Comfort Zones

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I’ve never really been one to stay in my comfort zone for too long: though people’s attitude to me has varied between ‘what the hell are you doing that for – are you an idiot?’ and ‘good for you’.  Funny, isn’t it – how people’s reactions to the things we do can be so diametrically opposed.  Just confirms that you have to do what your own heart/ head/ senses/ conscience tell you to do, not what other people think you should do, as some people will think you are right and some – probably, if it was analyzed, about 50% – will think you are wrong.

I can’t remember the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did something someone thought I shouldn’t, but I do remember my father saying something along the lines of daughters doing incomprehensible, rash things like switching to degree courses in subjects such as music.  I also remember a musical friend saying with surprise, about one of my music essays, “you sounded as if you knew what you were talking about – even though I knew you had no idea what a diminished 9th was” (actually, I might have known what a diminished 9th was – I probably looked it up purely for the purposes of the essay).

Later on of course I went for a safe-ish option and became a chartered surveyor.  At that point the unemployment rate for surveyors was very low, although to become chartered as a non-cognate graduate and as a woman (shock, horror – ‘they’ didn’t even approve of women wearing trousers to work when I began my surveying career in 1986!) was more unusual.  Someone from one of the long-established West End firms wrote in response to my job request, that they might have a job going managing their fleet cars – and that they (he) thought that often it was best if people ‘stuck to their own last’.

That sort of comment was, of course, guaranteed to make me stick to becoming a chartered surveyor rather than giving up – as with the guy who I had worked with previously who said what on earth made me think I’d stick to it when I’d stuck to nothing else work-wise up until then… what made me stick to it was that I had something to prove, not only to other people but also to myself.

After about 8 years in surveying I’d had enough however and decided to chuck it all in and go to work as a holiday rep., firstly in France (where I would have liked to have stayed) and then in Norway.  My father said “You’re not to give up a well-paid secure job to become a holiday rep.”.  Did I take any notice?  I had no mortgage, no children… and left a job paying £30,000 pa for one paying about £3,000 pa.  I had a great time and have seen bits of rural France that I shall probably never see again – and I could also speak fluent French when I got back.  My French is no longer fluent, but it gave me a confidence in speaking it which I think probably also helped with, later on, learning Italian.

I fell into a comfort zone after that though – my career progressed; I bought a flat; I earned (compared to my mortgage) a lot of money.  Then I met David, settled down, had children, moved to Cumbria… life was steady.

Or was it?  Don’t you think Life has a way of surprising you?  I am well aware that it really cannot be planned for – some things you wish for do indeed happen, but the effects of them are never quite what you expect and there are all the other things which happen which you didn’t even dream of (or the things you wished for happen, but turn out then to follow a different path from the one you’d expected or hoped for).

So there I was, plodding along, doing a job, taking redundancy as I hated the job and assumed I would just walk into another one as I always had… and I ended up pregnant, aged 48/49.  The creative side of me, which had been somewhat under wraps since graduating, had started rearing its head as well: I was singing and writing and started doing more of both.  The baby arrived, and provided a huge amount of joy and a fair amount of media interest.

Then my husband left.  After a few months of adjusting to it and having unexpectedly inherited a bit of money, I found I wanted to spread my wings and enjoy my new-found freedom and my 45% child-free time.   About a year later I got a job as a surveyor again, having thought I’d never go back to it, and had the most passionate and intense love affair of my life, with a guy who tapped right into the essence of me – the creative, free me which had been trying to escape the comfort zone for so long.

And now… after the pain (I still miss him); the acceptance (my kids have to come first) and the realisation (I am a creative person, and a people person)… I am about to step out of my comfort zone again.  I have a new job as a part-time chef, and am about to start a catering course in September.  Because of time restraints it is unlikely, come September, that I shall work as a surveyor again – after 30-odd years in the profession.

But, as I said in my college interview, I have 12 to 15 years of working life left.  I want, and intend, them to be enjoyable and (therefore) successful.  On an emotional level it feels as if I’m doing the right thing; on a practical level it also makes sense as there is far more demand for chefs than there is for surveyors and I have experience (e.g. in management and also in promotion) which is transferable.  I may go ‘backwards’ initially (in terms of starting again at the bottom, having to retrain, and not earning much) but it’s in order to go forwards more.  And the opportunities and openings are enormous – I wanted to live and work in France but didn’t manage it – becoming a chef my only restraint to where I work is my children.  There’s also a whole history to how I got to this stage, but it’s not necessarily relevant: suffice to say that when a friend suggested I get a job as a chef I mulled it over and eventually realised that she was talking a lot of sense and picking up on something which had been within me for a while.

