Author Archives: Jane Smith

Flaming June

June has been a surprising month not at all what I had anticipated.  Finally, Peter and I managed another 3 night break away after months of me suggesting places from Spain, Croatia, France, Scotland and back to Wales.  On Monday 12th we sat having a “sundowner” when I mentioned an apartment I had found in Bowness-on-Windermere in The Lake District, Cumbria.  “Book it” says Peter, the only available date was Friday 16th for 3 nights, yes the following Friday!  It was available so I grabbed it.  Well someone was guiding us as it was a beautiful, attic conversion in an old house in the woods above Bowness with a great view of Lake Windermere from the sitting room window.  With stops the journey took over 5 hours (nothing to our friends in US) but to us Brits it’s a long way!!  Everything is comparative, we never thought about 6 hour round trip to airport when we lived in Spain.  It was well worth the effort. Friday evening we had a superb meal in a local bistro with good wine. Suitably relaxed we walked the half a mile uphill back to our retreat.  It took a long time but a comfy bed awaited so a good incentive!

Saturday morning we woke to brilliant sunshine which lasted the whole weekend.  Hot but fresh – perfect.  After a breakfast of fresh Danish and good coffee in a local bakery we got a boat (cruise boat) across the lake (one mile across) to Lakeside.  A steam train then runs alongside the lake for about 5 miles which was a real treat.  We stayed on and made the return trip, full of nostalgia for me as I remember steam train journeys as a child.  Boat trip back to Bowness, much busier now with tourists of many nationalites.  We managed to find a wonderful deli run by a young couple with a range of meats, cheese, pickles, olives etc but we decided on pastrami sandwiches, the best I’ve had since I was in Manhattan over 10 years ago – well worth the wait!  We found a secluded sheltered spot and ate our picnic over-looking the lake.  We were unsure what to do next but decided on a movie, air conditioned theatre and friendly staff.  Popcorn too.  The movie was Churchill starring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson which has had some bad reviews but we enjoyed it.  We could have booked a three course meal at a local restaurant  for afterwards (including the movie ticket) but saw the deal after we had seen movie!  I was tired so maybe not best time for a big meal but I thought it was an enterprising idea for cinema and restaurant.  We had an Italian instead which was just right.  Up the hill again and another great night’s sleep.

Sunday back to the lake but we crossed this time on a small ferry which pulls itself over on wires, I don’t understand how it works but it was a great way to cool down!  On the other side we walked up to a restored Claife Viewing Station originally built in the 1790s which had wonderful views of the lake. Next we walked 4 miles (and back!) alongside the lake through woods,  families were picnicking on the “beaches” generally enjoying the rare sunshine.  It all reminded Peter of Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie, Ohio, where he attended a conference.  Some of you will be familiar with this place.  Back to the deli and we stocked up for evening meal in the apartment after packing so much into 2 days.  One treat awaited for the next morning before returning home. (Note the rare photo of the Smiths together!)

My book club read this month is Haweswater by Sarah Hall.  Coincidentally, Haweswater Reservoir was 20 miles north of us so Peter was happy to divert.  A valley was flooded to create a new reservoir to supply water to Manchester and a dam constructed.  The work commenced in 1929 and was completed in 1940. Inspired by the building of the dam the book is a fictional story about the village of Mardale that was originally in the centre of the farming community, their lives and the impact of the dam.  I was so overcome with the beauty of the place I forgot to take a photo! Peace and tranquillity with all that history under the water.  It was an emotional experience, I have discovered my family originally came from this area in the 1790s so Cumbria remains in my genes.  I recommend the book which is a well researched first novel by a sensitive writer. I’ve also read and enjoyed The Wolf Border Sarah Hall’s latest novel which was also set in Cumbria but begins in Idaho about the re-wilding of wolves the Lake District.

I always feel I’ve been away ages following one of these breaks and think I enjoy them more than longer breaks these days.  Just to note the weather has returned to “normal” for summertime which makes the whole weekend even more special. Another June Surprise was an unexpected lunch with friends at their house. Two added guests arrived which I think will make you smile!

