally Alfie's play space.
When we first moved in, we said that we wouldn’t have many toys in here and we’d use it as a grown up space. Ha! It is totally Alfie’s play space.
Garage, cloakroom and the new mum's holy grail... laundry room!
Garage, cloakroom and the new mum’s holy grail… laundry room!
Through the dining room and to your left is the kitchen.  Both Nick and are enjoy cooking but I feel that as a stay at home mum I spend even more of my time in the kitchen than ever before.  Close up, the room needs work but who really has time for that?!
Through the dining room and to your left is the kitchen. Both Nick and I enjoy cooking but I feel that as a stay at home mum I spend even more of my time in the kitchen than ever before. Close up, the room needs work but who really has time for that?!
Just to the right of the kitchen is our little kitchen/dining area.  This is where we eat our meals, unless we have guests of course.
Just to the right of the kitchen is our little kitchen/dining area. This is where we eat our meals, unless we have guests of course.
Looking down from the kitchen/dining area is our 'family room'.  This is great because it means I can be in the kitchen and still see what Alfie is up to in the rest of the room. I like having this open plan space more than I thought I would.
Looking down from the kitchen/dining area is our ‘family room’. This is great because it means I can be in the kitchen and still see what Alfie is up to in the rest of the room. I like having this open plan space more than I thought I would.
Nick and I have a crazy amount of recipe books.  This bookshelf is filled with them!
Nick and I have a crazy amount of recipe books. This bookshelf is filled with them!
Seriously THE most comfortable sofas for lounging in.
Seriously THE most comfortable sofas for lounging in.
Upstairs and we have a very spacious master bedroom....
Upstairs and we have a very spacious master bedroom….
.... with not enough furniture in it but an en suite and a walk in closet.  We are spoiled with this space. I'll never go back to a wardrobe again.
…. with not enough furniture in it but an en suite and a walk in closet. We are spoiled with this space. I’ll never go back to a wardrobe again. (And the tiny door is under eaves storage space.)



The guest bedroom still needs a little work - and there is just one week until we have guests arriving so I need to get on it.  We have a third bedroom that we just use for storing stuff in really (and will be used for sleeping in when my whole family come to stay next week - cue inflatable mattress and some 'prettying up'.)
The guest bedroom still needs a little work – and there is just one week until we have guests arriving so I need to get on it. We have a third bedroom that we just use for storing stuff in really (and will be used for sleeping in when my whole family come to stay next week – cue inflatable mattress and some ‘prettying up’.)
Little Alfie's room, which I featured in this blog post here. I've added a few bits and pieces since then and I think there is enough things to stimulate Alfie in here, without it being overwhelming.
Little Alfie’s room, which I featured in this blog post here. I’ve added a few bits and pieces since then and I think there is enough things to stimulate Alfie in here, without it being overwhelming.
We love pre- sleep reads here.
We love pre- sleep reads here.
If Alfie cannot spell his name before he is two I will be very surprised.  There are 5 things on the wall in this room with his name on!
If Alfie cannot spell his name before he is two I will be very surprised. There are five things on the wall in this room with his name on!
Nick's mum made this beautiful mobile and I love it.  Alfie does too.
Nick’s mum made this beautiful mobile and I love it. Alfie does too.

Finally…. outside in our back garden.  I am going to do a separate blog post about our outdoor space, as it’s a work in progress.  But here is a sneaky peek after we cleaned up and re-stained the decking last weekend.




So there we have it, the Farrars house tour.  It’s a big house by English standards. And far bigger than we really need. But do you know what?  It’s ideal for when we have house guests as you simply don’t feel to be on top of each other.  It’s also a great space for entertaining in.  And when you spend a lot of time at home like Alfie and I do in particular, it is just perfect.  It is a happy home.

A Portland Hill Walk

Last week I undertook my first Portland Hill Walk. Yes, it deserves capital letters. This is not just a walk involving hills in Portland (although it does), it was a walk from a ‘must-own’ Portland walking guide; Portland Hill Walks by Laura O. Foster.  This book crept cropping up in things that I saw, heard or read and after a quick search, I found a very well- priced and under-used second hand copy. I’ve had the book for a few months but only just got around to actually setting off on one of the walks.

The walks include hills and stairs around Portland. Some well known, some little known, and through a variety of neighborhoods, parks and forest. There is a reason it is a ‘must-own’ guide. It’s great! The 4.5 mile hike we did – Walk 3, Williamette Heights to Balch Creek Canyon- was lovely. The guide was interesting, giving some really interesting history to the area and pointing out little things that we shouldn’t miss.

This established neighborhood in Portland is filled with beautiful, and often large, homes which were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and have some gorgeous gardens.  At this time of year we were blessed to see and smell some trull impressive flowers,  particularly with the roses just coming into bloom.  It really did feel like we were in ‘Rose City’.

photo 2


The Williamette Heights neighborhood skirts the edge of Forest Park, which the route took us into. It made the walk a wonderful combination of pavement strolling and trail hiking.  It was fun to see how the park blends into the city.



We really enjoyed this walk and I’m keen to set out on one of the other 23 explorations in the book. I think that I would recommend this book to Portland tourists who want a slightly different Portland experience from their weekend away, as well as Portland dwellers who’d like to learn something new about their city. Hands up who wants to come along on the next walk!

Can’t Live Without It – Inspiration

image1-43Specifically, I can’t live without the inspiration that Pinterest provides. What a modern day ‘Can’t Live Without’.

[Here’s a link to the awesome blogs that started this fun blogging link up. Olive & Tate, Home Sweet Ruby & Happily Ever Parker.]

Oh how I love Pinterest.  It has filled a lot of nursing hours for me over the past few months.  But more than that it has helped me to be creative as a mum, wife, home cook and friend.

Thanks to Pinterest my slow cooker has made us some very tasty meals.  Pulled Pork. Breakfast Casserole. THE best meatballs & marinara we have ever had .  Pork Carnitas especially for Cinco De Mayo.

IMG_2881 IMG_2891

The meatballs have been my favourite Pinterest slow cooker creation so far.  The carnitas were Nick’s.

Thanks to Pinterest I went over the top for my friend Fiona’s birthday.





I’ve been to a Pinterest Party, making this olive oil cake with lemon curd to take along with me.


And finally, I feel like I have been a more ‘entertaining’ stay at home mum to Alfie.  We play at home a lot and it is hard to keep the same toys interesting and entertaining.  Plus, I’m keen to make sure he gets lots of different development opportunities whenever I can.  Here are some of the fun things we have done over the past few months…

Edible finger paints
Alfie’s Christmas gifts included a selection of treasure baskets of things that we already had. Lucky, lucky boy!


Changing ‘treasure baskets’. This one is things that are wooden.
The current favourite. Balls in a muffin tin. For the past couple of months Alfie has loved taking the balls out of the tin but this week he started to put them back in too. Fun!
A tangle of ribbons
Ribbons tied to a spaghetti measurer.
Ribbons tied to a spaghetti measurer.

And let’s not forget the awesome Mardi Gras Alfie and I enjoyed thanks to Pinterest!



I am a Pinterest-aholic!  Alfie’s first birthday is coming up – watch out!



Day Tripping: Hood River


It’s been a while since we have been anywhere tourist-y enough to sell postcards, so we felt it high time that we take ourselves on a day trip.

I live with two boys but it was my idea to visit an antique airplane (aeroplane!) and car museum this weekend. It was so good!  WAAAM (Western Antique Airplane & Automobile Museum) is located ten minutes south of Hood River in a beautiful spot, amid vineyards and orchards.  From the front of the museum is an awesome view of Mt Adams (we think it’s Adams) and from the back, a spectacular view of Mt Hood.  We went on a gorgeous day so both mountains were showing off!

There were so many planes and vehicles, far more than I had expected. They filled two huge hangars.   Friendly and incredibly knowledgable volunteers greeted us and encouraged us to get the most out of our visit. Along with cars and planes there were tractors, trucks, helicopters and motorbikes too.







We went on the second Saturday of the month when they actually have some of the cars and planes out and running.  Yes, I got to ride in a very old Ford.  I felt like I was in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car! 


We followed this thoroughly recommended museum with a trip into Hood River to try out Pfriem Brewery. Because the day trip was my idea, I got to choose locations.  I chose Pfriem as I had heard good things but also because it serves Belgian and Northwest inspired beers.  I like me a wheaty, Belgian beer!



The beer was delicious (a Lemon Saison), the food was great and the added bonus – so family friendly.  We ate at a high table, as they were the only ones free, but they had high, high chairs so Alfie was not left out.  They had a great little changing station in the bathroom and a cute children’s play area which Alfie enjoyed.


Pfriem is in a seemingly new complex just outside the town centre and right opposite the fabulous Waterfront Park and beach area.  Oh how Alfie loved that park.  Mini climbing wall on a low rake, perfect for mini scramblers, plenty of green space and tunnels to crawl through.


It was such a lovely day trip and an absolute joy to see Alfie take such an active part in all of it. Can’t wait for our next mini adventure!





My first Mother’s Day as a mummy.  Wow!

I saw this cartoon a few weeks ago, which made me laugh a lot.  Probably because it rings true! You really don’t know what kind of a parent you will be until you are one.  I am certainly more tired and more patient than I ever thought I would be! And did I think I would still be a Stay At Home Mum with a 10 month old? No!


I love being Alfie’s mummy but motherhood is no easy job.  Over the past few months, Nick has worked abroad a fair amount and when home, has been working hard and long hours, leaving each morning at 6am and getting home around 7pm.  Being the best mummy I can be has been more challenging as I fill my days with activities to keep us entertained while keeping the house running single-handedly, supporting Nick in his crazy hard work schedule and certainly not having time to do things for myself.  (I currently have a number of half completed projects and totally unlike myself, am midway through reading four books. At the moment I can’t imagine how any of the above will ever be finished!) I can’t tell you how much respect I have for single parents. I mean seriously, you guys are awesome!

I read the blog of a new mom recently and she documented her day as a stay at home mom.  It made me realize how in such a short amount of time, the daily routines with babies can change. It brought back memories from a few months ago.  I so wish I had better documented mine and Alfie’s day to day life.

At this point, I thought this blog post would be a documentation of our day but to be honest, I started writing and felt that it was actually a little dull.  Although it may have given you a snapshot of how we pass the days, I just wasn’t inspired. So, instead, I thought I’d note down some of the things I have most enjoyed about motherhood over the last 10.5 months, and some of the things that have taken me by total surprise.

Seeing Alfie learn something new.  Whether it was in the first days (hours for some people) and he – and I – learnt how to breastfeed, those first smiles and giggles or now seeing him crawl, wave or play with toys, a baby’s development is mind-blowing.



The feeling of the strength of love and protection you feel.  I mean, it’s like nothing else, is it?  I never understood it before, but you would kill for your children if it meant keeping them safe. We moved Alfie to sleep in his crib in his own room at three months – often considered quite early – but he had grown out of his bassinet and we were all clearly disturbing each other. We were ready to do it.  However, still now, particularly when Nick is away, I so wish that Alfie was sleeping in our room, so that I can keep him close and safe.  (Even though I’m sure his constant moving around, snoring and gibbering would annoy me after an hour!)


It genuinely surprises me how very long and very short the days can be.  I don’t know if this is exclusive to Stay At Home Mums, those on maternity and paternity leave, or if it changes when you go back to work. Some days stretch ahead of you and you just think, ‘What on earth am I going to do to entertain the young ‘un today?’, ‘Is letting him crawl all over me for 30 minutes challenging him developmentally?’, ‘Why do Peppa Pig episodes only last five minutes?’ (To be honest we very rarely watch any television, it’s really only on those long days during the witching hour before bedtime when the minutes seem to drag like a seal’s bottom.) And then some days truly fly by and the week has gone and you have no idea what you did but suddenly the baby is climbing five stairs up when they could barely crawl the previous day – a true and frightening story.