She also suggested I start a supper club, so that’s exactly what I’ve done, with the profit going to charity.  If you feel like ‘sharing’ this and encouraging friends who live in or who are visiting Cumbria to come along, it would be great if you could – I would love to get really booked up.  And guess what… my new website also has a blog!

Visit: Brampton Supper Club

(and on Facebook: Facebook page for Brampton Supper Club)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

– Erich Fromm

flowers for courage

Half term with the kids

Half term has been and gone in a flash.  Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday.  Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home.  I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.

On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle.  I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times.  I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles.  I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place?  I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.

Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning.  We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday.  She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake.  As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.

On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs.  It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat.  So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.

I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful.  The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green.  The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it.  Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.

Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell.  Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend.  We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.

It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got.  Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness.  As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.

Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.

Restaurants

I haven’t had much money for eating out this year – it’s been a difficult year emotionally and financially, although both have improved as time has gone on.  Unfortunately with the latter, as soon as I think things are improving they seem to go pear-shaped again – the latest being an unexpected tax bill which has arisen not through my error but due to HMRC’s ineptitude with my PAYE… that having been said, I have no doubt they will still want me to pay it (bang goes the lump sum from one of my pensions, which was going to pay for some house repairs and garden maintenance).

Still, despite that I have been on some brilliant trips this year and therefore eaten out in some fantastic places.  There isn’t really any one restaurant which stands out in Italy – all the food is so fantastic, and as everybody says, the ice cream is out of this world.  But I’ve mentioned The Bridge restaurant in St Asaph, North Wales and Bella and I enjoyed Carluccio’s in London.

Then in Lanzarote recently a friend and I came across what is possibly one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in in my entire life: Alma tapas & + (Alma tapas y mas) in La Santa village on the north west coast of the island.  We’d been a bit disappointed with most of the food on-site at Club la Santa and had tried the restaurant Verde Mar in la Santa village one evening – which was good, as was The Plaza within the Club la Santa complex itself.  We had decided we’d go back to the Verde Mar and so walked into la Santa village on the penultimate night of the holiday.  For some reason when we got there we thought we’d look to see what other restaurants there were – Penny had spotted a tapas bar one day when we’d been cycling through, though neither of us was particularly keen to have tapas.  We spotted the restaurant and liked the decor and the look of the menu… and headed in.

Alma tapas & + is a tapas bar during the day and a fully fledged restaurant at night – and Wow is it some restaurant.  The service was excellent with friendly, good-natured staff who seemed to be happy in their jobs and who were attentive without being intrusive but who were quick to respond when customers wanted something – they even seemed to like my attempts to speak Spanish, which as usual I got muddled up with Italian.  The freshly baked bread rolls were not made in house but were local, and were served warmed up with the local ‘mojos’ – a green and an orangey sauce/dip which we had been served each evening that we’d ordered bread and which are delicious (I’m just not totally sure what’s in them!).

Our main courses that day were Lamb for me and Fillet Steak for Penny – despite the fact that both of us tend to eat fish rather than red meat.  Both dishes were beautifully presented, cooked perfectly and served with a delicious selection of ‘al dente’ vegetables.  For dessert I chose a hazelnut mousse with a crispy coffee base and I think, from memory, also a layer of dark chocolate.  It was incredibly light and foamy and absolutely fantastic (and I don’t normally go for desserts).  Then, just as we were about to pay and to leave, we were offered a liqueur on the house – as they didn’t have any limoncello they offered us a grapefruit-based liqueur which again was delicious, partly as it had a lovely sharpness to it as well as the sweetness of a liqueur.

The meal was so fantastic that we opted to go there again on the final night.  This time we both had a starter as well as the bread and mojos and I ordered the Thai lobster bisque which had tempted me the day before.  This was a light, spicy soup served with some pieces of lobster, which is something I haven’t eaten since I last ate it in Capernaum bistro over a year ago, but which I love (I first tried lobster in Greece, where you could pick your lobster out of a tank where it was swimming around…).  The blend of flavours worked perfectly and I adored the fact that it wasn’t a creamy, cloying soup.

As Penny had sung the praises of the fillet steak so highly the evening before I was torn between tuna and steak, and in the end opted for the steak.  It was really melt in the mouth stuff, and later when the Brazilian owner came round she told us how they ensure it remains so succulent and soft.  Despite being full by then it was difficult to resist having a dessert, and this time it was an airy, foamy mango mousse with a white chocolate ‘cream’ beneath it.  I seem to remember the creamy base was made with yoghurt so again it was not too sweet and was of a heavenly lightness.  Desserts that light and foamy seem just to slip down as if they have no calories at all!