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“Mish-Mash”

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I have found it difficult this month to write a blog! I had loads of random thoughts (Mish-Mash) about various activities I have done in the past month and cannot focus enough on any of them to develop them fully. … Continue reading

Singing with Macapello Choir

One year ago I told you about my Macapello Choir at a singing day at a big Choir Convention in Bristol, I cannot believe a year has passed but then it has been a challenging year.  Macapello Choir’s latest performance was on Sunday 9th April 2017 at this year’s Choir Convention.  Some of you may remember reading about last year’s Convention where we performed the song we had written ourselves, When Will I See the Sun. This year we managed to be slightly different to all the other choirs by walking onto the stage singing, yes singing and walking! Risky!!  We performed four songs in total. First walking on, two songs whilst on the stage, the fourth as we walked off again, singing! Wow despite our reservations it went down a storm!

The Convention brings together 16 choirs from the south west of England for a day’s singing.  The first part of the day consists of combined singing, about 500 people together, in four part harmonies.  We learn the songs on the day so it is always fun and a great way to meet new people.  We have a lunch break then same format applies.  Four experience musicians lead the day but in the evening each choir performs a variety of songs.  Some choirs were ambitious this year which added to our anxiety levels.  One large choir performed a piece by Bruckner another a piece by Elgar, this is the level of choral societies rather than community choirs so we were suitable impressed.  One group sang a tribute to David Bowie, other performances range from Gospel through Swing to Classical.  Standards vary of course but everyone is enthusiastic and enjoy the performance.  Accolades from one’s peers always feel special.

We had to wait until the second half to perform our songs again making us nervous.  The adrenaline kicks in once we start but our leaders keep reminding us to breath, smile, relax, focus – all at the same time! We began with Well I woke up this morning with my mind set on Freedom … a lively, uplifting gospel song.  We settled ourselves down then sang Your Children which I have told you about before.  Next was our ambitious  Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold one of the themes from the film The Hobbit. The Basses have the lead in this and as we only had 3 we were apprehensive, especially the three guys! Well, we earned a standing ovation.  In shock we walked off the stage singing Famba Naye a rousing African song which many of the audience knew so they sang along with us.  We  managed to keep within the time limit – just – 8 minutes for the whole thing! Our choir leaders Dave and Lisa were over the moon as the other choir leaders congratulated them on our achievement. Sadly I’m not able to share all the sound files.

What a night!  We sang on the coach home although we were exhausted. I love being in my choir as many of you know but an occasion like this makes me feel so proud of a group of people of all ages (top heavy on over 50’s at moment!), backgrounds and skill levels who come together to make such wonderful music.


The venue is beautiful with great acoustics.

 

 

Click here to hear Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold

Venice

On Monday 20th February I set off for the airport to fly to Venice Marco Polo Airport. Very excited! I met Rhiannon, my niece, we had lunch and flew off at 15.20 in fog. We were assured by Easyjet staff that our plane had extra sensors so no worries.  We landed at Marco Polo safely on time at 18.30 Venice time.  Only had hand luggage so cleared quickly and went to the Alilaguna Water Bus to Lido.  I had done this in the past but all was changed, much larger and modern!  Very exciting but dark of course and yes misty.  With the help of a handsome young official we boarded our vaporetto (water bus) at Lido for our hotel at St Elena. He was concerned that “it was dark there and did I know my way!”  Rhiannon was slightly disconcerted by this conversation (in perfect English) but I quickly reassured her that I knew where we were going.  We arrived at the hotel and I explained who we were BUT I was speaking bad Spanish instead of bad Italian!  The Reception Staff were amused by this but it set the tone for our whole stay of friendly, helpful service.  We had a wonderful supper in the hotel restaurant, with our first bottle of Prosecco of the stay, and an early night.