Being a mother has pushed me to slow down and get more enjoyment out of certain experiences.  Yes, being a mama can be a crazy and frenetic thing; trying to get everything done in 10 minute intervals, or with an 18lb weight strapped to you, or with tiny little hands clawing at your legs. However, take the baby outdoors for instance and they stop to touch, look at and point at all kinds of things that you might not have noticed before, the intricacies of a leaf, the direction that water takes as it flows over rocks. As an adult, how often do you read the same book 10 times (a week)?  When you do this, you see new things, consider it from different angles, even learn it in sign language (I am developing too!). I think taking time over things has given me a deeper appreciation of them.

Courtesy of Ashley D Scheider Photography
Courtesy of Ashley D Scheider Photography

And finally, seeing the joy that your child brings to the rest of your family is so very special. I think this is one of my very favourite things about being a mum. It’s not just my life that Alfie lights up. Sharing all of his growth and development, likes and dislikes and opinions (so many opinions these days), is wonderful.

We celebrated my first Mother’s Day yesterday, as Nick flies off today, and it was lovely.  A full day spent with my favourite boys, enjoying being a mum. There is no better gift.  Happy Mothers Day to all mums and moms out there! (Although technically mum’s celebrated back in March!)







I love news of the royals, so I was very excited to hear that Britain’s newest princess was born yesterday.

How wonderful that she can be called Princess, and that she cannot be pushed aside for the throne by any male siblings simply because she is female.  It’s only taken a few hundred years, right?  My whole life I have known a female monarch, and I think she does a pretty good job of it, so the idea that another female could potentially miss out on ruling merely because of family lineage just seems outdated.

That was one thought that I had.  The other was just how wonderful the Duchess of Cambridge looked just hours after giving birth when she and Prince William showed the princess off.  I know that she has a team of people to sort her hair and make up out but seriously, a few hours after giving birth to Alfie the thought of someone faffing about with making me look good would have stressed me out.  I’m sure it took me at least 24 hours to brave the shower! Also, what a really lovely dress she had.

Congratulations to the Duke, Duchess and little George too.

Now, I’m very much looking forward to my mum bringing out my Marks & Spencers shortbread in the celebration tin….


Portlandiversary: The second year


Time has flown. We’ve lived in Portland for two years.  That. Is. Crazy.

I thought that now would be a good time to tell you about some of the not-so-commonly known things about Portland that I have learnt or discovered.

Not long after moving to Portland I read an article in the Portland Monthly magazine which suggested alternatives to the well known and most popular tourist traps in the city.  One that stuck in my mind was the suggestion to visit Blue Star Donuts rather than Voodoo Donut.  (This is an absolute must. I much prefer Blue Star to the cult leaders Voodoo.)


I had all but forgotten this ‘alternative guide’ until a few weeks ago. While out hiking with a friend, we came across an unusual sight and it made me think about the ‘unknown’, or un-publicised spots in Portland. (I should probably say here, they could well be publicized but I did not know about them – and I do read up about what’s going on in Portland a little bit!)  The following spots have either been unexpectedly good and little known, or literally feel like little secrets.

1. The find that sparked these thoughts.  A friend and I were hiking from Marquam Nature Park to Council Crest; a very hilly 3 mile workout of a hike, but with awesome views at the top (half way) and an excellent opportunity to check out some pretty big and fancy houses. The large homes are built into the hillside, often on stilts. Underneath some of those stilts was a man making totem poles.  There were a couple of completed ones standing sentry over his work area and then two laid flat, propped on large workbenches, that were clearly being made. It was so unexpected, so interesting and such a surprise. I had never before thought about where, how or who makes totem poles these days – but yet, there’s a craftsman hiding out in the west slopes.

Alfie and I at the top of Council Crest, before finding the totem pole maker on the way back down
Alfie and I at the top of Council Crest, before finding the totem pole maker on the way back down

2. I think I mentioned this in a blog way back in our Portland early days, but there is artwork to be found underground, downtown. In a basement walkway underneath a corporate building of all places.  Why not?

sculpture 2

3. A couple of weekends ago we decided to do some exploration of Hawthorne Avenue. (Technically, Nick did the exploration with Alfie while I enjoyed a much needed massage – thanks Mum.) But afterwards we met up and decided to grab some lunch. A quick Google/Yelp search led us to Chang Mai, a little Thai restaurant. Oh my goodness. Amazing. Equally as good as Pok Pok, the famous Thai spot in PDX, and to be honest, I think possibly better.  Well, I preferred it as I love a good noodle dish and Chang Mai had so much choice. Where Pok Pok is a more adventurous Thai, I would say that Chang Mai offers more mainstream choices but with Northern Thai specialities. I had a delicious green coconut soup with fish balls and sides of green beans, pickles and glass noodles. It’s only a small place but the service was wonderful.  And unexpectedly, they had high chairs. Even better not to have to eat noodles with a wriggling child on your lap.


4. I think I have found my favourite view of Mt Hood. Named for the Camas lilies that flower there in April each year, the Camassia Natural Area is a beautiful spot high above the Williamette River in West Linn (not technically Portland I suppose but close enough).  Lovely boardwalk and bark covered trails traverse the wildflower meadows which are scattered with granite- type rocks. We turned a corner on the mile long loop trail and Mt Hood just stood there, looking arresting beautiful.  I felt like I was on top of the world.



5. There is a sculpture garden in a hospital. I wonder how many people really know about this? The aerial tram does stop at the Kohler Pavilion but this is a couple of floors down and I don’t know how many people make it there. I felt really lucky to go to the Womens Center at OHSU each week for the new mom’s group and have the opportunity to hang out in the sculpture garden.  Great views across Portland, interesting sculptures (like the one pictured below by Sophie Ryder, which just makes me think of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), and a wonderful spot to nurse al fresco.


6. McMenamins establishments are certainly not unknown in Portland but I had absolutely no idea that some of these multi-activity (bars, restaurants and music venues) buildings have wonderful soaking pools.  To be honest, I didn’t even know what a soaking pool was. But oh my goodness, it’s a good thing.  A large and beautiful ceramic warm bath of a pool – outside.  I went on a classic Portland drizzly day and it was delightful.  The mix of fresh, clean air and cold raindrops like needles while you’re warm and toasty.  It’s such a treat.

7. Elk Rock Garden, where I took Alfie’s 9 month photos and which I alluded to in this blog here. Such beautiful English style gardens.  When we visited I felt like I was exploring a Cornish garden in springtime.  It was delightful.


I am going to keep looking for more of these little Portland secrets, trying new and exciting things whenever I can.  Here’s to the next year of Portland adventures large and small.


Can’t live without it: Olive Oil

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I have been reading some new blogs lately.  I don’t seem to read magazines anymore, but I do seem to find time to keep reading blogs.  Does blog reading feel less leisurely than a magazine?  Perhaps.  To me, magazine reading is luxurious.  Something to linger over.  Reading a blog is like reading one article. And despite having a large (change/ diaper) bag which I could tote a magazine around in if I really wanted, it’s way more space saving to simply carry a phone…

Anyway, I came across a new (to me) lifestyle blog where they have a weekly series for the end of the week called Can’t Live Without It.  (Check out Stephanie’s blog here, as well as the blogs of co-hosts of Can’t Live Without It, Cait & Laura.) I think that this is a great way for me to give you a quick snapshot into my everyday life. It’s not all going for trips out, being a tourist and doing fun baking you know!

So this week, I can’t live without…

Olive Oil.  We ran out of the stuff last week and seriously, I did not know how dependent we were on it.  We do a lot of scratch cooking (more on this term later) in this house.  In fact, I think I’ll do a future Can’t Live Without piece on my new-found love of meal planning.  It seems there are very few meals in the Farrar house that don’t require some quantity of olive oil.  Lately, I have been buying this California Olive Ranch one.


It’s really very good and although not the cheapest on the shelves, there are often deals on it, which I love.

I imagine the question on all of your minds is, ‘What on earth did she do?’ I didn’t go straight out to the grocery store to buy more, as I genuinely thought we would get by. After all, we had some vegetable oil and butter in.  They are just not the same.  Yes, use butter for scrambling eggs or frying mushrooms, but butter to make a pasta sauce? No thank you. Of course we got by – first world problems, hey?! – but it did make me realize how much and how often we use olive oil. Especially since realizing that you can make delicious and amazing olive oil cakes.  That was probably the reason why we ran out, ha!


Scratch cooking.  What a term.  It means essentially what I would call cooking.  Making sauces without using a jar, putting a meal together without using a packet. Apparently it’s not as common as I assumed it to be.  We use lots of olive oil in our life because we do a lot of cooking.  I can’t live without the stuff!

Lilac Day


We’ve been exploring a lot of flowers recently. Today it was lilacs.  Alfie and I visited the Hulda Klager Lilac Garden, along with a Hike It Baby group. (It was less hike, more taking a turn about the garden.)




Hulda Klager, known as the Lilac Lady, was a keen gardener and became interested in propagating plants, eventually turning her skills to lilacs. She held her first open gardens at her family home (the site of the gardens) in 1915, and did so every year until her death in 1960.  Clearly, the house and gardens are still open today, as we went!

I don’t know a lot about lilacs and suppose I haven’t really got a particularly keen appreciation of them.  But there were some really interesting shades of flower and they did smell delightful.



The gardens were lovely and it was a really nice way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.



Alfie is learning how to touch and feel things gently…..



And enjoyed prancing about….


And playing with his friend….


Birthday breakfast

Today I hosted a birthday breakfast for my friend Fiona. I went totally over the top.  A breakfast party for a group of ladies I thought? That means bunting, flowers, sweet treats, baked goods. I wanted to go all out and really do something that Fiona and our friends would enjoy. I also wanted to put all of those Pinterest pins into use. I won’t lie, I wanted to host a Pinterest Perfect party!

I’ve blogged and blabbed on about Pinterest for a while but it has been a total rabbit hole for me since starting to breastfeed last June. I’m a prolific pinner and need no encouragement to put them into practice.

So this morning we celebrated Fiona’s birthday and had a lovely time doing so.











Despite the pretty spread, we still ate on the floor in the thoroughfare with the babies!
Despite the pretty spread, we still ate on the floor in the thoroughfare with the babies!

The Easter Blog


Happy Easter! Just a few photos from our Easter weekend.  I’m not going to go on about the lack of hollow chocolate eggs and days off work in America. (I went on about that last year!)  I am celebrating this year’s fun and my new found love of giving the ‘Easter basket’ rather than chocolate eggs. This holiday is so much better with children – even when they don’t realize what it’s all about yet.

Hike It Baby Bunny walk at Tryon Creek.
Hike It Baby Bunny walk at Tryon Creek.


Get these things off me!
Get these things off me!


Ooh, bubbles!
Ooh, bubbles!


The Easter tree
The Easter tree


The Easter batch of hot cross buns.  (Crosses just seen!)
The Easter batch of hot cross buns. (Crosses just seen!) Read the Hot X Bun story here!  Despite the inadequate crosses, they are still the best batch yet.  Just wait until next year!


'Hunting' for his Easter basket.
‘Hunting’ for his Easter basket.


My very homemade looking Blood Orange Cheesecake. (A Hummingbird Bakery recipe.)
My very homemade looking Blood Orange Cheesecake. (A Hummingbird Bakery recipe.)


Book Worming


Since having Alfie I have read a grand total of two books. (I am not including the countless baby manuals and sleep training books in this.  That would increase my reading list significantly for the past nine months.) I used to read two books a month.  I miss reading.

