Wednesday 29 November 2017

It's getting COLDER . . .

It was bitterly cold out this morning and everything was covered in a heavy frost.  I stood in bedroom five and shivered as I opened the window to get some photos of the scenery, and the rising sun.  This is one of the Ash trees on the boundary of our property, behind the stables.

Frost on the roof tiles.

The bottom part of our field on the right, looking away up the hill.

Next door's son has recently taken over from his father, who has more or less retired now but is still to be seen about the farm.  A new broom is sweeping clean and there used to be an old barn here, which was demolished in the past few days.  For the moment, we can see a bit more of the hillside on the opposite side of the valley but I dare say a modern building will be replacing it.

A rather dark photo of the front garden seed feeder complete with Goldfinch (half a dozen visit each morning), Blue and Great Tits.  They are getting through some food now it is so cold and we had to get a fresh sack of sunflower seeds this morning.

Finally, the sun rose.  Even so, it took us 20 minutes to get the ice off the car so today we brought de-icer and a cover which goes across the windscreen at night and tucks in the side doors.  I think it will be much needed tonight as temperatures are set to go down to minus 6 in places.

One of the stray toms (Felix) was here at teatime again and was so hungry he scarcely moved when I walked past him and in the door.  He has been someone's pet, for sure, he isn't a feral cat, and is a sweet little thing.  I rather hope he stays . . .

Keep warm everyone.  Sorry for the make-weight post but the evening progresses and I am getting tired.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

"Bed Rest"

There are a couple of new additions to the white dresser - the little picture frame front left (I will put a picture of my mum in it) and the green-jacketed mouse.  Isn't he CUTE?  I have a very small collection of these Christmas meeces, and when I was in TKMaax yesterday I spotted this one and just couldn't resist him.  He is even a sort of match for the greens of the things on my white dresser.  I needed something to cheer me up as I had had a bit of a testing weekend . . .

The asthma medication I am on has a side-effect of heart arrhythmias.  These are quite scary as they only happen in the night and my heart either suddenly doubles in speed or else skips beats.  Anyway, I had got wound up over doing two VERY cold Fairs back to back last weekend, and when you are stressed, your body reacts in some surprising ways.  Your mind might THINK it is coping but your body says otherwise, and I started to get chest pains and it felt like I was having a heart attack.  I phoned 111 and to cut a long story short, spent Saturday day and night in A&E and then on a ward having various tests done which showed I wasn't at death's door, but anxiety-ridden and the pains I had didn't show up at all on the ECG.  Phew.  SO GLAD to get out on Sunday morning though, before I starved to death as all I had to eat on Saturday was a yoghurt and two slices of toast - I really DID NOT fancy the meal choices I had inherited from the previous occupant of my room, who must have been an old Welsh farmer because they were a bit strong on the mash and mushy peas or mash and boiled swede!  YUK.

Anyway, we had to miss the Saturday Fair (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as folk were keeping their hands in their pockets and buying nothing except food . . . Keith did the Sunday Fair on his own and that also dive-bombed.  We have made an executive decision not to do any more winter fairs in unheated halls/outside and cancelled the Christmas Fair we were due to do.  Not too much of a hardship as this one has been going downhill for the last 18 mths and folk just aren't buying.  All the stall holders are complaining.

I have taken a couple of nice things which haven't sold, out of stock and I'm keeping them.

One is this lovely old German spoon rack, beautifully decorated.  I have put some dried Hydrangeas along it and moved the blue Hydrangeas in one of my late friend Annie's hand-made (by her) baskets over on the pine dresser:

Then there is this absolutely stunning enamelled and hand-painted stand.  It is ceramic beneath the enamelling, and has chip on the base (which you can't see unless you turn it upside-down).  This has put folk off buying it, but I am looking at the pattern, not the base, so it is now housing a wonderfully-scented Christmas candle on the sideboard in the living room.

I needed the stone coloured fabric for a cushion I am making, and somehow the other bits just took my fancy too!  For the Christmassy ones and the gold piece, we are going to have a one-day session at patchwork class to make a Christmas runner or something, and I was short on greens.

The cushion is coming from this book, which is one of the sort you want to make EVERYTHING in it!

I was sent "Where the Poppies Grow" by my good friend in Hampshire, who knows my tastes well.  The bottom two I found in a Church Bazaar in town yesterday, 20p each.  First though I have to finish reading:

I'm at the sad part, so it is slightly sidelined until I am feeling a bit more cheerful, and I have started re-reading one of Phil Rickman's excellent novels "The Fabric of Sin".