Next morning we were up refreshed and raring to go.  Had a good breakfast for 9 Euros each and set off. We bought 3 day Vaporetti passes which were so useful in that we could hop off and on as many times as we wanted without hassle of buying tickets each time.  That morning we walked into San Marco alongside the Grand Canal, sadly still in fog, but in good spirits. We passed the Giardini Gardens, the site of the Biennale Exhibition featuring International Artists shown in 1920s Pavilions representing the different countries staged every 2 years. It is also the start and finish of the Venice Marathon, yes a full Marathon!  We passed The Arsenale where the great shipbuilding industry was based helping support the power of Venice.   It was Carnavale which is a very special time in Venice, lots of people in elaborate costumes posing in the hope a photographer will feature them.  I spoke to several international photographers over our stay who said people queue up to be photographed free and just want a copy.  For the photographers it is an ideal opportunity to expand their portfolios.  Two of our favourite subjects are featured below, in many ways it was like stepping back in time.  Venice was packed and buzzing with excitement.  We walked miles that day until we were exhausted and went back to the hotel for another superb dinner and yes more Prosecco.  Our hotel was on the tip of the main island but in a less crowded residential area with a park and small restaurants.

I was pleased to remember my way around and Rhiannon enjoyed being guided to familiar sites including St Marks Square, the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace and less famous parts which featured Venetians going about their daily lives including the police boats, ambulances, garbage collections and delivery men all on the canals.  Everything is transported in by boat which adds to the traffic on the Grand Canal.  We walked through the Fish Market and Rialto Market, hence the statutory photo of Rhiannon on Rialto Bridge.

One morning the hotel arranged a special water taxi for us to Murano to a glass factory.  It was fascinating to see glass blowing skills in the tradition which dates back to at least the 15 century.  We didn’t buy any but it was wonderful to see.  Sadly our video didn’t come out well enough to show you.  That day we also visited the Guggenheim Museum as an antidote to the beauty of La Serenissima.

A high spot of my trip was meeting up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for 18 years.  We studied together for our Masters’ Degrees, although Louisa was 30 years younger we became firm friends.  She married a Venetian after returning with her degree and now has three beautiful daughters and lives on Lido.  She lectures to Art Tours, Cruise Ships, at the Biennale Exhibition and to various visiting University student courses so continues the experiences we had.  Louisa took us to a wonderful Venetian restaurant, Anice Stellato, which was hidden away where we had one of the best meals I’ve had for a long time.

Sadly it all ended too soon.  Rhiannon will return with her boyfriend Jon and take a trip on a gondola, not something to do with your aging aunt! I think it will be my last trip but one I will treasure.  We took off on Friday 24th February in fog! Whilst I had wanted Rhiannon to experience Venice set against a bright blue sky the misty, foggy conditions added to the glamour and mystery of this beautiful city.

I’ve attempted to give you a flavour of Venice but please try to visit yourselves if you haven’t been already, if you have I hope it brings back good memories.

 

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Good news

On Thursday February 10th 2017 I was discharged from Oncology Department all clear! Regular yearly check  ups now from July 2017 for ten years,  but if I am concerned or have further problems I must contact my Breast Care Nurse … Continue reading

Motivation

Whilst out on my usual walk, which I’ve shown pictures of at times, I was musing the word motivation – as you do! I really had to force myself out on a cold, frosty morning but as there is more of me than when I fell ill I must exercise regularly and regain my fitness levels.  Thing is I have never been “an athlete”.  I set off reluctantly but pretty soon got into my stride and looked around at the winter landscape.  Frosted spiders’ webs, frozen plants and trees then the sun came out and transformed it all into a beautiful winter scene.  My spirits lifted, I was glad I had come out and enjoyed the walk which offered such a contrast to the other seasons I have enjoyed doing it.  Dog walkers and other people all speak so it becomes a sort of social event too.  Dogs always greet me (I’m not going to analyse that one!) and their owners always have a conversation.  This lengthens the time taken but adds so much too.  I arrived home feeling warmer, healthier and ready for a cuppa! Job done!