Before having a baby, I thought that I would have plenty of time to read.  I requested a Kindle as a gift, downloaded some books that I have wanted to read for a while and bought some new, easy paperback reads too. I had visions of me sat in my nursing chair, babe in one arm, Kindle in the other. Or sat in our daylight-filled lounge while the little one napped, keeping my brain ticking over as I devoured The Goldfinch or The Count of Monte Cristo.

Now I simply think about how naive I was!  With a sleep fighting, nap averse, baby who misses his mama so much he must wake up to see her every five hours, and a large, four bedroomed house to keep in order (why did we think we needed more space again?!) I have just not prioritized the reading over sleeping and cleaning, or getting outdoors.

And yet…. reading to Alfie brings both he and I such joy.  We read a number of books throughout the day and I just love to see his reactions to them.  I thought that I would do a brief review of Alfie’s current favorites, seen as there is no way at the moment I could review any adult fiction or non-fiction!

Baby Faces by Margaret Miller & Hugs & Kisses by Roberta Grobel Intrater These short books feature large photographs of different babies with simple words to describe the photograph.  As a bit of a book snob, I really wasn’t a fan of these before having Alfie.  I thought they looked cheap and dated.  I still think this but Alfie just loves them, so I actively seek them out at the library.  He smiles back at the babies on the page or tries to imitate their expression and laughs at some of the words we use, ‘Yucky’, ‘Boo Hoo’.

Peepo by Janet & Alan Ahlberg I remember this as a child myself but had always thought back more fondly to Each Peach Pear Plum by the same authors. (Still one of my personal favorites.) Peepo is actually a brilliant book.  It describes the day for a curious baby, looking at everything going on around him.  It has pages that are easy for little chubby hands to turn, with a hole in the middle of them as we peep through to see what baby can see. It rhymes and each page is filled with different things to point out to Alfie, so as an adult it is not quite as boring to read repeatedly.  What I especially like about it is that it describes family life in a certain era, referring to mum sleeping in a hairnet, grandma pegging washing and sisters tucking their dresses in knickers.  The activities are normal and everyday – or certainly would have been 40 years ago.

We’re Going on A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen I love reading this one to Alfie because you can do actions, read it in a sing-song voice and really have fun with it.  Even if you don’t put in that much effort, the words that Rosen chooses, ‘Swishy swashy’, ‘Squelch squerch’ are just wonderful and do a lot of the work themselves. Maybe it is because we do actions and movements that Alfie enjoys this, but his face lights up when we start it and it’s never one that he tries to close or chew before we reach the end.

I Kissed The Baby by Mary Murphy  We first read this at the first Book Babies session we attended at the library. Alfie was really too young to really appreciate looking at books at the time but we didn’t have any books that were predominantly black and white, something I knew to be good for little ones.  I couldn’t have foreseen what a favourite it would become though. Different animals brag to each other about how they have fed, sung, tickled and kissed the new baby. The images are white on black or black on white, with some bright primary colors thrown in too.  Alfie beams when we open this book up, turning the pages himself and enjoying the tickles and kisses he gets as we go through each page.


We are not yet at the stage where he will actively choose specific books to read, but we are at the stage where he enjoys pulling books off the shelf.  All of his books are in easy reach for him and we try and make sure they are available to him wherever he plays.  He has now started to enjoy pulling our books off the shelf too – his current favourite, Pattern by Orla Keily . He clearly has good taste. (Or he just likes pictures of fun patterns and designs.) Do you know though, I actually don’t mind him pulling books from his shelf. I want him to be interested in books, I want him to see how much fun they are and I want him to love reading as I do.

I need to take a leaf out of Alfie’s book and just make more effort to pull my books out to read.


Delicious. Exciting. Beautiful. Spring.

I had felt like the spring equinox was late in coming to Portland. For weeks I have been saying that we skipped winter and went straight from autumn into spring. However, this week has unexpectedly seemed more spring-like than the last. Light-filled days, flicking through the springtime in Brambly Hedge storybook, warm early evening sunshine, open windows, picnic baking and blossom sprinkled allover.


It’s been a week of getting outdoors. A hidden gem of a garden located high above the Williamette River, where old trees in relaxed landscaping blossomed and budded. We watched salamanders swim lazily through man-made miniature cascades, scratched the cardboard bark of a giant sequoia and poked at papery petals of blossom.





More soft pinks as we explored the Japanese American Historical Plaza and its hardened backdrop of the Steel Bridge crossing the swirling Williamette.


And then this weekend an awesome waterfall thundering into a lush green creek, wooly moss-loaded trees, pretty wildflowers and sunshine peeking over the top of hillsides.




Delicious spring. Exciting spring. Beautiful spring.


I’m dedicating this post to my very brave sister and brother-in law, who have had a truly awful week.*

Nick and I were talking about R&R’s sad experience and we discussed how different things would have been if we had not moved to America and he had taken a job in the UK.  Chiefly, we would not have Alfie.  We may have had a child and we may even have called that child Alfie but he is totally unique. He was made in a specific moment that could never be genetically recreated exactly. All babies are.

My sister in law commented some time ago how our social media feeds are full of  the antics of friends babies and children. Yet we don’t hear of all of those babies that didn’t make it full term. These precious souls were just as loved, just as wanted and just as much part of our friends lives. They too, are just as special and just as unique as our baby who came kicking, wriggling and crying into this wonderful world. Like him, they were created in one genetically specific moment, another little personality to join the family.

Thinking about this and the events of the past week, it just made me realize how blessed I am to be Alfie’s mum.  I’m not afraid to admit that I have found motherhood challenging. I am a natural worrier, a what if-er, but the joy and wonder that this beautiful baby has brought into our lives overshadows all of it.  I was lucky to carry him to full term and give birth to a healthy little boy.

They are never the baby you thought you’d have; a sleeping, independent, bundle of fun, ready to fit in with your life (come on, we all thought we’d have the perfect ‘angel’ baby!). But you can’t imagine changing this curious, active, whining, sensitive, sleep-fighting and sleep-depriving,  non-stop, mummy-loving smiler for another child.

I am so very lucky that I get to be a part of this handsome boy’s developing personality and am so proud to be his mummy.  R&R’s little nugget will always be remembered by us. They were already, and always will be, part of our unique family.

* I began writing this post some time ago but have struggled with how to express how I feel.

Practice makes perfect


This year I am definitely going to make Hot Cross Buns for Easter.  I have been thinking about it for years, was the closest I had ever come last year (read my Easter 2014 blog here) but this is THE year.  So intent am I, that yesterday I attempted my first batch.  Based on the results, I may well have to bake a batch a week before I perfect them in time for Good Friday.

So, Hot Cross Buns.  Not commonly found in America, therefore baking one’s own seems like the only option.  As an aside, does anyone else always sing the Hot Cross Buns rhyme – ‘One a penny, two a penny’- to themselves whenever they come across these? Poor Alfie heard it numerous times yesterday while I was baking them.

A little history on Hot Cross Buns from Wikipedia:

‘In many historically Christian countries, plain buns made without dairy products (forbidden in lent until Palm Sunday) are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent’. 

I did not know that traditionally they were eaten toasted.  I personally enjoy them both toasted and un-toasted.

The recipe I used, from The River Cottage Handbook No.3: Bread, does include milk, and therefore a dairy product,  so I’d be interested to know what the very first recipe for Hot Cross Buns included.




It is a straightforward recipe and method, I must admit. (I was able to get the majority of it done during Alfie’s nap and then finish the bits and pieces off while he played contentedly on the floor with a wooden spoon.) I also think that using a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attached makes it a lot easier too.  It’s the kneading that I always find difficult, I must have weak wrists! I used a mix of currants and raisins, although I believe traditionally it is just currants, not an easy commodity to find here. Thankfully I live near a Whole Foods! The other thing that I could not find was Mixed Spice, so I made up my own using cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of All Spice.  I do find it surprising that there are still things that are so common in the UK that are not available here.  I’m sure Americans living in the UK find it equally hard to find as large a range of cereals and pumpkin pie spice.

The results are not unpleasant tasting.  They are weighty.  I could do with Paul Hollywood telling me what I have done wrong.  It’s either under proved (I actually left it proving both times for much longer than specified in the recipe because it did not seem to be rising as it should) or under kneaded.  Now the recipe did not specify a kneading time frame, which is perhaps what I needed.


Also, as you see, the finish is not exactly pretty. But I know what I need to do.  I need to make a thicker flour and water paste for the cross,  I need to buy some apricot jam to melt and glaze them with and I need to bake them closer together so that they rise together, making the sides softer .  I’ll let you know how I get on next time!

Not a normal Tuesday

An honest moment now.  An admittance.  I did not know that Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day were one and the same thing.  I learnt this at…. Alfie’s Baby SingALong class last week, where we had a great Mardi-Gras themed half hour.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday is the French carnival before Lent, and is celebrated in some parts of America like New Orleans. In the UK, we refer to it as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.  In all countries is a time of feasting before the Christian period of preparation before Easter. I feel ashamed that I never put it all together before.

We’ve been full of colds for over a week, so I’ve been trying to be imaginative with our indoor play, just to break the monotony. As such, this past Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, I themed our play to reflect Mardi Gras, as it is celebrated in parts of America and Pancake Day as celebrated in the UK.  (Last year I wrote about Pancake Day and enjoyed a crepe.)

NB: Despite the variance in outfits, all photographs were taken on Pancake Day!

Activities for Mardi Gras: dancing around the house to Mardi Gras party music while waving some ribbons as if we were in a parade (well received and inspired by the Baby Sing A Long last week), touch and feel rice play with some Mardi Gras beads and the best mask I could find in the house (the beads were too inviting as a chew toy, so this activity didn’t last long), and playing peekaboo but wearing different hats each time I peeked (did not provoke as much laughter as I thought it might).



Activities for Pancake Day: Mixing ‘batter’ (flour and water) with a variety of batter mixing implements (he loved it but there was definitely lots of the pasty flour mixture heading for his mouth, and both of us had to have complete outfit changes), playing with a tiny frying pan while I made real pancake batter (by far his favourite activity from the day) and finally eating an English-style pancake (he wasn’t a fan, it was swiftly deposited floor-wards).






Perhaps it’s ridiculous to make so much effort for the 8 month old who is teething, full of a cold, grumpy, and who, let’s face it, probably has no idea what it all means, but it kept me entertained at least! And I had to make something good out of my shameful lack of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day knowledge.

January Brights


DSC_0091 DSC_0119




Bright, shining winter days.  Hope and promise.  Little tasters of what the year has in store for us. Not a sign of the January blues for the Farrars.  It’s been so easy to get out and explore.  Each small adventure has been photographic and uplifting.  So often January can feel dull and lifeless but not this year.  I have been revived and refreshed by it, set to embrace the rest of the year.



For the youngest member of the family, there has been so much to explore indoors too.  New tastes and new experiences daily.  It has been a delight to watch him.

Pantry surprise

In October 2013, I had this great idea to pickle my own cucumbers.  This is not a euphemism.  I genuinely did. I had been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and it had inspired me to do some preserving.  “What”, I thought, “Could be more American than a jar of gherkins?”


So I did my research, well I trawled pinterest for a while, found what I thought looked like a fairly straightforward recipe, cleaned up and sterilized a kilner jar and set to work.

cucumbers in jar

This would be the first time I thought about writing a ‘Yes I Can’ blog post.  And yet…. it didn’t come to fruition then.  I did pickle some cucumbers, and I did take photos, but I remember looking at the finished product and thinking, nope, it’s just not blog-worthy.  I put the gherkins away and essentially forgot about them.