Despite being far busier on this second evening the service was again excellent, and we left feeling a little sad that we hadn’t discovered this superb restaurant sooner.  But I hope very much that it prospers and continues to excel.  You can be sure that next time I’m on Lanzarote I know exactly where I am going to eat.  I’m just sorry that despite taking my camera with me, I completely forgot to take any photos as I was enjoying my food so much!  You can see some of their creations on their Facebook page though – click here.

Cooking and Cadets

Alex has joined the Army Cadets.  He’s taking it very seriously – yesterday he insisted on having a very short hair cut when it wasn’t that long ago he was objecting to having it cut short at all – and he has been polishing his boots (fingers crossed the new-found discipline being instilled in him will expand into all areas of his life and will last – though he doesn’t yet seem to have applied it to his homework).

Today was Remembrance Sunday and the Army Cadets, along with Air Cadets, Air Force Personnel and some others, paraded through Brampton to the church.  Alex was with them, trying to keep his face straight when Edward wanted to run up to him and give him a high five, and was then running alongside the marching parade (earlier he – Edward – had been shouting.  He was a match for the sergeant major!).  It was a pity about the weather when it’s been so gorgeous recently, but perhaps appropriate for Remembrance Sunday – rather as Good Friday should really always be a rainy day.

It’s sad in the photos seeing Capernaum.  It started to close on Sundays about a year or more ago, but now it’s closed permanently every day.  I hadn’t been in ages for a variety of reasons, including lack of money, but the children still ask if they can go in there even though they know it’s closed.  It means however that I have rediscovered my enjoyment of cooking myself – when David left and I had some inheritance I started living a bit of a single, ‘party’, life again for a while, and having a good restaurant at the end of the road was a bonus.  I have always enjoyed cooking though and having helped in the restaurant and then also more recently been to Italy, I’m trying out new things or trying to improve on things I’ve made before.

Today was therefore a bit of a cooking-fest: I was in the right mood to get creative in the kitchen and the weather was the sort to make you want to stay indoors rather than beckoning you out into the hills.  Bella made a victoria sponge, adding almond extract and orange zest, while I had a third attempt at Panna Cotta.  It always seems so heavy when I make it, whereas the one we had in Carluccio’s last weekend was so light… I thought I’d try single cream and sheet gelatine, but although it was better it still wasn’t light enough for my taste.  Bella suggested trying less gelatine and I think she may be right.

I then made Ricciarelli, but this time made them larger than last time and with orange zest rather than lemon zest.  I think I prefer them with lemon zest – they’re slightly sharper – and I very much want to try making them with almond flour rather than ground almonds (the health food shop has some on order for me).  I wasn’t totally sure that they were cooked through to the middle as they were so much bigger than the first batch I made, so I left them in the oven once I’d switched it off, to dry out a bit more.  Later I opened the door and left some bread dough to rise while Edward and I went out to watch Alex in his parade.

I then cooked roast pork for dinner (it’s the second time I’ve bought it from Sainsburys and both times I have been very disappointed with the crackling), with all sorts of side dishes: the kids did their usual thing of eating some bits and being very fussy about others, although it was nice to see Alex produce a clean plate.  But then he hadn’t eaten since breakfast time.  He also appreciated a panna cotta, some cake and a Ricciarelli biscuit.

And soon I shall be off to Lanzarote where I shall no doubt enjoy some Spanish food!

 

 

Italy

Why is it that the British love Italy, especially Tuscany, so much?  Is it that the Italians appear, on the surface at least, so different to us – so much more openly emotional and less straight-laced?  Whatever the reason, for centuries now the British have been flocking to and falling in love with Italy, and I am not in the slightest bit ashamed to say I am one of them.

I’d been to Italy once before – to Chiavari, on the Ligurian coast, for a triathlon training week.  We had cycled up into the hills, cycled to Portofino and, most notably, arisen early every morning to go swimming (there was at least one day when I didn’t).  I had always wanted to go back again and I also have a long-held ambition of learning Italian (on my bucket list is the desire to do another degree, French and Italian joint honours).  This ambition started at University when I had done Italian at evening classes for a bit and been offered a month’s funded placement in Perugia to learn Italian, that for one reason and another never transpired.  Having been intermittently learning Italian by CD in the car, now seemed the time to do something about it instead of just dreaming about it.  So I went along to Cafe Lingo at Tullie House and was recommended a particular Italian teacher   Patrizia Guasti, a.k.a. Italy Uncovered.