Motivation is an odd phenomenon.  Some people seem to have no problem, seem driven at times. The only time I really pushed myself hard was during my years of studying part-time for a degree whilst working full-time in a stressful job, two of my children were still living at home and my husband though very helpful had his own stresses.  Thinking back to those times I realised that if one has a goal that is important for whatever reasons one works hard to achieve it.  Finding ways to push on despite feeling despondent and exhausted. In the wider context I realised too how cushioned I am and have no real pressure to do it other my own desire.  It did change my life but every day people all over the world have to push themselves to their limit and beyond just to survive.  I am going to end this thought process now as it will become boring to read and too long for the blog.  I would love to hear how you motivate yourselves to achieve your goals.  No need to climb the highest mountain or come up with something to save mankind – I am veering  too close to politics now!  I hope this ramble of thoughts is understandable as you’ve all guessed I was struggling to motivate myself for this blog!

One result of my first degree was the opportunity to do another degree – a Masters Degree in History of Art Venice and Europe.  I had just turned 50, took early retirement from my job and flew off to Venice for 10 weeks (the first term).  I knew hardly anyone, most of the other students were 25 years younger than me and I was terrified.  The following two terms were in Warwick University, back in the UK, but my young friends supported me and I them.  The time in Venice was one of the best in my life, it changed my outlook on life and remains a continuing source of pleasure.  In February I am flying to Venice with my niece, Rhiannon, who has featured in some of my fun times I’ve shared with you previously.  This will be her first visit but not her last I am sure.  It may be my last but we will make it memorable.

To end I share a motivational post with you.Relax

A treat for Christmas

orange-almond-cake-3Merry Christmas to you all on this special Christmas Eve.  It has been quite a year for many of us and I am sure this Christmas will be full of memories as well as creating new memories and traditions. We are gathering together on Christmas Day at my eldest son’s house with his wife, my grandsons, my other son and his wife.  It is becoming a bit of a new tradition for us as in the past everyone came to our house. Now I sit and sip champagne, play Lego and relax whilst my daughter in law spoils me.   Christmas Lunch is always a tasty vegetarian feast which takes about two hours to enjoy whilst chatting around the Christmas table.  Later we have coffee and cake, a favourite has become a bit of a tradition, a  Spanish Orange and Almond Cake I first made when living in Spain. In those days I picked the oranges from the tree in the garden then made the cake so lots of memories there including of the friend who gave me the recipe.  I’ve made it so often I rarely use the recipe but have found it for you to try yourselves. Apologies for mix of measures which can be adjusted to taste but it is foolproof!

Ingredients  (Serves 10)

2 Oranges, about 280grms (10 ozs) total weight, scrubbed and roughly chopped (with skin on)

5 eggs separated

200grms/(7 ozs) caster sugar (approx 1 cup)

225grms/(8 ozs) ground almonds (approx 2 cups)

2 tablespoons flakes almonds

Sifted icing sugar to decorate

Preparation Method: Prep: 1 hour. Cook: 55 minutes

Put the chopped oranges in a small saucepan, discarding any pips. Add 1 tbsp water then cover and cook gently for 30 minutes or until the oranges are soft and excess liquid has evaporated. Leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Line the bottom and sides of 23cm/9inch springform cake tin with baking parchment. Finely chop the cooled oranges in a food processor or with a large knife.

Put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk until they form stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in half the caster sugar, then whisk for 1 minute. Using the same whisk, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar in another bowl for 2-3 minutes or until pale and quite thick.  Whisk in the finely chopped oranges, next carefully fold in the ground almonds. Stir in 3 spoonfuls of the whisked egg white to loosen the mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites with a large metal spoon.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level the top. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Check the cake after 20 minutes and again at 30 minutes, and cover lightly with foil if it is browning too quickly.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then turn it out, peel away the lining paper and transfer to a serving plate (delicious warm). Dust with icing sugar before serving. The cake can be kept in an airtight tin for up to two days.

Whatever Christmas treats you at planning enjoy yourselves. I hope to have a few new books and some good wine.  Happy Christmas and good luck in 2017.