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Archive for August, 2009

Rowing on Windermere

Fell foot park final

On Monday we decided to brave the questionable weather and take a row on Lake Windermere from Fell Foot Park just outside of Bowness. The grey skies threatened rain, but with a trip to Ambleside slated for Tuesday and a hike planned for the one other day that promised pleasant weather, we took our chances.

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Enjoying the wind, water, and stunning views of the mountains. We brought along a little picnic brown-bag lunch…sometimes we had to pull up our hoods as a brief rain shower passed, but for the most part our little boating adventure was uneventful, and we had a peaceful and pretty row out on the water.

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Rowing Master. We started out rowing together, but soon gave that up…my oar was confiscated and I moved to the opposite seat to enjoy the ride.

If you ever make it to the Lakes, I heartily recommend getting out on the water in some fashion or another…we chose the rowboat for better control of my motion-sickness and for the idyllic romance factor. It’s a unique way of experiencing the water and landscape that driving, hiking, and even standing at the edge of the water or walking along the rocky shore cannot provide.

I have now gotten caught up with all events leading up to our day in Ambleside, and I am so excited to have obtained permission to share what I gleaned in the Charlotte Mason Archives. I’ll try to include a brief introduction to the person and philosophy of Charlotte Mason when next I write, as she remains quite an obscure figure in history for so remarkable a lady.

{row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream……just thought I’d get that stuck in your head, just for fun…..}

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This is an excerpt from my journal, written on July 25th, with some pictures thrown in to illustrate.

“Thoughts from today, before I forget and such amazing glimpses into perfection are forgotten and lost forever. Our first full day in Cartmel, a charming and idyllic village…at first glance it looks untouched by time and modernism. Though we thoroughly enjoyed the grandeur of the busy streets of Bath with all of its ornate columns and soaring spires, I confess that Cartmel has captured my heart already with its beauty.

Enchanting shops, pretty cottages, flowers everywhere, a medieval priory, and all set against a backdrop of green pastures giving way to fells and peaks of the Lakeland mountains.

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Everything about the day was perfect. Waking up in our lovely little cottage. Walking down the lane to the village store to purchase groceries for a delicious English breakfast. Setting out for a six mile hike on such a rare, sunny and warm day. Blue skies and green hills. Though the initial ascent up Hampsfield Fell was a bit of a challenge, what a view awaited us at the summit!

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Then came the fun of sorting through the field guide’s directions as we followed the trail through fields and farms, over stiles and through gates, down roads and bridleways, talking and laughing with my very favorite person on earth.”

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(Journal Entry interrupted)

This is the view from the summit down the backside of the fell…from this vantage point you can see the bay and on all sides, more mountains. So pretty! We lost the path a few miles from here, but picked it up again after getting back on to the main road.

P1000463Towards the end of the hike…a picturesque stone bridge to cross. From here a few more fields and then a road to take us back in to the village. I admit to being exhausted at this point, and so looking forward to my bubble bath!

Back to my journal entry:

“A quick run to the next town for a few more groceries and supplies. A long-awaited soak in the tub beneath a skylight, surrounded by a candle and flowers. Throwing together a quick pasta dinner. Dessert and tea. And now back to where the day began, propped up in the cosy bed in this charming little bedroom in our enchanted little cottage.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!”

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little glimpse into my thoughts as they transpired on the trip. I admit, I’m terrible at journaling…all fits and starts, very little consistency, but I can see the value of it perhaps more than ever, as I had forgotten half the details of this particular day, and typing out this entry has it all rushing back to me with clarity and warmth. I can feel the wind on top of the fell, the sun beating down on me (causing quite a serious sunburn, some of which is still with me!), getting lost, finding the way, my sore feet, running errands…all of it. So perhaps this will get me to crack open my lovely sage velvet book more often so it can be less ornamental and more inspirational!

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From Bath we headed for the M6, stopping outside the city at a cute little tearoom for tea and a scone with cream and jam. Though I had been impressed by the scenic countryside on our drive into Bath from Heathrow, I was also quite exhausted at the time and so now saw the beauty of the Avon river valley with fresh eyes as the sun washed over the green hills and pastures dotted with sheep, stone walls and hedgerows separating fields and farms and turning the landscape into a pastoral patchwork quilt.

I know that our drive was a long and taxing one with a lot of traffic, but I really don’t remember that part so much. As we approached our destination, I became overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape as the thin smoky line on the horizon took shape and a chain of mountains was soon visible. Many in the distance were still a hazy grey color, some were a sandy shade, and others were green, covered with trees and pasture. For seven days I would never tire of such sights, etching them into my memory as the most beautiful natural scenes that I have ever beheld.