Right, this won't do.  I need to go and get the paper and top up the bird feeders, which are emptying fast this weather.

Friday 24 November 2017

Winter landscape in our valley

We had a real frost this morning and it has only just warmed up sufficiently for me to think of having a wander up the hill behind the house.  The photos actually show the walk in reverse, but hey-ho, I am sure you will get the general idea.

This is Black Mountain (Bannau Sir Gar on maps) glimpsed through branches on a field edge which has recently been established.  There was a small corner of copse, above the road, which has been removed and an approach to a field put in.  It gives a great view up and across the valley.

The view directly across of the farm next to us and you can just see a corner of our old farmhouse (looking creamy yellow) in front of the farm buildings.

The pond in the top field - stocked with fish and a great place for wildlife.

As you can see, there was a lot of river mist up along our valley today - only just starting to clear now that the sun is dissipating it.

I went along the farm track aa short way to get these photos.  The sheep looked glad to be thawing out . . .

Black Mountain above the mist.

I chose not to go on up the really steep bit of the hill.

Atmospheric - trees (and lone sheep) silhouetted against the skyline.

The big old  tree which is on the edge of our land.  A big branch has broken off (it is a dieing tree) but got snagged higher up so no fire wood from that until it falls.

View across the valley from our field.

The first bend away from the house, where I regularly see a gang of Long Tailed Tits.

Trees against the winter sky.

View from the kitchen window - what I didn't capture was all the raindrops on the twigs.

Sorry for so few words but I have slept badly this week and am feeling a tad jaded.  We have a busy weekend ahead, and I wanted to get a post up whilst I could.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

After Dark in the Brecon Beacons

No photos, as I was driving at the time!  We bought something in auction yesterday (on-line participation) and then today drove over to Glos. with the intention of buying a couple of chairs to pay for the trip, but prices were downright SILLY.  I guess dealers are buying for the run-up to Christmas and need to stock their shops to the gunnels.  That and ordinary folk buying things for their houses as it's cheaper that way, cutting out the middle man (that's dealers like us!)

Anyway, we set off around 2 p.m. to come home, thinking at least only the last hour will be in darkness.  Wrong - the light was fading from about 2.30 p.m. onwards and we drove back in heavy rain on and off, and a rising wind (now a strong gale howling round outside, as it was first thing this morning).  As Keith had done the motorway part down to Glos, I did the return journey.  It was NOT pleasant.  When you know that the further you go, the darker it will be, and along the route you are meeting every town's exodus of working folk coming in your direction, and you can't see the road for the rain and the lights, it ain't much fun. 

Coming through the Forest of Dean, it was lovely to see the trails of Old Man's Beard lining the road - its seeds blown by passing traffic - and its garlands around the Blackthorn bushes looked like ghostly flowers.  There are more trees with leaves on there than in Carmarthenshire, which has a high proportion of Ash trees, and those lose their leaves early.  Particularly noticeable, especially in the plantings alongside the dual carriageways, were the tiny yellow star-like leaves of the Field Maples, though these were being wrenched off by the wind and tossed into the rain to cascade across the road in front of us.  The smaller oaks were still hanging on to their syrup-coloured leaves, as were the Hazel bushes.  It was good to see some colour in the failing light.

It was a most unpleasant drive home - I coped, but my neck and shoulders were getting more and more tense and painful, and then the bottom of my ribs joined in (as my shoulders were round my ears!)  Boy, was I glad to get home.  We were met by a bevy of rather disgruntled cats, who became priority no. 1 of course.

We did have a ten minute stop in Abergavenny on the way so that I could go in to Waitrose and get something quick for tea (sausage and chips).  Keith then had a bowl of cereal instead . . .  hmmm!  I had Toulouse sausages which were yummy but I will reek of garlic through the night which will not go down well with Himself, and I will have to eat lots of mints tomorrow as I am meeting up with friends for lunch.

Much as I hate driving in the dark, it is a skill I had lost down the years and had to regain as my little business requires us to be up before dawn and out after sunset.   It is easier without torrential rain though . . .

I will be so glad to get to my bed tonight and I should sleep (I had a very fretful mostly sleep-less night last night). 

I'll try and get some photos of festive Hay tomorrow (it's their Winter Festival this weekend). 

Sunday 19 November 2017

A busy week ahead and that Venison casserole recipe

As you can see, I have indulged in another magazine.  This is my favourite quilting magazine and has some lovely quilts in it.  As I am so busy quilting at the moment, it's good to keep my mojo active over the winter months, when I have a bit more time (once Christmas is behind us).

