Apart from devouring a delicious Guinness Cake (recipe below), a recent family get together in Cumbria in the UK gave us a glimpse of something we’ve been too busy to realise was slipping us by…
It’s been eight years since I last saw my sister who moved to Canada more years ago than we can remember, where she found and married a kind Canadian man and between them gave us three gorgeous nephews, the youngest of which are now 9 and 11. Recently the opportunity arose for us to get together to celebrate our Dad’s 80th birthday and catch up with one another.
We spent Dad’s birthday surrounded by owls at The World Owl Centre then meandered our way around the glorious castle walk at Muncaster where the views are simply mouth dropping and we were offered the opportunity to blow away the cobwebs in the unseasonably warm November winds. After filling SD cards with photos we headed back to our accommodation where we cooked a variety of vegan/vegetarian/meat-eating delights before tucking into the lip lickingly delicious Guinness cake baked the night before, a cake that would carry just two candles on its surface and not a chocolate melting eighty.
To accommodate us all on this rare family get together, our parents hired a revamped old farmhouse in Corney in the Western Lakes in Cumbria, located in the shadow of Black Combe (it fell just 30ft short of being designated a mountain at 1970ft).
Foldgate was chosen for its ability to sleep twelve and it kept us warm and dry with its 140 year old Aga, central heating, jacuzzi bath as well as the more modern hot tub outside.
We had to pull our children out of school for the reunion, a first for us, yet in my nephews school travel is considered an education in itself. I kindof like that attitude don’t you? Strangely, our children objected to taking unexpected time off and having their routines disrupted, but in the end I hope, they came to realise the importance of this trip.
The lure of unlimited WiFi eased fears of losing touch with friends and for the first few days it was home from home as our two older teens shut themselves away and communicated online with Ireland. Then just a couple of days in, the internet went down. Horrors! Their lifeline was pulled from under them. Apart from being unable to find places to visit online, I found the unexpected inconvenience of being unavailable a tremendous relief. For a few short days, with no pinging distractions, I could be completely ‘there’ for my family and I realised how little I offer that to them in terms of my time or ‘presence’ these days.
Yes I cook their dinners, answer their questions, drive them here, there and everywhere, every day of the week, but am I really ‘there’? I suspect not. Once they discovered their gadgets were no longer of any use to them, I think our children discovered how ‘absent’ they’ve been too. They caught up and they laughed, they played chess and learnt card games. They bonded with their cousins, chatted with the adults, played hide and seek and teased. They shopped, walked, laughed until they cried and even swam in the sea. They relaxed and unwound. And so did we.
We wondered what ages we’ll all be next time we meet and we made plans to start saving for airfares that will take the five of us across the Atlantic to visit our Canadian family. An expense that could easily buy a second-hand car or pay the first year of college fees.
While we discussed plans for our children before they fly from our nest, their grandparents looked quietly on, perhaps thinking about being alone in Lincolnshire, their own children hundreds of miles away, an ocean and a sea distancing them. No doubt they were wondering the same thing… when will the next occasion for a family get together be.
Back home again I’m in a reflective mood. I’m a long way from my extended family but am wondering how we can take time out more regularly to retain the closeness with our own children. I’ve become acutely aware of their young years quickly passing by and I’m wondering how, now that we’re back in the modern ‘convenient’ world of our internet led lifestyles, can we hang on to that childhood bond.
I don’t know why the internet went down – was it a technical or human intervention? If anyone knows they’re keeping it quietly to themselves though a little part of me wishes it could happen more often in our own household. As much as I’d like to be the one who puts her foot down and demand a couple of WiFi free days on a weekly basis, with an 11, 14 and 16-year-old we also have to weigh up a quietish life versus an argument filled one. I’m also not too old to remember how important friends are when we’re teens but can only begin to understand how different it must be for my own children who are growing up with their contacts at the end of their fingertips. I do know that I have to treasure those increasingly rare times when we spend more than the daily half hour at the dinner table together.
An important family birthday in the middle of term time made me realise that sometimes we just have to throw caution to the wind and celebrate life. Whether that’s through eating good food, appreciating the beauty of our landscape or simply spending time in relaxed company with friends or family, the important thing is that we make the time to do it and appreciate it.
As we ponder the ‘convenience’ of the internet, I’ll leave you with the recipe for this truly delicious Guinness cake, found and baked on this occasion by my sister and inspired by one on All Recipes. It’s a rich, velvety cake reminiscent of chocolate fudge and it’s topped with a sweet, creamy cheese icing so that it resembles the beverage it contains. This is a cake deserved of any occasion and I’ll be baking it again soon as we celebrate two more birthdays in our home.
Guinness & Chocolate Cake Recipe
How do you manage your or your own children’s time on the internet? Do you switch it off, have deliberate down time, or is it a free for all? Or do we just have to accept that they’re now finding their own way and step back and be there to guide them if needs be? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below in the hope it might help me manage my own work / homelife more effectively.