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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Guest Blog: There and back again

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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

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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.

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It’s a small world

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.]

 

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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!

 

 

 

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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. 

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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.

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Baking with jam

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Featured post

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.

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

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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

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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

Kitchen Table

Nursery

Dining Room

Lounge

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Family Room

 

 

Featured post

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.

Featured post

Sun Safety

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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.

Featured post
Hawthorne Bridge

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.

Portlandia

Hawthorne Bridge

 

elk fountain

tree-lined street

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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.