Last week, while cleaning out the pantry (oh, the exciting life of a stay at home mom) I found the gherkins.  They looked murky and unappealing.  I pulled them out and left them on the side, thinking I would probably dispose of them and clean out the kilner jar, ready for my next canning adventure.  However, before emptying the jar into the waste disposal, I thought it would be wrong not to at least test one.



The smell was not horrible upon cracking the jar open. “Hmmm”, I thought, “At least they’re not mouldy.” I pulled one of the cucumber strips out and inspected it closely. It wasn’t floppy like I had feared. It looked a little pallid in color and not as green as I have perhaps come to expect from shop-bought gherkins.  I nibbled the end. Crisp. Tart. A hint of spice. A warm, garlicky- undertone. Actually, delicious.

The gherkins are now in the fridge and serving very well as a healthy snack or a sandwich accompaniment.  I’m now researching ingredients and method for my next batch – I’d like to make some a little subtler in fast, in time for grilling (and therefore burger) season.  Another string to my canning arsenal.

2015/ A week in


When the decorations come down, it always feels time.  Whether its December 1 or December 6.  Something about them looks tired. The room looks overcrowded again, like it did when you first put them up but without the excitement of why they are up.

That’s not to say that there isn’t excitement. It’s excitement of a different kind, a different sort of promise.  It’s just one that is less immediate.

The first few days of the new year can be so promising and so anti-climatic all at once. What will the next 365 days hold and how will you feel during them? This has felt more true than ever this year.  One day was crisp and bright with sunshine that makes you squint and a long walk, with rosy cheeks and limbs that feel tired when you sit down. The honking geese flying overhead as the sun begins to set. Another day it’s damp and drizzly, a day for layers, hot coffee and writing.  Today the park will be quieter, flatter, subdued. The honking geese will still fly overhead though. They have been the soundtrack to winter.


In the main, this first week of 2015 has afforded us beautiful sunny days.  Our backyard water feature has frozen overnight, only to be melted and flowing by lunchtime. We’ve enjoyed time as a family indoors and outdoors.  Once Nick returned to work, Alfie and I have had busy days filled with swimming classes, playing on the swings at the park, our daily neighborhood walks, fitness classes (for mum), and music and reading at the library.  We have delighted in each others company, as well as the return to routine.

photo 1-15

I’ve set goals for 2015.  Small, hopefully achievable ones, for different areas of my life. I hope they continue as positively as they have started.  It’s been a beautiful start to 2015, happy new year to you all!


2014 in review

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about the life-changing 2014 we have had.  It really has been quite a year.

My resolution and goal for last year was to create a healthy and happy home.  I like to think that we have managed that in some measure – I may not have kept to the smaller resolutions I set but then the adventure of parenthood took hold half way through the year – and nothing can quite prepare you for how you will deal with that!

The year started slow in January with some fun wintry excursions around Portland, and some great intentions to better my blog (see my point above about parenthood!).

Metlako Falls

Then in February I got a job and loved heading out to work everyday.

In March, during a beautiful spring time, at almost 6 months pregnant I developed a new-found respect for my changing body and enjoyed welcoming a colleague from a previous job for a visit to Portland.

Camelia 1

A Spring morning at the Japanese Garden.

In April, we were delighted to welcome JRob to Portland.  She and my dad had holidayed in Oregon and Washington State a few years ago but she had not seen Portland.  I loved showing her around our city and we enjoyed a weekend at the coast, along with a host of day trips.  However it was the little things like going out for lunch and coffee or doing the supermarket shop together that seemed most special.

Finished product
At the start of May we loved welcoming some friends to Portland from Kansas. We also  bought our house and after spending a few weeks cleaning, decorating and re-carpeting we moved in to the 4 bed detached property at the end of the month.  The whole process was quite different to that in the UK and we really enjoyed working with the realtor to find and subsequently buy the home.  (It felt a bit like being on Location, Location, Location!)
The new house
And we moved in in the nick of time,  Just over two weeks later, in June we were surprised and delighted to welcome our beautiful son Alfie James Mortimer Farrar into the world, just a little earlier than expected. After the excitement of the first half of the year, we have since concentrated on being parents to this amazing new family member.
Family Farrar
But things haven’t stayed too quiet. In the second half of the year, we continued to welcome visitors, keen to meet our baby boy and it has been a joy to host them.  JRob made her second trip of the year to Portland in July and met Alfie when he was a tiny three week old.  Her trip wasn’t nearly as action packed as her first visit, but it was so nice that she was able to spend a month with us in our new home and help us as we adjusted to being a trio.
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
 As a complete surprise to me, my brother Nic flew out in August, to visit during my mum’s last week of her stay, which was a wonderful treat.  He loved meeting his nephew and I loved getting even more family time.
Our final set of visitors came out in September. Nick’s mum and dad came out for three weeks to meet their second grandson. As Alfie was three months old by this time, we were able to really get out and show them the sights and sounds of Portland and Oregon.  I think I can safely say they loved their first trip stateside.  In fact, all of our visitors from this year are planning return trips for 2015.  This time I’ll try and make sure that the house is finished with a full complement of blinds and beds!  In September I was also able to catch up with another old work colleague during her visit stateside.
Another trip to Cannon Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach
We spent October getting into a family routine and enjoying an absolutely beautiful Oregon fall.
In November, we made the ten hour flight back to the UK to spend three weeks seeing friends and family, introducing them to Alfie and having him christened. It was a wonderful, tiring and bittersweet trip.
Alfie + JamJar
In December we spent our first Christmas in Portland, enjoying some relaxing and quiet time as a family of three.
I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by, and once again, how much has happened in it.  Without a shadow of a doubt it has been Alfie’s year.  He is simply the best thing to have happened to us – despite how tired we are as we head into a brand new year! Last night we spoke of how excited we were to see how his 2015 will be, what developments he will make and how our family life will alter over the next 12 months.  I suspect 2015 will be Alfie’s year too!

Bring on the Bundt!


As you know, I follow a few Portland blogs.  One of them is the beautiful Local Haven.  I couple of months ago I saw her blog about an olive oil cake with slow roasted balsamic blueberries. We had just done the olive oil tasting at the Oregon Olive Mill and returned home with some amazing olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  How better to use them than in a cake?!


The bundt cake.  Based on the shape of the European Gugelhopf cake, I associate bundt cakes with America.  You don’t get lots of them in the UK, but they always look so effective and they are commonplace here.  So I invested in a bundt tin one and set to making my first olive oil cake in the distinctively shaped tin.



I was really quite impressed with the cake.  I switched out the blueberries for strawberries, because we had some in already – but it still worked and tasted pretty good.



I’ll be making more olive oil cakes and getting much more use out of my bundt tin I have no doubt.

The recipe I used is here.


Guest Blog: We’ll be back!

In March of this year we booked our flights to Portland to visit Nick, Laura, and as then, our unborn grandchild.   And so it was that in September we arrived in Portland to meet the totally adorable 3 month old Alfie.

Even from the air it was evident that in Portland, and Oregon in general, I was going to be able to indulge my love of trees, because here they were, in abundance.

During our stay we saw so much and visited so many beautiful places.  I am only sharing some of my favourites.

Portland from Pittock Mansion, which is a lovely house to visit.

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Columbia Gorge from Vista Point

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Mount Hood reflected in Trillium Lake. We spent a lovely family day there and I still day dream about it!

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We went to the coast to the lovely Manzanita and Cannon beaches, calling at ‘Camp 18′ for breakfast and my first taste of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon!

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We did so much, and everywhere we went there were trees!

We spent almost three weeks with Nick and Laura who made us so welcome in their home.  Here we enjoyed lovely family time and got to know Alfie who seemed to change daily.
Cuddling him was definitely at the top of my list of favourite things!

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Nick and Laura made sure that we enjoyed every day of our visit, not just as tourists, but also by sharing a taste of their everyday lives in Portland with us.    We visited supermarkets with them, a real eye opening experience given the the vast  array of goods and choices. The Farmers Market with so much varied and homemade local produce. We went to their favourite cafe’s and coffee shops, where I developed a taste for BLT’s ( why can’t someone make them like that  here in the UK ?!)  and to Cold Stone Creamery for delicious ice cream!   Does it sound a little like England?  It is, but vastly different at the same time.

I celebrated my birthday on our last day there,  and what better way to end a wonderful holiday.  Laura worked her magic in the Kitchen and made me a truly unique birthday cake, my favourite Cinnamon Roll!    It not only looked lovely, but it was absolutely delicious and totally irresistible.  After a final relaxing, but fun,  family day out it was back home for more birthday cake!  A memorable birthday, a memorable holiday that will stay with me throughout the years.


All too soon it was time to say goodbye, which I always hate, but it was particularly poignant because now we were leaving half of our much loved family 5,000 miles away.

I will miss them so much; I will miss the stunning scenery and big skies; I will definitely miss the polite and friendly people of Oregon;  And I  will miss those trees!!

Yes, I will miss my family but I also envy them the amazing opportunity they have to live in such a beautiful part of the USA.

One thing is for sure,  WE WILL BE BACK !!

I’ve become an apple snob

IMG_1276First Portland made us beer snobs.  Now, it’s made me an apple snob.  It started with tasting a red-fleshed apple at a Farmers Market two weeks ago. Then, last weekend we truly embraced Portland’s obsession with good quality – and seasonal- produce and I officially became an apple snob.  We went to an Apple Tasting Festival at Portland Nursery.  Yes, that’s right.  A festival dedicated to the humble apple.  There was apple tasting, pear tasting, cider tasting (cider drinking), caramel apples, apple- themed crafts and apples to be bought by the bushel.

Today while walking around the supermarket and deciding what fruit to get I realized that my apple snobbery was fully formed.  Today I was not seduced by a shiny Granny Smith, or lured by a Fuji.  At the very least, I thought I might entertain the HoneyCrisp.  You see at the apple tasting we tried over 40 different apples – some Oregon natives, some old fashioned, some we’d heard of and some we hadn’t.  Trying so many different apples made me think more about what I actually enjoy eating rather than simply picking the apple that is on offer in the store.


We enjoyed the apple tasting.  It was fascinating to try so many varieties one after the other.  I simply didn’t realize how different apples could taste.  I had a few favorites: the Calville Blanc, the Jonathan and the Liberty. Interestingly, these all had a tart taste and were crisp in texture.  This does make sense as I favor the Granny Smith and Discovery apples that are easily found in the stores.  (The red fleshed Mountain Rose apple I had enjoyed at the farmers market tasted to me like a cross between a Granny Smith and a Discovery, which is probably why I so enjoyed it.)



With the tasting we were given a sheet of information telling us the origins of each fruit and what they are best used for.  We learnt that the reason there are so few varieties available for general consumption is most likely to do with how well they keep.  All the apples that are in the stores keep well: Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, etc.

We did buy a selection of apples and pears at the festival so I only needed a couple more from the supermarket today and I did indeed splash out on the Honey Crisp – which is a really popular one in Oregon and only available in the autumn.  I suspect the reason that they taste so nice is because they are in season.

So, yes.  The humble apple has now been raised in my estimation and it is highly likely that I will no longer just choose the one that is on offer.  I may even seek some of my new favorites out at the local farmers markets instead of relying on the supermarket so heavily.