Above and below: I also indulged in these two quilted bag making books.  I love the little houses on the bag bottom left on the Quilted Bags and Gifts book. 

I was inspired to get the Happy Hexies book after the last quilt show, when I saw some pre-cut "felty" formers for small hexagons, that would keep the sharp edges far better than paper piecing and are designed to be left in.  I didn't buy any but I will at the next Malvern quilt fair I go to, if the same stand is there.

I am trying to keep myself cheerful (hence the purchases) as I am not feeling 100% at the moment.  Yesterday was the anniversary of my best friend Tricia's death, so that has made me feel rather low, and I have some health blips too, which I will be glad when they are sorted.  My main asthma inhaler doesn't seem to be agreeing with me but it won't be sorted until I see my Asthma Nurse in December.  I have had to drop the dosage (Dr's advice) and it looks like I will have to have a change of medication.

We have a couple of Fairs lined up for the next two weekends, and next week's is in a very cold unheated venue, so that will have to be endured. I just hope folk SPEND for once.  All the stallholders were complaining last time as despite a large number of people through the doors, very few of them actually spent any money!  We don't do this for fun . . .  We won't be continuing doing this Fair in 2018 as it's just not worth the effort, which is a shame as it is local.

Anyway, I can hear Keith unpacking his new electric chainsaw (his sore arm won't allow him to yank the cord on the petrol one) so will go down and make admiring noises!!

                            *            *          *


1 kg (2 1/4 lbs) stewing venison cut into 3 cm pieces &  Seasoned flour for dusting.
2 tblspns vegetable oil
175g (6 oz) diced smoked bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
2cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprig thyme   2 tblspns redcurrant jelly
300ml/ 1/2 pint red wine
150ml/ 1/4 pint port
600 ml/1 pint game or beef stock
12 stoned prunes           50g/ 2 oz dried cherries
50g/ 2 oz dried cranberries
200g/ 8 oz chestnuts, cooked and peeled
100g/ 4 oz button mushrooms
2 bay leaves
Zest organic orange
1 tblspn tomato puree
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped


175g/ 6 oz plainflour
1 tspn salt    1 rounded tspn baking powder
3 tsp chopped parsley           1 tblspn olive oil
3 tblspn chopped chives
100 ml/ 3 1/2 fl oz milk

Heat oven to 140 deg. C/Fan 120/ Gas 1.  Toss venison in seasoned flour.  Heat oil in ovenproof casserole and brown venison all over in batches.  Add bacon, onion, garlic and thyme and soften for 6 - 8 mins. without browning.  Add the remaining ingredients, apart from parsley and bring slowly to simmering point, then cover and cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hours or until venison is tender.

Make dumplings.  Sift flour, salt and baking powder into large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and add olive oil and herbs, pour in the milk, then mix with a fork to form a soft dough.  Place on a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.  Divide and shape into 12 dumplings.

After 2 - 2 1/2 hours, turn oven up to 180 deg C/Fan 160/Gas 4.  Season the casserole with pepper, then place dumplings on surface.  Cover and cook for another 35 - 40 minutes, or until the dumplings have risen.

Remove from oven allow to rest for 5 mins, then skim off any fat that has risen to surface.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve with potato and celeriac mash and ruby braised red cabbage and beetroot.

This has survived from a cookery magazine from 2007.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Busy quilt making

Photo above - stormy skies started the week here.  It poured in monsoon-type showers on and off, and I put back my planned walk!!

Whilst confined to barracks, I have spent a couple of days (when I should have been doing housework really!) getting on with the Christmas quiltmaking. The top for Gabby's quilt is now pieced and I am on the borders.  It is good to not be unpicking all the faults I made into it 3 years ago!  It's not perfect but I am not looking too closely at some of the point joints on the Pinwheels!

Below is what will be the outer border.  The inner border is plain white, and I've sewn one side on this morning.  I began on the outer border on Monday afternoon and although the cutting and piecing is a fairly slow process, it's coming together.

Today was my patchwork class, and I finished the red and white cushion (which used the spare pieced top that I then hand-quilted).  It's been years since I last did any hand quilting so I need to get more practice in.  

Below is this afternoon's work (I was surprised I did so well with it).  It is a table topper in a design called "Round the Twist" and came complete with materials (the 5" squares were pre-cut, which speeded things up no end!) and instructions.  However, the instructions were somewhat confusing and I really needed the help of my patchwork teacher as I couldn't make sense of some of them!  No homework on THIS piece as the next stage involves cutting out off centre squares using a template we have transferred onto clear plastic so you can see the alignment of the main guidelines (it just doesn't work properly if you were to use the card it's printed on).  I guess if you are familiar to this design, it all makes sense, but after a night of broken sleep (again) I needed all the guidance I could get!!  I really love the colourway used anyway, and such pretty prints.  It was an indulgence at the time as it wasn't cheap, but no regrets.