Our directions to the village became difficult to follow once we left the highway for the narrow roads flanked with stone walls wrapped in thick, high hedges. Some ways were poorly marked, but a quick stop to ask for directions had us headed directly to Cartmel.

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Sweet village, awash with sun…flowers spilling out from seemingly every corner. Treasures waiting to be discovered amongst it’s few winding little streets. Pleasant smells wafting through the doors of pubs and restaurants. A simply lovely village store with gourmet delights and beautiful gifts.

We quickly grew accustomed to village life. Walking down the lane to pop a postcard into a red “Royal Mail” box, around the corner to the grocery for vegetables or kindling for the fire, wandering in to the store in the village square to pick up some delicacies or fresh eggs or amazing local sausages…or some sticky toffee pudding, for that is where you will find it!

When I said to my husband “I’m going to go shopping for some gifts for the kids,” I meant that I was stepping out the door and walking past a few houses, through the kissing gate and the churchyard to the row of beautiful shops that lay at the end of my short stroll.

I would drink in the stone walls and the flowers and the sheep on the pasture in the middle of the village and the seventeenth century cottages and the quietness of the place.

And, rising above it all…

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A breathtaking medieval priory with an interesting bit of history to go along with it. It is one of two existing structures of this kind with the bell tower set on the diagonal.

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Ah, Littlecroft! Haven of beauty and rest. Happy setting of many tranquil hours. I couldn’t have been more delighted with our lovely little cottage. We especially enjoyed preparing meals together in the light-filled kitchen…we became experts in the field of The Full English Breakfast, but I’ll do a food post later and give more detail on our culinary adventures. However, I must introduce you to…

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As promised, I am posting the recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding that we discovered on our return. It was most happily and greedily taste-tested in my kitchen and received our hearty stamp of approval. I must warn you, I wanted to make plenty so we had enough to share with the kids, so I doubled the cake recipe, and also knowing that the sauce is key to making this dessert the most incredible thing you’ve ever tasted, I quadrupled the sauce recipe. So if you are making it for two and you don’t care for rich, buttery, gooey toffee sauce, then by all means reduce the recipe accordingly. Oh, and lest you think I’m ripping this off the internet and not giving appropriate credit, that’s impossible, for I’m not sure I have ever prepared a recipe according the the directions…ever…I’m just too much of a “tweaker”! So this is my little spin on a foodnetwork recipe.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Cake:

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2 t. baking powder

2 cups pitted dates, chopped very fine (I use 24-30 dates)

2 1/2 cups boiling water

2 t. baking soda

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups evaporated cane juice (or 1 c. dark brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups white sugar)

2 large eggs, beaten

1 T. pure vanilla extract

Sauce:

2 cups (1 lb. package) of unsalted butter

1 pint heavy cream

4 cups packed dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large glass or metal baking dish (I don’t even own a 9×13 anymore…I think it’s 10×14? Or you can break this up into smaller dishes to share or freeze). Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and then add the dates and baking soda; set aside. In an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture. Fold in date mixture until blended. Pour cake mixture into prepared baking dish(es). Bake until set and firm on top (approximately 40 minutes for one large cake).

Sauce: Combine butter, cream and sugar in a medium size heavy gauge saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil gently over medium low heat until mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring contantly. Preheat broiler. Poke holes into the cake (I poke a lot! We want that sauce to get way in there!). Pour about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce over the pudding, spreading evenly. Place under broiler until top is bubbly 1-3 minutes.

Serve warm with extra sauce drizzled over, with ice cream or in a bath of heavy cream. To heat up an individual portion after the pudding has been refrigerated, microwave from 30-60 seconds, until sauce is runny.

My son David can’t have dates, but he loves the toffee sauce over some ice cream…not a bad idea!!

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Here we are,  all packed and ready to head to the airport! I’m not sure which was more involved–packing for a romantic getaway while keeping our checked luggage under 15 kg each, or packing for four small children to spend 12 days away from home, one of whom has special dietary requirements. Add to that last-minute shopping, cleaning the house, and two nights of VBS…you may not see it in this picture, but I was quite exhausted and ready for a relaxing break.

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I knew this part would be hard! Some of the children took it more to heart than others. It was a very strange experience to say goodbye to them and get on that bus…the only time we’ve really every been separated from them overnight was when I was in the hospital…giving birth isn’t exactly what I would call a respite!

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The plane…six hours of trying to sleep, and the surreal experience of dozing on and off when it’s really just 8 pm back home yet 3 am at the airport where soon we would be landing. Despite my sleeping mask, earplugs, and a half dose of tylenol pm, I still only remember sleeping a few minutes at a time.