Guest Blog – A trip within a trip

Helen, Dave, Robbie & Andrea
My yearly trip to visit my sister in California usually includes another trip once I arrive. Last year we visited Fort Bragg in California, somewhere I had always wanted to visit to see its famous glass beach. This year’s trip was an exciting visit to Portland.
Keeping in touch with Laura and seeing her photos on Instagram kept me up to date with her new life in Portland and the journey she is having with her husband and of course the arrival of her baby. I was motivated by Laura’s talent of being a mum and new home maker while still sending out updates using Instagram. If only I had such technology and time when I was a young mum!  It would have been amazing to show my family and friends what I was doing. So I decided I must grasp the challenge. Using my new iPad (courtesy of my employer) I too could start my journey of using this technology which is so useful and powerful and can reach so many people. I asked my colleague, “Show me how to use this, I want to be like Laura!” He did and now I am addicted.
Back to my trip…..it fell into place so easily that It was meant to be. My sister Andrea’s friends who were previous neighbours of hers had moved to Portland several years ago and were very happy to accommodate us both. Having looked on google earth I saw their home was in a very nice part of Portland, which strangely enough was an area that I had visited (using google earth) and told Laura , ‘Go visit Nob Hill it looks really nice!” (This was before they had moved there and were just visiting the city.)
My sister’s children would be looked after by Daddy for three days, which was a really kind gesture from Paul to let us have some time together.
We flew into PDX and loved seeing Portland from the Max train – it was so easy to hop on and get to our stop where Dave was waiting for us. He and Robbie gave us a tour, showing us some of their favourite shops, eating places and even the wine store where they keep their wine. Their house was lovely; it had a very clam feeling about it. Apart from the two cats. One was like a magpie, stealing and hiding jewellery. They were cute despite one being caught red handed like a burglar with it’s head in my handbag.
California 2014 trip 053
The following day Laura arrived with Alfie to take us for coffee and then a walk somewhere. It had rained the night before and was still a little wet. We had to borrow men’s coats just in case it rained again. Laura arrived looking just the same as the day she left Yorkshire Housing. Did I say that’s where we met?…Anyway we headed off for coffee and a good chat. I was keen to hear about her new life and Alfie. He was asleep and slept for what seemed most of the morning. He slept through the noise of the lovely French bakery – St Honore Boulangerie Patisserie – the visit to the nearby shop to buy wine to take back to our friends and the drive to the Japanese gardens. He slept through being carried up the stairs to the gardens in his buggy and the walk around the wet but amazing garden.  Finally he was woken from his slumber for his feed!
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Later that day after saying goodbye to Laura and Alfie we went for a picnic with Robbie and Dave to sit, eat and drink while watching thousands of swifts fly into the chimney of Chapman Elementary School. It was amazing to see and there were so many people there having a great time waiting for dusk, while kids were sliding down the grass bank on old cardboard boxes, pizza boxes and even a huge flat screen TV box.
I loved Portland very much and would love to go back. To explore and visit new areas, to go to the ‘Goonies beach’ and see the haystack rocks. My sister has never seen the film. I was shocked. She will have to watch it with her children very soon. I challenge her to see it before Christmas!
The best things about my trip were
  • Seeing Laura and Alfie..not forgetting Robbie and Dave.
  • Finally a view of Mt Hood on our last day, it had been so misty it was hidden.
  • Salt & Straw ice cream. Amazing flavours and atmosphere.
  • The food carts and the range of food.
  • Having a relaxing time being with my lovely sister Andrea.
  • Flying for the first time with Andrea.
  • Enjoying a lovely meal with Andrea at the airport due to our flight being delayed
  • The Japanese Gardens
  • The view from Pittock Mansion
  • Seeing Robbie’s amazing photographs for his exhibition very soon in Portland.
It’s just an amazing place and I would love to back. Thank you to my sister for arranging for us to go…and to Portland for welcoming us!
California 2014 trip 123
California 2014 trip 123
A note about the author: Helen and I were colleagues at Yorkshire Housing.  I loved working with her and am so pleased that she was able to come and visit me in America.  When she returns to California, I’m heading down to visit her there!!

Farmers Market Chutney


In our 18 months of living stateside, we have discovered that chutney is not a commodity sold or eaten in America.  As many of you will know, the Farrars love a chutney so this year I was determined to make some for our winter sandwich & cheeseboard requirements.  Now is a great time of year to make our well tried and well tested courgette chutney and with the abundance of amazing fresh local produce, I was very excited to get on chutneying.

I bought the ingredients from our local farmers market in Beaverton.  (As much as we love the big Farmers Market at PSU, we have found the Beaverton one to be very stroller-frendly and it has some really great producers there too.)

I love an excuse to get the maslin pan and funnel out and I even bought some new jars for the occasion.  3 delicious jars of seasonal chutney. Bring on the cheese and crackers!


Change of season

This week marked the change of season from summer to autumn, or fall.  What a summer it has been. It seems to have lasted for such a long time.   For me, it began at the beginning of June, when I started my maternity leave, and the weather began to get warmer. We are now saying farewell to our last visitors of the season and my cardigans have made a reappearance from the depths of my closet.

I love autumn, and I wrote a blog post saying just that this time last year. Once again, after  a life-changing summer, I feel like the start of autumn signals getting back into a routine and holds so much promise. Re-reading my plans for last autumn, I am surprised (and at the same time not surprised) how similar they are for 2014:  autumnal walks at the Arboretum and eating locally sourced and seasonal produce. This time the main difference is that I will not be job hunting and instead will be hunting for fun things for Alfie and I to do together during the week and for interesting family weekend trips.

However, I have been looking back on our incredible summer filled with a baby and our amazing family and realizing what a blessed life we lead. I was also thinking how lucky Alfie is to have experienced some awesome Oregon sights in his short, summer-filled life.

Alfie at the International Rose Test Garden
Alfie at the International Rose Test Garden
Alfie at Cannon Beach
Alfie at Cannon Beach
Alfie in the Pearl
Strolling around in the Pearl
Alfie enjoys a barbecue
Alfie enjoys a barbecue
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Lavender picking on Sauvie Island
Lavender picking on Sauvie Island
Among the peach trees on Sauvie Island
Among the peach trees on Sauvie Island
At our local park
At our local park
At Erath Vineyard
At Erath Vineyard
At Arcadia Beach
At Arcadia Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach


Checking out the view at Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Checking out the view at Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Kicking about at Trillium Lake
Kicking about at Trillium Lake
Enjoying the trains at Shady Glen
Enjoying the trains at Shady Glen in Molalla

I wonder what fabulous fall and awesome autumn activities await him – and us?

Guest Blog: The best photos this blog has ever seen!


As soon as I found out my Pseudo Twin (PT) (she can explain) and Nick would be moving to Portland, Oregon, I wondered when my first jaunt out there would be and what I would see and do while there. I had no real knowledge of the area however, after reading the PT’s blogs, Facebook posts and our countless conversations, I built up a firm idea of what I would want to experience. Largely this revolved around food, (as is the family way) but almost equally, I wanted to get out and explore the city, the countryside and the Oregon coast.

With the looming arrival of baby Farrar, and knowing that the mothership would be having a month out in Oregon around the time of the due date, I decided to book a flight and head over myself to surprise my PT at a time when I knew the baby would have arrived.

Keeping the secret was quite a challenge, even more so when Alfie ‘Wriggle Pants’ Farrar arrived 3 weeks early! I couldn’t wait to meet him and spring my surprise, but I had the extra couple of weeks to wait and also 2 days in the USA before arriving in Portland. I’d given myself a night and day in Seattle followed by a drive (in a convertible Mustang…..when in Rome) down to Mount St Helens for another night to revisit my GCSE Geography knowledge!

After jumping out of the kitchen pantry chez Farrar on a hot Friday afternoon, I spent 10 days getting to know Alfie, hanging out with the PT, Nick and the mothership (and catching up with an old uni friend) as well as cramming in a bucket load of sight seeing, eating and exploring. Although the PT was like a broken record apologising for not getting out more and doing stuff, we did far more together with a seven week old Alfie in tow than I ever expected. And when she wasn’t able to get out I followed her advice and went off on a solo mission or two. Memorably, I also drove to ‘The Goonies’ coast with the mothership, stopping off for a behemoth of a cinnamon roll en route! (Camp 18 for you Oregon locals.)

This year I have been enjoying photography, and even undertook an adult learning course so I could be more confident in taking the slr off auto mode…….so, here are a selection of my favourites whittled down from a good few hundred (might be nearer 1000).

I’m now looking forward to (hopefully) returning next summer with the mothership….and brothership…….for more of the same. I’m just not sure all the luggage will fit in a Mustang……. maybe we will have to get a Camaro too!

The Farrar Three
The Farrar Three
Sundown behind the Olympic Mountain Range from the Space Needle
Sundown behind the Olympic Mountain Range from the Space Needle
Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background.
Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background.
Rusting Steel at the Olympic Sculpture Park
Rusting Steel at the Olympic Sculpture Park
Mt St Helens from Spirit Lake Highway
Mt St Helens from Spirit Lake Highway
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
The mighty Columbia River Gorge
The mighty Columbia River Gorge
he pool at the bottom of 542ft top tier of Multnomah Falls
The pool at the bottom of 542ft top tier of Multnomah Falls
The Mothership on Indian Beach at Ecola State Park
The Mothership on Indian Beach at Ecola State Park
Goonies never say die...across Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock
Goonies never say die…across Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock
View south from sunset highway on the drive back from the coast
View south from sunset highway on the drive back from the coast
Rust and peeling paint on the Hawthorne Bridge
Rust and peeling paint on the Hawthorne Bridge
Hawthorne Bridge, Portland
Hawthorne Bridge, Portland
View of Mt Hood from Pittock Mansion
View of Mt Hood from Pittock Mansion
Sleepy Alfie
Sleepy Alfie

A note on the author.  My brother Nic is exactly one year younger than me, born on my first birthday, and therefore my pseudo twin.  I was thoroughly surprised by his visit to the Pacific Northwest and just loved hanging out with him while he was here.  Having family so far away when you have a baby is hard, because you want to share the physical joy of this new life with them.  I didn’t think that I would be able to and Nic’s visit meant that I could for a short while.  Love you, PT!

Eating my words

photo 2-9Only one month ago I wrote a blog about how my world had got smaller because the centre of my world was now the small person in my life.  Our baby boy is three months old today and I have been thinking about how I may just have to eat my words. For somebody who felt like their world had shrunk, the past four weeks have offered me lots of new experiences and the opportunity to meet lots of new people.

Since going along to a weekly New Mom’s Group at the hospital where Alfie was born, I’ve met fellow new moms and they have introduced me to all kinds of other groups.  Alfie and I have been taking a mother and baby pilates class, I’ve started to learn infant massage and we’ve also been walking in new parts of Portland with a group called Hike It Baby.

Hike It Baby trip to Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Hike It Baby trip to Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Hike It Baby trip to Mt Tabor Park
Hike It Baby trip to Mt Tabor Park

My world has changed drastically and daily and weekly there are new moments of wonder for Alfie and for me.

Wine Time

We have lived in Oregon for well over a year now and I am sorry to say that we have only just got around to exploring Oregon’s very local (perhaps too local?) wine country.  What a delight… even on a day when we had our first bit of rain in pretty much a month.

I can’t say that we took full advantage of wine country – we only stopped at two wineries/vineyards – but goodness me if it didn’t make me want to get right back out there for a proper tour with full tastings and good sized glasses of delicious local wine.


Oregon is famous in wine terms for it’s Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Gris, is similar to the more commonly known Pinot Grigio, an often clear and always crisp, refreshing white. The Chardonnay is not like Chardonnay I have previously tasted, I don’t think that it is quite as sweet.  And the Pinot Noir is a very palatable, soft red wine.  When we first moved here I really enjoyed sampling local wines and would often choose a Pinot Gris while out for dinner.

Before this weekend, we had been to a friends vineyard and winery, (Archer Vineyards) right on the edge of ‘Wine Country’ in an area known as the Chehalem Hills.  Here, there is beautiful rolling countryside, big skies and big views.  This year, at Archer Vineyard we especially enjoyed a rose that they had grown which looked almost white in color but was delightfully sweet and all too easy to drink.