Tonight I rustled up some plain mince (Keith) which will do for two meals, and for me I made what was going to be a Chilli, until I found out I had used the last of the Kidney Beans, so they have been added to my shopping list and a tin of Taco Spicy Mixed Beans bunged in instead.  That should be really tasty and filling now the cold wintery nights have arrived.

I will try and remember to put up the recipe for the Venison casserole I made for Keith's birthday celebrations last week.  It is from the stable of Antony Worrall Thompson and very rich.  No photos as we ate half and the other half is in the freezer.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Another wander into the past (plus snow scenes for Yarrow's friend)

This is for Yarrow's Texas friend, who wanted snow scenes!!   It's a story I penned a few years back - comes from winter walks past ruined cottages by the river, and checking who lived there in the census.

The forecast here bodes ill - 3 weeks of bitter weather after Storm Brian arrives on Saturday.  Gardening's out then!!

By the way, the frozen river dates from probably 2010, when it snowed all over Christmas and the central heating boiler broke here.  The AI man reported temperatures of minus 17 in our river valley . . .  I believed him. The river froze almost completely across apart from a little strip down the middle.

She had just set off from the village when the sky began to look ominous. The clouds were darkening to steel grey and although there was still a glimpse of the sun shining through a gap, the landscape had assumed that yellowish hue that it did before a summer storm, with the grass turned a sickly colour. The ivy leaves began to jangle in a rising breeze and the bark of the ash and oak, naked of leaves, turned yellow ochre as the lowering sun aimed one last beam before dipping from sight. She had 4 miles to go: the entire length of the valley. It was already fiercely cold and had been for nigh on a week now. There were hard frosts each morning which never seemed to thaw in the winter shadows of the valley bottom, and water at the shallow rocky margins of the river had turned opaque and milky, areas of intense freezing causing darker rings like frost ripples. Boulders were glazed with ice from river-splash until they each had a solid cap of ice which thickened with each passing day. Cascadings of water droplets formed a frilly edge like a petticoat around each rock. As the cold intensified, the river had been concentrated into one moving central column where the current was the fastest, but in slower parts ice had formed, carried downstream and slowly adding to the frozen border. Hollows scooped by the water from the slate riverbed were filled with the rounded heave of ice boulders, and the Heron stalked the water meadows now in hope of a meal.

As the light faded, she found the whirling of snow confusing her and a number of times found herself stepping into the ditch at the roadside. She stumbled back onto the road, trying to find a reference point in the fading light. Trudging forwards she thought she could hear running water to her left. Whilst she couldn't' see it in the blizzard, she was certain it was the small waterfall which cascaded down through the thick woodland by Ty Coed. She stood a moment, trying to make out the movement of the water through the spiralling cloud of flakes, as big as florins some of them. Taking heart from the fact that it was the waterfall, she knew herself to be half a mile closer to home now. After a little while she thought she saw a light which might come from Pensarn, a small farmstead which hugged the edge of a small copse, but rather than seek shelter she continued towards home, for fear the children would try to cook a meal in her absence and fall into the fire like Betty Evans' little maid had.

For a moment, she could have sworn that she heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but then scolded herself for such a silly thought. The sudden awful crashing overhead was earsplitting. Ann instinctively dived off the road, landing with a flurry of flannel petticoats in a bank of snow which had already been blow into snake-like contortions by the wind. The thunder growled throatily like a rockfall down a mountainside and close behind it came a flash - indeed, a sheet, of lightning which illuminated the valley before her - each tree encrusted with snow; dark margins of hedgerows sinking into a sea of opacity, a brief glimpse before the magpie elements of night and snowfall closed in around her again. She was terrified. She hated thunderstorms and was still childlike about them, and felt very vulnerable without a roof above her head. She scrabbled in the hedge bottom trying to find sanctuary, some protection. A second clap of thunder and slight delay before the lightning gave her a chance to get her bearings. A hundred yards ahead she saw the darkness of running water, which must be the stream which powered the little farm mill at the ruined holding of Nantgwaun. Beside it would be the trackway which ended at the first of the barns. She clambered to her feet, breath catching in her chest as fear grasped her tightly. She half-ran forwards, twisting her ankles in the cart ruts now hidden by the snow, falling into a half-frozen puddle which soaked her lower skirts, gasping for breath as the cold air assailed her, snowflakes bursting into her face, freezing her cheeks, stinging her hands as she shielded her eyes to search for the trackway. The barn was only a short walk from the lane but it might have been a mile as Ann struggled uphill now, slightly sheltered from the weather by an overgrown hedgerow which bent, untended, across the track. She lurched like a drunk on Fair Day as the uneven path revealed itself as gullies and runnels beneath her feet. She fell again, dragged herself up and pitched forward once more and hitting her head on the frozen earth, lost consciousness briefly.