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Here we are, ensconced in our rental car…happy to have been bumped up to a Mercedes free of charge! This was one of the only qualms we had concerning this trip–would Jay be comfortable driving? Fortunately, getting out of Heathrow and onto a major road was really easy from where we rented the car, so he had nearly two hours of wide, straight, divided road on which to adjust. Then we hit the outskirts of Bath with sketchy directions to our guesthouse, and he proved himself confident and capable, navigating the narrow and often unmarked streets, taking roundabouts with ease, and finally bringing us to our destination. Travelling over for now! Time to park that car and let the adventure really begin!

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Bath…so beautiful! Even the rain couldn’t detract from the charm of this compact, lovely city. After all, “it always rains in Bath”…right? There are 700 shops in town, and yet you could walk from end to end within a few hours…less if you didn’t stop. But then who wouldn’t stop? Bistros, boutiques, a stunning Abbey, the amazing Roman Baths, tea rooms, gift shops, the Jane Austen Centre, and incredible architecture…we took in the city within 24 hours. “Bath is incomparable!”

tea royal crescent

A highlight of our stay in Bath…tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel. Once we settled in at the guesthouse and freshened up a bit, we hit the streets for a quick tour, dashing in to an Orange store for a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone, and then speed walking to the Royal Crescent to make our reservation for Afternoon Tea. We were led through a lovely garden to a terrace where we sat under an umbrella as intermittent rain showers continued to fall.  Plaques on the wall here and there noted stays by royalty. We sipped tea and nibbled on sweets and sank back into our chairs, finally starting to feel refreshed and relaxed.

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The Chestnuts House, where we enjoyed a comfortable stay in lovely surroundings and a fantastic breakfast served in a sunny room by our friendly host. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Bath.

From here, we set off on our long drive north to the Lake District…

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Sigh…

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So many good things about coming home. So hard in many ways, as well. Now that the jet lag has worn off, I’ve started the sorting process. Sorting thoughts, pictures, emotions, and ideas.

Our trip was fantastic, most of it above and beyond our expectations. Although I did discover that I am not a city girl and that leaving London caused me little pain, I do believe that I left my heart in Cartmel, Cumbria! It’s possible I was made for Lakeland village life. Alright, who wouldn’t be cut out for a quaint little village full of stone cottages, flowers, a landscape of mountains and pastures, and a medieval priory?

I hope I never forget any of it, but especially our week in that charming little cottage, walking to the village store for fresh and delicious groceries, popping in and out of lovely little shops and selecting gifts along the way. Sleeping in most mornings, whipping up a full English breakfast, and setting out for the day’s activities. Rowing on Lake Windermere, hiking the fells (both of our hikes were about eight miles long!), shopping in Bowness, spending a day in Ambleside perousing the Charlotte Mason Archives. So much quiet and peace and rest. So much beauty I thought my heart would burst.

Our experience was certainly a soul-filling one. There are things we didn’t get to, of course, that we would have liked to include, such as driving over to Hilltop farm in Sawrey or St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, our slower pace and restful schedule enabled us, I believe, to fully enjoy this second honeymoon in a place I have longed to visit since childhood.

So as I continue to sort, I will regale you with tales of our adventures. Pictures will abound, I’m sure, as we took many! Thoughts that came to me as my soul was assailed with beauty and my mind was at rest, the tension melting away as day after wonderful day passed. Excerpts from the Charlotte Mason Archives, if of course I obtain permission to share them with you, for the literature-based homeschooling enthusiast amongst you. If I cannont share word for word, I will certainly put what I read into my own words, for I came across exciting and inspiring things in that small dusty library!

I know that not everyone can escape with their soulmate for a lengthy European vacation. I am truly and humbly blessed to have had such an amazing experience. However, for those of you out there who feel like you are struggling to keep your head above water, your spiritual thoughts muddled, the beauty of life faded from your perspective, I highly recommend stopping in your tracks and changing gears for a week or two. Surround yourself with what is beautiful and soul-enriching. Have a quiet dinner and a long conversation with your spouse (this can be done with a homemade meal served by candlelight with the children in bed and asleep!). Use interlibrary loan to rent some heart-stirring, thought-provoking films. Borrow or buy some pretty magazines and books. Set aside some of the grocery money for a lovely bouquet of flowers. Tidy up the house, put on some restful music, light some candles, maybe even see if your children can go to a friend or relative’s house for an afternoon so you can have a bubble bath and a cup of tea. Turn the television off, set the cell phone to silent, and spend some time in prayer and reflection, asking for a renewed vision and hope so that you can keep pressing on in love and service for your King.

Lavish vacations are wonderful, but opportunities for rest and refreshment abound, with a little effort and creativity. So go plan your next restful, soul-filling break and resolve to act on your plan!

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