When Nick and I talked about heading out for a day trip, I thought about how beautiful the wine country – essentially on our doorstep – was and did a little research to plan a route and some stop offs.  Having a baby – and breastfeeding – meant that our wine country day was likely to be a little different than if we had gone a year ago, but it was simply lovely.  And that is largely to do with the simply stunning scenery which we explored.  We drove through the Chehalem Hills, through Newberg and headed for the Dundee Hills where we stopped at Durant Vineyard.  But here, we were not tasting wine, we were tasting olive oil. Oregon Olive Mill grow and press their own olive oil and it is delicious! We tried 5 different oils and a couple of balsamic vinegars and were genuinely surprised at how different the tastes were.  It may seem a funny thing to taste but we were really impressed.  And we treated ourselves to some as a bread dipping treat!


From here, we headed to the nearby town of Carlton.  This is such a sweet, sweet town.  It is all about the wine – with a number of tasting rooms and wineries located on the main street – but we stopped for lunch at a really great cafe called Horse Radish.  I chose a cheese plate, making my own selection of three from a menu of around 30 locally made cheeses and served with warm bread, olives, almonds and fig chutney.  It was outstanding!  And Nick couldn’t say enough good things about his ham sandwich – which had “ham like you get in the UK, nice and dry”. I wanted to save my alcohol quota for the tasting at the vineyard, but with a nice glass of wine, my lunch would have been pretty near perfect.



From Carlton we headed to our winery stop, Erath Vineyards.  Erath is one of the most popular and well known Oregon vineyards – their wines are certainly available in the local grocery stores.  Nick and I shared a tasting flight of 6 wines; two pinot gris’, a rose and three pinot noirs. We sat on their outdoor patio, under a flowering arbor and enjoyed the view as acres of vines clung to the rolling hills.  It was just lovely.


I am no wine connoisseur but I really enjoyed sampling the wines and considering the subtle and not so subtle differences. It was this, more than anything, that made me want to head back out there for a full tour and tasting session. Watch out next year wine country, watch out!


Guest Blog: There and back again


It’s been three weeks more than two three months since Andy and I returned home after our first trip from the heart of the Midwest to the alluring Pacific Northwest — specifically Portland and Seattle. (You know, those cities you’ve been told you would love. By literally everybody. So cool, so progressive, so outdoorsy, so laid-back…)

I intended to pound out a guest blog post for Laura within the first week back home, before all my travel-inspired illuminations faded away like dried-up leaves that have dropped, dusty and overlooked, on the windowsill. So many thoughts crowded my head during and immediately after that trip! They’re growing fainter by the day. Overtaken by bills and daily work commutes and weeding the yard. That’s how life goes.

Travel is a curious thing. It knocks you out of the routine you are used to. Alters your receptivity. Stretches you to look at the people, places and things around — including yourself, especially yourself — with different eyes. I’m not saying they are more accurate or incisive eyes than the ones you were using back home. But suddenly your attention is heightened. You marvel at ways of living and being that you hadn’t previously considered. Wander around as you never would on streets at home. Reconsider long-held assumptions and expectations.

It’s certain that you only get a sliver of the sense of a place when traveling. But it’s enough to matter. I think the act of taking each trip changes a little piece of you forever.

As a Midwesterner, I am accustomed to my part of the U.S. (and the faint inferiority complex that comes from living in what most people deem “flyover country”). I may not entirely even appreciate its particular beauties and expanses. Probably get stuck too often pondering its perceived limitations instead. (How about a preposterous lack of public transit service, for starters.) Visiting parts of the Pacific Northwest — with its appealing vistas seen through an admirer’s eyes — surfaced many searching questions about the choices I’ve made in my life.

  • What makes a place a home?
  • Why do I live where I live? Does it offer what I want?
  • Is it still where I want to live? Should I actively recommit myself to this place? If so, how?
  • What do I value in my city? What would I proudly show off to others who came to visit?
  • What is most important to me about the way I live and whom I do that with?
  • How can I commit to really and truly doing all the stuffI say and believe I want to do?
  • How can I try to be more present in each distinct day (instead of being overtaken by the blur of each week) finding more moments of connection and purpose and passion?

Even though I’m solidly back home and humming along in my daily rhythms once again, I want to hold fast to these questions and revisit them. A little mental kickstart now and again can be a very good thing, no matter how and where you live.

Seattle Library
Seattle Library


Portland's Japanese Gardens

A note on the author:  Julie and I met 12 years ago during an intense 9 months working as interns at a theater in the other Portland! We have remained friends and I’ve been delighted to welcome her into my home in the UK and now in Portland.  I am totally ashamed to admit that I am still yet to visit her in Kansas City.  It’s on the list of things to do while we’re Stateside. After reading her blog, I would be absolutely fascinated to see what Midwest sights she and Andy would introduce us to, as they both speak so fondly and knowledgeably about their hometown – and to my mind, that kind of enthusiasm is what makes you desperate to visit a place.

It’s a small world


I’ve been a mummy for just 9 weeks and I am coming to realize that keeping this blog is going to be a little harder.  Not simply due to a lack of time.  Lots of people who have infants keep blogs and work and do lots of other things too.  My concern is that my exploration of Portland, Oregon and the States just slowed down massively (if only for the short term).


In some ways, you might say that my world got a little smaller.  Routine has become important.  Providing a safe and secure home environment has become a priority. And, frankly, right now, simply getting out the house in clean clothes before noon is quite an achievement. With the smaller world that I am inhabiting being a new thing to me, I am not sure what direction this blog will take or how regularly I will feel  that I have something interesting to share.


So, in the meantime, here are the things that I have learnt in the past 9 weeks – and rather than being about Portland and the US/UK cultural differences, they are about being a mother, because right now, that is my all encompassing world.


1. You won’t mind leaving the house without drying your hair or putting on make up.  Because at least you are out of the house.

2. Breastfeeding is hard.  It’s like doing a dance that you don’t know the steps to.  And it continually changes.

3. You will worry all the time about whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  Everyone tells you to follow your instinct and you do and then feel that could have been wrong too.


4. You don’t think you’ll be the type of woman to wander around the house in the middle of the afternoon mad-eyed, with baby sick in your hair and lactating breasts, asking yourself over and over where you left the burp cloth.  But you will. It is a humbling experience.

5. Singing Ironic by Alanis Morrissette through your own tears as you and your baby cry at each other will be the extent of your sense of humor.

6. You are unlikely to have any concept of what is going on in the outside world. (See blog title.)


7. You can function on a lot less sleep than you ever thought possible.  Not at a high level.  But you can care for your newborn and hold coherent conversations on 2-3 hours of sleep.

8. Although you think that all your friends managed beautifully when they had their children the reality is you didn’t see them in the first three weeks of their children being born and it is unlikely that you saw them outside their house.  That all came later, you just blocked it out.

9. You will talk about bodily fluids openly and in any situation.


10. You will cry.  Oh, how you will cry.

11.  You will be continually amazed at how your baby grows, changes and develops every single day.

12. Your world will be smaller but you are totally fine with that. The world for your newborn is unbelievably big and all you want to do is make it one of comfort and wonder and exploration for them.


And please don’t misunderstand me…. I’m more than happy with my world right now!

[The photos included are all images of the small world that we inhabit and were taken by my talented brother, Nic J M Robinson.]


Having a baby the American way

Alfie in hospital

Alfie is now eight weeks old and this is a blog post that I have been intending to write since I was just 20 weeks pregnant! I thought it might be interesting to consider the differences in the process of having a baby in the US and the UK. Of course, I don’t have personal experience of preparing for and giving birth in the UK, but with many of my friends having children I feel that I have a general understanding of the British way.

I really enjoyed being pregnant. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I was doing the right thing in terms of exercise, what I was eating, how much I was taking on (moving house in your third trimester is not the most sensible of actions) and whether I should have been doing more or less of all the above. But one part of being pregnant that I didn’t have to worry about was the care I was getting from my doctors.  I felt that it was excellent and wondered if I would receive the same standard in the UK. Of course here in the US you pay for your medical services.  We are lucky enough to pay into a good medical insurance scheme which does make the whole process cheaper but it’s still not the NHS.

I had monthly check ups with my doctor, a specific OB/GYN of my choosing (you get recommendations on which doctors to use here), and then at 30 weeks they went down to fortnightly checks and then from 36 weeks they would be weekly.  (I never got that far!) So I felt like my doctor was keeping good tabs on me and through our regular meetings I really felt that I was able to build up a good relationship with him.  This was a big difference about having a baby in America.  The OB/GYN that I saw at the doctors surgery would be the one to also deliver my baby.  You can choose a midwife-led birth here but they are not the norm like in the UK.  (As it turned out the nurse looking after me during my labour was in fact a midwife so I felt as though I was in doubly good hands!)

A big difference that I think applies between having a baby here and in the UK is the vitamins and immunizations that are required.  I was prescribed a pre-natal vitamin that the doctor strongly recommended.  I actually ended up taking multiple vitamins instead of the prenatal one as we were unhappy about the levels of Vitamin A it contained.  I was and still am, taking calcium, iron and folic acid.  Like in the UK, I had to have a flu shot as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and like in the UK, I had to have an immunization against whooping cough.  But this is where there was another difference.  Here, I had TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertussis), Nick had to have it and I was advised that my mum (visiting for a month) should also have it. In the UK, only the mother is advised to have the vaccine.

Here in the US, the 12 week scan is optional.  It is the 20 week scan that everyone has to have. And at the 20 week scan, finding out the sex of the baby is far more common than leaving it as a surprise, as we did. In fact, my OB/GYN commented that he had only delivered a handful of babies where they didn’t know the sex.  We were pleased that we kept Alfie’s gender as a surprise but it did make it hard to buy any clothes in advance.  I relied on Marks & Spencer’s and Mothercare international deliveries (and my mum’s luggage!) to stock up on plain vests, white sleep suits and socks.

I was genuinely surprised by the differences in what foods you were allowed to eat in both countries.  Here in the US, it was recommended that you don’t eat deli meats or canned tuna, but shellfish in the main was fair game! Of course still no soft cheeses or liver.  I ate a lot of hard cheese based sandwiches. It’s a wonder I didn’t pile on more pounds than I did.

We attended childbirth classes, organized through the hospital where we would be giving birth. I’m not sure how similar they were to UK NCT classes.  They were certainly not as social as we had hoped they would be.  We saw the class as a way of meeting other local parents to be, and although it could have been, the classroom-like approach simply wasn’t conducive to getting to know each other.  I feel like this is a real missed opportunity.

When it came to the birth, we knew that they wouldn’t let me go very much past term before they induced me. Certainly not like the two weeks allowed in the UK (depending on circumstances of course).  However, Alfie couldn’t wait to greet the world and was 2 1/2 weeks early so thankfully, I never got to that stage.  When my waters broke before any contractions started, I was advised to go into hospital straight away, where I had to stay and where they said that my baby would be delivered within 24 hours. As far as I know in the UK, they give you 24 hours at home to see if things happen naturally before encouraging you to go into the hospital.

So I ended up laboring in hospital.  And here’s a difference, there was free parking! And Nick could stay. There was a bed chair in the delivery room for him to use and then when I was moved to the mother & baby ward, there was a bed for him there too.  We also got a free celebratory meal through their room service. It was like a hotel, except one where they wake you up to take your temperature and blood pressure every few hours.

A big difference – and one which even my doctor and his students were surprised at – was that in the UK, you are offered gas and air as pain relief.  No such thing in America.  You either go natural or you go for drugs (epidural or narcotics).