As luck would have it, when I emailed her to ask which classes she taught and what level I might be, she suggested I go to Italy for a week to have lessons out there with her.  Perfect – and the itinerary of trips she proposed looked great too.

So September 12th saw me at Leeds-Bradford airport waiting for a flight to Pisa and feeling a bit nervous.  Part of me wondered what on earth I was doing – leaving the kids for a week; flying off on my own to meet complete strangers; spending money I didn’t really have.  The other part of me was excited.

Arriving in Italy

I was seated next to a Doctor on the aeroplane, who was flying out with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and her 50th birthday.  We got chatting, discussing the world which was lying below us like a map, and where hardly a cloud obscured the view of the English Channel, Lake Geneva, the Alps… On landing my excitement rose.  There was that Mediterranean feel around us, which I haven’t experienced for several years, but which I love: the heat, the sun, the cicadas, the smell, the colours.

I was staying at Isola, which is on the plain between Pisa and Florence, not far off the ‘Fi-Pi-Li’ auroroute.  One of the first things we did was visit the supermarket at Empoli, a modern and typically bland structure, but somehow Mediterranean supermarkets always manage to be better than those at home.  Do the French and Italians really have better food or do we just think they do?  It certainly always seems to taste better, but then wine often tastes better in its country of origin than at home – how many times have you bought a bottle you liked abroad, only to be really disappointed in it at home?

Lessons began the following morning and the pattern for most of the week was set with a 3-3.5 hour lesson each morning followed by a trip out somewhere for the afternoon and evening.  Having originally thought that I was being a bit extravagant splashing out on this holiday, I rapidly realised that I had got a real bargain.  How many holidays offer you accommodation, 1:1 or 1:2 language lessons, trips out and about and a knowledgeable local ‘tour guide’?  I felt like a privileged guest rather than a holiday maker.

13th-sept-san-miniato-1The nearest medieval town was San Miniato, so that was where we headed on the Tuesday afternoon.  There’s a lift from the car park up to the Old Town, and we then climbed up the steps of a tower to look at the view.  This is where the Slow Food Movement started but also I loved the sculptured head with the coin for transporting you across the Styx in the afterlife, and the plaque mounted on the tower which states that the children believed that the only hope for life was in love (la sola speranza della vita resta l’amore).

Paragliding and Lucca

Wednesday was my birthday and after the morning’s lesson we headed off, with my teacher’s 80-year-old father, to go paragliding in the hills just outside Lucca.  I hadn’t paraglided since I was in New Zealand in 1994 but I remembered loving it, so I hoped I would this time too.  As we climbed higher and higher into the hills I wondered whether this was something I really wanted to do: it looked like a long way down.  As I held on to the parachute prior to take off the wind grabbed it and nearly lifted me, which made me realise how strong it was.  As soon as we took off I loved the whole sensation; when the instructor did some acrobatic spins I felt the g-force but had a broad grin on my face.  It was expensive, but definitely something I want to do more of!

Lucca had a festival on which meant a lot of market stalls selling rubbish (and some selling decent stuff), but we found our way through the crowds to arrive in the main square of the old town.  It was gorgeous.  The old walls still exist, with a wide walkway on top which was being used in the evening sunlight for walking, running or just sauntering, and the main square isn’t actually a square but an oval shape.  It was built on the old Roman amphitheatre and so is, not surprisingly, called La Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.  As it was still warm and sunny we sat in a cafe and watched the world going by.

Village, town, city

If I had thought Lucca was lovely, I was about to have my mind blown away.  The following day, Thursday, there was no lesson but instead we set out in the morning to travel to Certaldo.  We walked towards the Palazzo Pretorio and as we got nearer could hear singing.  It was only recorded, but added atmosphere to an already atmospheric building, with its contrasting accommodation of a women’s prison with no light, court rooms and then rooms for the wealthy, and then modern artworks alongside all the history.  Boccaccio died in this village, where you can visit his house; pilgrims walking from Canterbury to Rome still pass through.

15th-sept-2-montereggioni-2From Certaldo we progressed to Monteriggioni, stopping outside the town to get a photo of its perfect ancient walls and then having lunch and admiring more views once we were inside.  It’s one of the locations for a video game, Assassin’s Creed, and whilst I couldn’t find anything for Alex in the shop, I bought a green wood bow and arrow set for Edward.  It really was how you might imagine, or draw, a medieval town.