She opened her eyes and was aware of a damp mildewy smell, as of mouldy hay. Her legs were still wet and chilled by the weather, but above the waist she was out of the wind, which was now soughing and sighing overhead. She stretched out a hand and felt a rough wall. She scrambled into the barn on all fours, settling in a corner out of the draughts, shaking the worst of the snow from her clothing. Here she would bide until the storm had passed. Her head ached. She ventured half-numb fingers to her forehead and found she had cut her head in falling. She watched the snow falling steadily for a while, arms clasped around her knees to try and keep warm, as the thunder began to rumble away into the distance beyond her valley. She became aware of a slow, steady harsh breathing in the barn that was not her own: rather guttural, like an old man with a bad chest. It grew in intensity, the outward breath a slight whistle. The hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end and she sent up a fervent prayer that she had not stumbled upon the old tramp who was sometimes seen in the valley, and who spouted Bible quotes at anyone who would take time to listen to him. Bible Bob they called him, and he certainly knew his Bible. She wondered how he spent his days, especially the short bleak days of winter, with no company beyond the fire spitting and hissing beneath the old black iron kettle. She stood up abruptly: she would rather face him on her feet rather than looking at his boots. As she did so there was a sudden flurry of wings and a white shape swooshed out of the darkness and through the barn door - a Barn Owl. Her breath followed it in a sudden lessening of tension.

Peering out, the flakes seemed smaller and the darkness less intense with the snowlight and she set off towards home again, though her boots soon began to rub her wet feet and her wet skirt and petticoats were very uncomfortable out in the wind again. Finally she passed the steep hill up to Ty Coch and home suddenly seemed much nearer. The stillness was intense. Any beast out in this would be cwtched up in the lee of the hedge, waiting it out. No lights were to be seen in the hillside houses, for no hillside houses could be seen at all. She thought of the Davies family with their two little girls, snug around their fire in their little cottage halfway up the slope and she wished herself home with her own girls. Perhaps Annie-stockings had looked out for them when this weather came in - it was the best she could hope for.

She was deep in thought when she heard her name called and looking up, saw a buttery yellow light swinging towards her through the snow, a light held by a tall figure. It was Will. She had never been so glad to see anyone in her life - even the Devil would have been welcome company on a night like this! His broad shoulders were sheathed in sacking too, and his hat appeared to have only a brim, so covered in snow was it. He clasped her arm, just briefly, enough to tell her he had been worried. "It's getting late," he said perfunctorily, "not a good night to be out." Will's snow-covered shoulders gave no hint of the internal struggle he was fighting as she followed him home through the snow.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Abbey Cwm Hir - Part II

This was the Billiard Room, and also dedicated to Arthurian legend (which apparently connects the valley to King Arthur).  This was Keith's favourite room, needless to say - more manly overall and TWO suits of armour, plus the Arthurian lettering etc.

This stuffed white badger represents a small group of white badgers which live in the valley, and have done since the 1950s.

A painting of the house at harvest time back around the turn of the 19th C.

I don't normally like fake Christmas trees, but this was beautifully dressed.  I think shoes and bags were the theme for this one?

Madame's boudoir, with a collection of wonderful hats, and hat boxes.

I loved this Art Deco scent bottle.  It was HUGE.

That's what you CALL a bed!!

Above and below: views across the valley and the garden.

One of my favourite bits - a collection of amazing doll's houses.   I want one!!  Knowing how much the furniture and bits cost for them though, it will never happen!

Above and below: the kitchens were my favourite rooms of course.

These rooms had been the servants' rooms, up in the attic, and felt very homely.

Above - this room had a lovely happy atmosphere.  I could have moved in here.

Finally, another view of the garden, designed by Himself.  I think he did a good job.

Tomorrow I will probably repeat an old post, with lots of snow scenes, so that my friend Yarrow can send a link to a friend of hers living in Texas who SO misses the snow.  Watch this space.