We were encouraged to stay in the hospital for two nights and as we had our own en-suite room, it felt very reassuring to do so, particularly as Alfie had been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first 36 hours. However, unlike the UK, once we were out of the hospital, I felt like we were flying solo.  No healthcare visits to your home here and no drop in clinics available. We took Alfie to the doctors for his check when he was 5 days old (followed by a 2 week check and then his 8 week check) and I had a 1 week and a 4 week check.  I think that this is good and bad.  For the neurotic first time mother, there feels to be no real way of telling how your baby is getting on – you have no idea what to compare it against. Neither do you have any precise idea about how much weight they are gaining. It also means that you have to get out of the house (and therefore be dressed) for a set time just a few days after getting out of hospital.  For me, who had scheduled my 40 minute 1 week check up and Alfie’s 40 minute 5 day check up for the same day (plus the 40 minute round trip in the car) this also included the possibility (and fear) of how I would manage to time his breastfeeds, something both Alfie and I were still learning to do.  Getting to that appointment on time felt like a major accomplishment.

And now, what differences are there?  Well there are a lot fewer classes and resources for parents of young babies.  I am struggling to find baby massage and baby yoga classes that I can go to and those that I do find are really quite expensive.  I hope that once I start really looking into it, I’ll find a wealth of things to do but for now, walking round the park and looking up new nursery rhyme lyrics on the internet will have to be good enough.

The differences have been interesting and I really couldn’t say if I thought one was better than another. Overall I would say that my prenatal and labour care were second to none and although I would have perhaps felt more comfortable having a regular healthcare visitor after the birth, not having that resource encouraged me to use my own intuition and put our parenting skills to the test straight away.

As I said at the start, I don’t know what it’s like to have a baby in the UK, having an American baby is all I know!




Our biggest (and littlest) American adventure yet…

Family Farrar

Two and a half weeks ago we embarked on probably what is our biggest adventure yet: our beautiful baby boy, Alfie James Mortimer Farrar was born.  He is our real American adventure because being born in the US to British parents automatically gives him dual nationality.  Perhaps one day Alfie Farrar could be President of the USA!

When we told friends and family we were expecting and our due date of 5 July we all thought it would be brilliant if he was born today, 4 July – Independence Day. As it turns out, Alfie simply couldn’t wait to meet us. Instead of fireworks celebrating his arrival, Alfie is celebrating Independence Day with us. And what better day to officially ‘blog announce’ the birth of our little British/American boy than such an important day in US history and their declaration of independence from Great Britain.

NB:  This is why there have been fewer blogs from me recently and why I intend on taking some brief blogging time off while I concentrate on learning to be a mum and enjoying time with my new little family. 

Guest Blog: Why I care about sun safety

Back in May, I blogged about sun safety and skin cancer awareness month.  I had been asked by a fellow Portland blogger, A Well Crafted Party, to write a piece for her blog about why I care about sun safety. Jenni recently found out that she has a Basal Cell Carcinoma that needed to be removed with minor surgery. A frightening diagnosis for anyone, it made her think about skin cancer and raising awareness of skin cancer and of course, this is something that I can relate to.

Today, her blog about why people care about sun safety, which I was very pleased to contribute to went live.  You can read it here.

Jenni Bost blogs on A Well Crafted Party and is also CEO & Owner of PDX Bloggers.

Baking with jam


As predicted, there was indeed baking in my future because of the monstrous Kilner jar of strawberry jam that I have in the fridge.  Nick suggested the English classic, the jam tart.  But I’m not a huge fan.  Then I remembered these ‘Jammer’ biscuits that I had seen (but never tried) in a Pacific NorthWest chain of bakeries, Grand Central Bakery.  We used to live opposite a Grand Central Bakery so I had seen them quite a lot.  I don’t know why I had never tried them but they looked a bit like a rough scone with jam erupting from the centre like a volcano.  Quite appealing,

Anyway, I thought that these might be a good way to use up a significant quantity of jam. So I went to the internet to find out if Jammers were a common American baked good or whether they were Grand Central Bakery specific.  Success!  The first link on Google Search took me right to another blog who had used Grand Central Bakery’s Recipe Book to make the original Jammer.


It turns out the Jammer is essentially an American-style biscuit filled with jam before it is baked.

Here I will clarify the American biscuit. Biscuits are not like English biscuits, something crisp and crunchy.  The English biscuit is referred to in the US as a cookie.  The American biscuit is probably more like an English scone.  The biscuit is essentially a bread product. It is often eaten here in the Pacific Northwest with a breakfast but they are synonymous with Southern American food; biscuits and gravy, biscuits and fried chicken.

I haven’t made biscuits before, and although it has been some time since I have made scones, I was intrigued to see what differences there were.  In taste, I think that biscuits are a little lighter than scones and not quite as sweet.


I’m not going to write the recipe out in full.  I used this great blog post for the recipe.  The biscuit  base for the recipe uses buttermilk, which I know my mum has tried using for some successful scones that she has made.

Overall, i was pleased with how the Jammers turned out. To me, they tasted more like a scone than a biscuit, but maybe that’s because you get the jam hit without having to smear it on? Maybe I should make some more to really perfect them?




Yes I can!

Hood Strawberries

Last year, I spent much of the summer in the UK so was disappointed to miss out on summer berry season here in Oregon.  It is a big deal.  And the biggest deal of all in Portland?  The Hood Strawberry. Boy, when that one is ripe and ready for eating, people go crazy for it. But I would say that it is worth the hype.  A little different to the classic British strawberry it is quite sweet but bursting with flavor.

As I’m currently not in a position to be picking for an hour in a field, I cheated a little and bought myself a tray of them at the farmers market.  My intention? Jam.  We don’t eat a great deal of jam in the Farrar household but we do enjoy it and it reminds me of the allotment days – and both my mum and dad making it annually.

Here in America making jam – or any other pickling, chutneying, putting things in jars, is called canning.  For some time I have been intrigued to know how and what makes the canning process different to jam jar-ing, if at all.  I had some ‘cans’ in, so set to my research and got on with my jam making.

It turns out that the difference between canning jam and the UK style of jam making, is that to can something, once you have filled your jar or can, you boil the entire jar and its contents to prevent spoiling and therefore preserve it.  Not something I have ever done before, relying on the old fashioned wax topper and a tightened jar lid!

However, cans is what I had so canning is what I did.  First you have to submerge your glass jars in water and sterilize them by heating them on the hob. As I don’t have a water canner I used a pasta pan because you don’t want your jars to be in direct contact with the base of the pan. Some people also recommend using a trivet or even a dishcloth on the base of the pan.  I prepared these first and just left them on the hob while I did the rest of my jam making so that they would be thoroughly sterilized. In the UK, my preferred method of sterilizing jars was always to put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so.


Onto the jam making.  Prepare the strawberries, then mash them up!

Mashed strawberries

There seems to be no such thing as jam sugar here (perhaps because jam is referred to as jelly?) so I had to use regular granulated sugar and liquid pectin. After mashing the strawberries, I added the juice of two lemons and stirred in the pectin while bringing the fruit to a rolling boil. Once boiling, I added in the mountain of sugar required, always a sobering sight. Then you just have to stir it in until you get to the rapid boil stage (being careful not to reach the jam volcano stage of two years ago, as told on Farrars Field).  Let the jam boil vigorously for a minute or so.

Adding a bit of sugar

During this time, I pulled the jars/cans out of the boiling water and set them to the side, so that they would cool very slightly before I put the jam in them.  At this point, I realized that my six small jars were not going to hold the vat of jam I had just made.  I quickly threw an enormous kilner jar in the oven to sterilize.

I filled the jars with jam, using the jam funnel that I love, and added the rings and lids to the cans, closing them so that they were ‘finger-tight’ as per the canning instructions.  Then, the filled jars go back into the boiling water bath.  They have to be totally submerged and then have to be boiled for ten minutes.  I had to do this in two batches due to the small width of the pasta pan.  But this gave me time to sort out the leftover jam and kilner jar situation.  I knew that this wouldn’t be properly canned, but thought we could eat this as more of a ‘refrigerator jam’ (which really means quickly and in larger quantities). It will keep fine in the fridge for a few weeks (due to the significant amount of sugar) without the boiling process but would not keep outside of the fridge without spoiling.

Kilner Jar of jam

After 10 minutes of boiling, I carefully removed the cans from the boiling water and must now hope for the best!  The bad thing about the refrigerator jam is that it means we have to put off the actual testing of the canned jam for some time.  The jam in the fridge has turned out really well and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.  However, I am concerned that the canned jam will be too runny (submerging finger-tight lids in water?) or too thick (I mean technically it’s been boiled for a lot longer).  I’ll have to let you know how that one goes.  And until then, it’s lots of toast and jam, jam sandwiches (PBJ’s if we’re feeling particularly American) and probably some jam-based baked products in our future.

So, how was the canning experience overall?  I felt that I would have done much better with the proper equipment: a good sized canning pan, or at least a wider based pan that I could have fitted a trivet in the bottom of, and a pair of can tongs suitable for lifting hot glass jars out of boiling water.  I also felt like the process took an awful lot longer than the jamming I had done previously. I was genuinely exhausted – and very hot from standing over pans of boiling jam and boiling water – by the end of the experience.  However, I am pleased with the jam that I have tasted (and my family will account for last year’s very poor product made from Robinson’s Ranch produce) and I do feel confident that the jam will keep for the full year it should do without spoiling.

It turns out that yes, I can and yes, I probably can do again.  Bring on the rest of the berries Oregon!

Canned Jam

We moved!

The new house

We are living the American Dream!  After just under a year of renting in Portland last month we bought a house! In suburbia. When we moved out here, we didn’t have intentions to buy a house, we figured we would just rent.  However, the cost of renting here really surprised us and when we looked into it, buying just seemed to make better financial sense to us.

So we started looking for a house and looking into how you go about buying a house here in America.  It is a pretty different process.  We started looking around online at properties and realized that first we needed to find out what kind of a mortgage we could get.  Off we went to the bank, just like you might in the UK.  However, here you get a pre-approval letter so that you can get looking for a home straight away and use your pre-approval letter to put an offer in immediately.

The next step is to employ a Realtor.  This is one part that is very different to the process in England.  We met with our realtor and discussed what we were looking for and where we were looking for it.  Then, she went ahead and sent us very regular updates on the houses that came up based on our preferences.  Anything that we saw and liked, she arranged for us to view and she took us around, guiding us through specific things that we were looking for or should be looking for. It was really nice to have someone else there to bounce ideas off.  She also knew areas a lot better than we did and could give us information about what the local schools were like, and which pockets of which neighborhoods were good and perhaps not so good.

The major difference about viewing properties here is that you have to move fast.  You can’t arrange on a Monday to go and see a house at the weekend.  You have to go that evening, and ideally, that afternoon if you can.  The reason for this?  The market moves fast.  It is very tight indeed in Portland and you just can’t hang around. So you see a house you like, you view it, and you have to put an offer in that day.  The realtor will advise you about what kind of offers would be appropriate – a bit like Kirsty and Phil might on Location, Location, Location – and will also have details about any other offers that may have been made on the property.  We were lucky in that we were the first to view the house and there were no other offers, but due to the market, we didn’t haggle on amounts, we offered the asking price; the sellers had clearly priced to sell.

Should the offer be accepted, you do have a 10 day period following the acceptance during which you can withdraw your offer.  However, during this time, you have to get your Inspection, or Survey, done. Depending on how that goes, you may change your offer, withdraw your offer or request that the seller makes the necessary changes before you complete the sale.