The next stop was in Siena.  We parked in the more modern part of the city and walked through the city walls into the old centre.  Here cars seemed to be limited as cyclists and pedestrians meandered up the middle of the streets, moving to one side when a motor vehicle could be heard.  The streets were old and narrow, the buildings seeming high because of the limited width.  Colourful flags hung from some; and round every corner, as with so much, it seems, of Italy, something beautiful would be seen.

We rounded a corner and there, suddenly, was the gorgeous Duomo, its facade like a wedding cake and its black and white marble stunning in the sun.  To the rear, at the top of the steps which drop down to the Piazza del Campo, a violinist was playing.  I did the tour of the roof space, gaining a bird’s eye view of the highly decorated floor of the Duomo, and we then went up the tower which forms part of the originally proposed extension to the Duomo, which was never completed.  Wandering around Siena was fantastic, with a ‘wow’ factor at every corner.  Small wonder that I took loads of photos, and that we all voted to go back there again for dinner a couple of days later.

Florence in the rain

The following day the two of us who were students were sent off by train from Empoli to Florence, to fend for ourselves and with a list of items we had to find, ideally by asking directions in Italian.  We were so proud of ourselves when we got it right and Italians spoke back to us in Italian!  In one shop I managed to explain what I needed in terms of a t-shirt for my son; we found the lucky pig; and we sheltered from the suddenly torrential rain in a ridiculously expensive cafe.

The day after we headed in a southerly direction again, this time visiting San Gimignano en route to Siena.  More towers to climb, more fantastic views to admire, more ice cream to eat: my appetite has been whetted to learn far more about the history of this area as well as about the regional foods.

Wine tasting

On the final day the lesson started later than normal and we then went out into the hills of chianti country for a wine-tasting.  This wasn’t like wine tastings I have been to at home, where you get a small taster glass of lots of wines; here it was a generous measure of the vineyard’s rose, red and superior red wine and then the vin santo, all accompanied by local food.  The proprietess explained the entire wine-making process to us in detail in Italian, which was great: I didn’t understand it all by any means but understood enough to appreciate how much I had learnt in a week.  And a couple of glasses of wine gave me the confidence to speak more Italian as well!

We then returned to have dinner at the restaurant we had gone to on my first day, before packing for return flights the following morning.  I hadn’t seen the leaning tower of Pisa, been in the Uffizi, or visited the thermal baths to the south of Siena… but I had seen so much and could have spent many more hours sitting sipping espressos and wine in Piazzas and watching the world going by.

It’s a stunning country with beauty around every corner, a musical language and delicious food and drink, as well as a warmer climate than the UK.  Small wonder so many of us fall in love with it and contemplate living there.  I hope one day – before too long – I’ll return.

Weather!

It’s been a good weekend.  It started on Friday when I had to take Isabella to hospital.  You’d think that wouldn’t necessarily be a Good Thing: but it gave us several hours of mother and daughter bonding.  As she was the last child to be seen in Day Surgery and we didn’t get home until about 7p.m., and the boys were round at David’s having a Boys’ Night, we treated ourselves to a TV supper of scrambled eggs on toast in front of the film Maleficent.

If I’m completely honest I always agree to a film or television programme any of my children suggest with a touch of hesitancy.  For example, they love Sponge Bob Squarepants and I don’t: and there are programmes they will happily watch for hours and hours and which I can’t wait to switch off.  But Maleficent – for those who haven’t seen it – is a different spin on the Sleeping Beauty story and I thought it worked well.  In fact I really enjoyed it.  I’ve always liked the idea of acting one of those strong, rather feisty women who cause trouble… (I have an as yet unfulfilled dream to star in just a single film… any film producers out there, please take note!).

In fact Bella liked it so much she started watching it again the following day, but by then the boys were back, Alex had a friend round and after doing some stuff in the garden and having lunch I decided to take them all out.

I’ve written a few features about Kirklinton Hall in the past and had kept meaning to take the children there and to walk down to the river, waterfall etc.  Unfortunately it’s closed on a Saturday and it started hailing anyway, so we headed to Whitesykes garden centre at Longtown for hot chocolate (with the obligatory cream and marshmallows) and ice cream – or just a cappuncino in my case – and to play on their fantastic climbing frame as the sun had come out again.  The children all ran around playing a version of Tig which involved the person who was ‘it’ being a pirate: when all of a sudden it started hailing again, this time heavily and rather more persistently than earlier.  After hiding under the climbing frame or in the various summer houses and garden sheds, we decided to head home.