We were lucky, our offer was accepted and the inspection didn’t turn up anything major or anything that the seller’s weren’t happy to fix.  So then it’s a case of getting the mortgage officially arranged and having an appraisal done too. The completion date is set for 30 days later.  Yes, that’s right, it only takes a month!  If all goes to plan, there is no back and forth between solicitors, vendors and buyers, as long as everything is in place to start with.

We did do things a little differently to most Americans, we ended up getting the keys at the start of May and as we knew that we would have to pay rent for the entirety of May anyway, we used the full month to make the changes on the house that we wanted to (decorating throughout and new carpets) before moving in at the end of May.  When one of you is 7 1/2 months pregnant,  and the other spends a week working abroad during this time, having a month overlap is a major benefit to the whole cleaning-DIYing-packing-moving-cleaning-unpacking process.

Technically, we’re still on that last stage of the process, two weeks post moving day, but it will all be sorted soon and ready for public viewing and a full house tour (we hope).

And we love the house.  We love having a space that we can change to be what we want it to be and we are so excited to be able to start our new family life here.  It’s like yet another new stage to our American adventure. (Just one that is perhaps not quite as adventurous and a little more settled and suburban!)

In the meantime and until we feel ready to give you a full house tour, here are a few sneaky peeks…


Kitchen Table


Dining Room



Family Room



Working Stateside

I really missed working – something that I knew that I would do and most feared – when we moved to Portland last year. Although I felt like it took a long time to find a job and I felt like I had been out of work forever, I now realize that I was fairly lucky: it took me just five months of serious job hunting to get a position.  When I first took this role, through an agency, it was due to last maybe 2-4 weeks.  I’m still here four months later! However, the project that I was brought into support is almost completed and it’s time for me to take some maternity leave, so this is my last week in post.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect on some of the key differences that I have found between working in America and working in the UK. My position here is a little different to roles I have previously done, and the type of business is quite different to ones I have worked in before so I can’t say that all of these differences are definitely cultural.  Perhaps some of them would have been different anyway.  Perhaps someone else can enlighten me!

I guess the biggest difference I have found is in the relaxed nature of the working style here.  (This, I think is quite a west-coast/ Portland thing.) It is probably also the thing that I have found it most hard to adapt to.  I work in a pretty formal way. I like the boundaries that working formally can provide and I find it easier to be organized as a result.  Here, it has taken me a while to be more relaxed around colleagues, take a more casual approach to time schedules and deadlines and even get used to wearing casual working attire.

I have really tried to adapt to this style and have enjoyed being free of set meeting time limitations, taking a more stand-up meeting, ad-hoc briefing and as-needed approach to catch ups. However, behind the scenes of this I have still employed some key organizational techniques to make sure that I have stayed on track. I have still written my weekly to-do lists, have used a multitude of spreadsheets to keep up with project changes, have produced project and communication strategies and written a couple of very useful flow charts.  I do feel that in this way, I have been able to keep my personal working style quite formal but then felt confident enough to act in a relaxed working way with my colleagues.

The second difference. Cube working is a reality! We really all do work in a little cube here.  They have windows between them but you’d have to be super tall to talk through them without standing up. It’s good to have space for all your work and not feel like you get in the way of other colleagues personal space, but it does limit the social interaction that I have always enjoyed about office working.

There is a real lack of vacation time, vacation- taking and having time off.  I knew this would be the case when we moved out here, but it feels very different in practice.  Of course, it hasn’t really been a problem for me – I already had time booked off before I started the job (for my mum’s visit) – so it hasn’t felt like a long slog without a break. Plus, I have only been working for a few months. Yet I think that I am the only one in this office to actually have had any holiday in the time that I have worked here. (Classic UK slacker!)

Talking to Americans about this is interesting.  Not only do few people take time off, they also feel like they shouldn’t take time off.  There seems to be a reluctance to do so.  To me, I think vacation or holiday time is massively important.  It refreshes you and relaxes you and I believe, makes you work better and at your full potential.  The lack of statutory holiday days here just doesn’t seem to quite mix with the relaxed nature of the workplace and what I see as a generally good attitude to work/life balance.  (Weekends are incredibly important to Americans and from what I can tell they really do make the most of them.)

Working in communications, there are some verbal and written things I have found it harder to adapt to.  Spelling and Americanisms….. Using a z instead of an s – organise, realise etc. Not using as many vowels in a word – color instead of colour, labor instead of labour. Missing out words – ‘a couple of weeks’ becomes ‘a couple weeks’. There’s also some very commonly used terms that I have found myself using – and hating myself a little bit for using – “I’m just reaching out to you for…”, “I’m just checking in to see where you’re up to”, “If you could keep me in the loop”.  In fairness, I think I’ve got away quite lightly with this in my employment. Nick can come out with some absolute crackers. For instance, “We’re just peanut buttering here.” (What on earth does that even mean?)

In all honesty, I think that I have become so used to some of these Americanisms that I no longer recognise them all.  A friend recently called me out for referring to a buggy as a stroller during conversation.  But this is how you become part of a culture.  I’d never find things I need if I didn’t use the appropriate terms here. If I asked to see a shop’s range of buggies I’m sure I wouldn’t be shown a stroller.  I also think that it’s so rude to move to a different country and not embrace that different culture  At home and in private, of course you should continue to be who you are and who you were brought up to be, but you have to adapt too.

The working differences have been interesting and I think have really helped me to grow as an employee and a colleague.  I’ve had to learn new skills as well as new words and terms, and that can only be a good thing.

Sun Safety


It is exactly one year ago today that my dad was taken into hospital for the first time to be treated for malignant melanoma. Wow, how time flies. How apt – or maybe ironic – that May is actually Skin Cancer Awareness month.

I’ve been thinking about skin cancer and sun safety quite a lot recently, as I follow a few skin cancer related charities and blogs so knew that this was their big awareness-raising month. Also, it’s starting to warm up here in Portland and I’m beginning to replace my daily body moisturizer with a few applications of SPF 30. I have also just been invited to contribute my thoughts on sun safety to a blog that a fellow Portland blogger is compiling – more on that later this month I hope.

When we first arrived in Portland last year, it was really warm and sunny and as I wasn’t working I was able to spend a lot of time outdoors. One of the first things I needed to do was buy sun cream. I don’t know whether you just get used to specific brands, but I really found it hard to find a reasonable selection of sun cream here. So much so that when I returned from my visit to the UK in the summer, I brought back 4 bottles of Ambre Solaire. (Some people bring Cadbury chocolate, some people bring Heinz Beans…..) I have since found a high factor sun cream here that I like – a Neutrogena one – but it is not a large tube, so I can go through it in no time, and it is pretty expensive too.

The thing about the sun here, is that it gets stronger as the day wears on. The mornings are usually sunny but there’s a freshness about them. Once lunchtime has passed, and certainly by the time that I’m finishing work, the sun’s heat is pretty darn hot. And it stays. The evenings can be just as warm as lunchtime. So the whole idea of staying out of the heat during the hottest time of the day (11am-3pm I’ve always heard) doesn’t seem to work as well in Oregon! I certainly got more wear out of my sun hat last year than I ever had before.

Yet despite what I think is warmer sun for a longer portion of the day than you might expect in the UK, and what I seem to think might be less sun cream choice, I see much fewer red-skinned bodies walking round. You see people sunbathing in parks and lots of people enjoying outdoor seating at coffeeshops, restaurants and bars, as well as plenty of outdoor activities. So I wonder why there seem to be so few people getting burned here. Do we have genetically different skin types?  Are people better at understanding how much time to spend out in the sun? Are they keeping all the sun cream out of the way of tourists and hogging it for themselves?

Now of course, just because you don’t burn, doesn’t mean that you can’t get skin cancer, and the US has just as many cases of skin cancer as the UK (relatively speaking). So even if you’re not burning, it is no reason not to practice sun safety – whether you’re English or American. But I’d love to know what the reasons are for this American phenomenon and if, indeed, my observations are correct.

This year, more than ever, I’ll be practicing sun safety, particularly as this will be my first complete summer here: I don’t want to stand out as being the English person with the pink glow. I won’t just be wearing sun cream and a hat, I’ll be far more cautious about the amount of time I spend out of the shade (I’m not going to give up my outdoors time totally) and I’ll try and help to raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer and the importance of being safe in the sun. Whether you are in England or America, I think that practicing sun safety this year is something that everyone should do.

The commute. Portland-style.

Last week was the first opportunity I had to drive to work, rather than use public transport and Shanks’ pony.  I have to admit, it was quite a treat (thanks to earlier than usual starts and a daytime parking pass provided by my employer).  However, there were some elements of my usual commute that I missed, making me realize how important it is to take time to appreciate the smaller things in life.

I missed my hour of ‘free time’ to read.  I have been flying through my reading this year and I have no doubt that it is because I can sit on a bus for 25-30 minutes and get stuck in to a good book.

I missed the extra outdoors time I get walking to, from and between bus stops. I also missed the opportunity to easily incorporate 20-40 minutes of exercise into my day, simply by walking across the Hawthorne Bridge. (Although I must admit the frequency of this happening is reducing as the weeks go by and I get increasingly heavier and the weather gets increasingly warmer!)

I missed the Portland people-watching opportunities.

I missed my regular city-sights.  The impressively-sized Portlandia, the high rise buildings of downtown, the intricate detailing of the Hawthorne Bridge, the Elk Fountain, the tree-lined streets, peering through the window at the cool hipsters in Coava Coffee, the mannequins posing on top of the Portland Store Fixtures store, the currents (and most recently river traffic) on the Williamette, intriguing activities from County Sheriff vehicles outside City Hall and watching the runners and cyclists along Tom McCall Waterfront Park.


Hawthorne Bridge


elk fountain

tree-lined street


In just 5 months of this same commute, I have seen the seasons change and the city become more colourful and vibrant.  The ease and speed of commuting by car is certainly not something to be sniffed at but the slower pace of a public transport commute has really given me the space and time to enjoy the city and relish in my own interests and pursuits. It seems I’m getting into the swing of the relaxed west-coast attitude.

Farm Day

We are proud to be members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We pick up a box of vegetables every other week from Working Hands Farm, out in farm country about twenty minutes away from us. The veg is amazing. Really amazing.  We love being able to eat fresh, local produce and the fact that we were able to choose a bi-weekly option is ideal for our small family as it means we waste none of it. The variety of crops that this small farm grows is outstanding and we have cooked and eaten so much new and fun stuff: Arugula pesto. Kohlrabi. Edamame. I digress…

photo 2

Yesterday Working Hands Farm held their annual Farm Day. Me and Alfie went along. It was a beautiful day for it. Sunny, warm but with an autumnal crispness. Welcomed by the goats – and Farmer Brian and Farmer Jess – we took a tour around their two acre farm. We explored their gardens, seeing exactly where all our perfect produce comes from. We chatted to the chickens, admired their cows grazing in the pasture and headed to a further field for a peep at the five day old piglets.

photo 4

photo 5

Sadly here, the toddler prevented us from going any further. Frankly, Alfie had been in a bit of a grump the entire morning and being prevented from climbing over large farm machinery, or run freely across freshly plowed (and no doubt newly seeded) soil did not put him in a better mood. Before the imminent meltdown hit, and unfortunately before we got to meet the piglets, Alfie and I made a quiet (ish) retreat to head home, missing out on playing in the pumpkin patch and enjoying the potluck lunch.

Hey ho. It was just lovely enough to see the farm in all its glory, bathed in sunshine, almost sparkling in a golden glow and see how many other families our two farmers’ lives touch. The hard work and love that they put into their land, their livestock and their crops can be felt as well as tasted. It may have been cut short for Alfie and I, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s lovely to feel part of this particular community.


an American adventure