Such have been the vagaries of the temperature recently that there was snow on the hilltops when we awoke this morning and then the temperature climbed throughout the day to at least 13 degrees – having been as low as 2 or 3 yesterday.  Alex was saved from having to come with Bella, Edward and me by a friend coming round and inviting him out, so while they headed off to do whatever 12-year old boys like doing best, the other two and I went down to Penrith.  Both were saying they didn’t want to see a ruined castle: but once we got there neither wanted to leave.  Unfortunately we noticed the ‘no climbing’ sign a bit too late… We went in the playground in the park as well and the only way I could persuade the two of them that it was time to leave was to promise Edward faithfully that I’d take him back there again sometime.

Having had lunch with my friend Penny and done some shopping in Booths, it was time to go home.  Bella busied herself picking daffodils and making chocolate cake while I cooked dinner: I think today’s Yorkshire Puddings were possibly the best I have ever made (and I do love having an oven where you can see through the door!).  We finished with some homemade Apple and Blackcurrant ice-cream as well as some locally-made Mint Choc Chip and Vanilla.  Why is it that home-made ice cream takes so much longer to soften enough to scoop than commercially-made ice cream?

It’s been a particularly pleasant and happy weekend.  Inevitably there have been a few squabbles and tears, but very limited: in fact the three of them were all playing amicably together this evening, building a helicopter in the hall out of the dining chairs… my garden is getting marginally tidier and is bursting with spring flowers (every time I look something new is blossoming: I particularly like the delicate white flowers on the damson tree) and my house is full of flowers as well, some from my garden and some given to me.   Spring is here, and whilst the weather may be fickle, snow on the hills glistening under blue sunny spring skies lifts the heart.

Cookery

Can anyone tell me the best free photo-editing software to use (without getting a virus on my computer)?  Since Helpful Teenager across the road has wiped my computer clean and reinstalled it for me – for which many, many thanks as I wouldn’t have had a clue – I no longer seem to have whatever software it was which let me crop photos… thought thank goodness I am no longer getting the really annoying pop-ups which kept popping up when I didn’t want them to.

I thought I could crop photos in wordpress too but can’t now find that option either… so my apologies to anyone who would rather they or their children were not in these photos, but my computer semi-literacy doesn’t enable me to edit.  Having said that I think Zoe’s face says it all about the Iron Maiden cake. Edward was found having a in-depth study of it on his own (and attempting to pick at the icing) before it came through to the party room for candle-lighting: he was clearly impressed.

THANK YOU to Claire Houghton-Byers of Mama Cakes Cumbria for such a superb piece of baking artistry: see some of her amazing creations on Facebook and watch out for her new website, coming soon (copy writing by Yours Truly – beautifully graphically designed by Fabiana Graff (a thank you to Fabi for putting copy writing work my way: anyone else want a website, contact either Fabiana or me!).  Also Thank You to Claire Hunter (another artist – spot her exquisite painting of poenies) and gorgeous red-headed feisty daughter Kate for letting Edward have a joint party again; and to Silly Gilly for keeping 20-odd children so well entertained.

Meanwhile 10-year old daughter this morning tried to make pancakes for the first time ever.  Being an independently-minded child she didn’t want any help, and picked a lovely recipe from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam (I have two of her lovely books.  I don’t use them very often but can’t bear to part with them as they are so attractively set out and a pleasure to read).  I’ve never found pancakes particularly easy – it’s taken me years of practice to end up with something which looks like a pancake rather than something which falls to bits.  Not surprisingly there was a bit of a tantrum in the kitchen… followed shortly thereafter by a further flare-up of frustration when the Spirograph didn’t behave itself.

Well, I might not be much good as a mother in many ways but I did manage to step in to rescue both the pancakes and the spirograph.  Now I’m off to plant a hedge in my garden.

(LATER…)

Hedge only partially planted as I need to move the trampoline and then get a small digger (or a strong man with a fork) to dig up my back garden, as there’s a membrane just under the surface and I couldn’t get through it with the spade.  Abandoning the job for today, I went back in and before long it was time to get on with the roast dinner… I am so, so proud of my Yorkshire puddings (I was taught by a Yorkshireman… thank you Ant @ Capernaum!).  I think the new cooker helps too – I can actually see through the door – hence the photo where they look a bit like meringues!

So that’s pancakes and Yorkshire puddings I’ve just about cracked… what next?