Friday, 31 August 2007


I just couldn't let today go by without a mention of a sad event that happened 10 years ago to the day. I still remember waking up to the news that Princess Diana, Queen of Hearts, had been killed in a traffic accident in Paris.

What ensued remains in a haze. We just watched the TV, listing to the news reports over and over again in utter disbelief and grief.

I don't think any of us will ever forget the day and the following days culiminating in the extraordinary outpouring of grief at her funeral. To watch her two boys walk behind her coffin was heart wrenching.

Today, 10 years on, William and Harry carried themselves proudly at a remembrance service in London. A family and friends affair still allowing a TV audience to watch on, we all remembered a wonderful lady who had time for all.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Sloe sloe hic!

All the seasons are either too early or too late this year. Anyway, since we in UK have had one of the wettest summers on record this has been reflected in the plants around us. Everything is very lush but often you can find trees starting to turn their leaves as if it were autumn.

Usually in mid September there is a plant called wild blackthorn upon which grows a bitter fruit which is only between 10 and 15mm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) and actually a wild type of plum. The flavour of the fruit, which has a stone, is bitter to us poor mortals, so the small plums are not suitable for eating. Birds love them - feed on them and then drop the stones. However, the effect of frost makes the fruit milder. The bitter flavor is lost when making liqueurs. I understand that the plant is related to the hawthorn, crab apple and the like.

Anyway, coming to the important part! Have you ever made sloe gin? If you haven't ever tasted it, you are sadly lacking in your education!

Last Friday, we went for a picnic in the grounds of a National Trust property called Standen where there are beautiful gardens. To the side is an area of woodland where you will find wooden benches for picnics. This is where we sat to admire the view.

Once we had finished eating and drinking we wandered back to the carpark but on the way stumbled upon some wild bushes on which sloes were growing. Normally at this time of year you would expect to see the blossom but because of the weather the fruit had already formed.

Luckily I had an old icecream container with us so we started to pick the fruit. After collecting around a pound in weight we went home ready to begin the preparation to make our very own sloe gin..... aaaaaaaaaaah forgot, we only have Vodka but it is just as good!

1 lb. (450 g) sloes
3 cups (710 ml) gin or vodka
1 1/2 cup (350 g) sugar

Wash and dry the fruit, remove all stems, and freeze the sloes for at least a couple of days (not necessary if they are picked after the first frost). Place the fruit in a suitable container, add gin or vodka, and shake twice a week for 4-8 weeks. Transfer most of the liquid to a bottle. Add the sugar to the remaining sloes. Shake twice a day until all sugar has dissolved; this may take up to two weeks. Mix this sweet syrup with the first unsweetened liquid. After three months strain the liqueur thru a muslin cloth. Add some more sugar if necessary. The liqueur should mellow for 6 months before used - I don't think so!!!!! Making it now, it will be ready to consume at Christmas and make super presents in presentation bottles. Yes, I know you should leave it to mature - but it is sooooooooooooooooooooo good!

As an alternative you can mix the sloes, gin/vodka and sugar at the same time, but then use slightly less sugar. If preparing the sloe gin/liqueur this way you will also get a delicious flavor, however, the total volume of liqueur will be less because more liquid will remain within the fruit.

Sloe gin is traditionally made in Ireland and Britain. Sloe liqueur is also made in Scandinavia, Germany, France and Spain. This delicious liqueur has a flavor similar to plum liqueur and the color is dark red. It is best served in small amounts as an after-dinner drink with or without ice.

What you can do with the left over fruit is dip it in luxury chocolate to make fruit truffles.... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Hic! :)

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Another episode in Switzerland

Following on from my Chateau experience I decided to move on and became an au pair/tourist guide. How this worked was that I became friendly with the family who ran/owned a large underground lake in the canton of Valais, actually, only a few miles up the valley from the Chateau. I had been there with a couple of friends, got chatting to some of the guides and to cut a long story short decided to give in my notice at the Chateau and join the lake crowd where I thouhgt I might have more fun! Parents were not amused at the time.... but hey, you have to live!

During the winter months the lake was closed to the general public as it really was too cold. So, I went home to visit parents for a little while to explain my change of job and spent the rest of the time 'spring cleaning' two flats where I was staying with the family who were in charge of the lake. The two flats were side by side. I had a room in one of them whilst they used the rest of 'my' flat as a sitting room and slept in the other flat. This worked fine.

The season at the lake ran from late March until early November. You had to walk up to the lake entrance through some vineyards which then opened up onto a terrace where you could sit and drink whilst waiting your turn in the lake or relax after the tour. Souvenirs could also be bought at a kiosk located here.

To go on the tour of the lake you had to descend a number of concrete steps to a shallow beach and jetty where the rowing boats awaited with a guide/rower in each to accommodate up to 20 visitors and able to pass on the details in French, Dutch, German, English and Italian.

Let me tell you a little about this wonderous place:

In the heart of the Valais, between Sion and Sierre, on the Simplon road, lies the largest underground lake in Europe.
In 1943, a chap called Jean-Jacques Pittard discovered for the first time the mysterious cave of the underground lake.
Only in 1949 did the lake become accessible to the public. With a length of 300 m, a width of 20 m and a depth of 10 m, the underground lake of St-LĂ©onard is the largest of its kind in Europe.

More than 100,000 tourists visit this exceptional natural wonder every year.

We would start at 7am working until about 9pm with a break for lunch which the owner paid for and was super as we had to go into the local village of St Leonard to the station cafe where a hot meal had been prepared..... delicious! This set us up for the rest of the day. During the day, I would spend my time, sorting out the souvenirs, stock take etc, make sure the drinks/coffee side was in order with all the washing up done up to date! Then help out with the boats and translations before returning to the terrace to serve the numerous visitors.

I stayed there for just over a year, thoroughly enjoyed myself. At the time I became fluent in many of the languages as it helped that I already knew some Dutch due to my mother having been Dutch.

Later I will let you know what happened next! A clue..... something very different:)

Monday, 13 August 2007

A little bit of hi ----- story!

Today, I thought I would tell you a little about an episode in my life when I worked as au pair in the picturesque country of Switzerland - the land of Toberlone, Heidi, Alps etc:)

A year or so after leaving school my parents arranged for me to go to Switzerland to work as an au pair in a Chateau. I flew into Geneva from where I was to take a train to Lausanne where I was to nightstop and meet the lady called Madamemoiselle Chatelanat (Housekeeper) who would accompany me to Sierre, a small town in the Canton of Valais.

She was a small woman who always dressed smartly in a navy serge suit with a high collared lacey blouse which was simply decorated with a small cameo brooch. She spoke many languages including, French, Italian, German and English. However, since I was there to learn French, that is what was spoken! Travelling together on the train was pleasant enough as she tried to interest me in various landmarks and sites on the way. I was so nervous and desperately trying to understand from my school French what she was saying to me that I did not really take in very much.

On arrival at Sierre railway station, we were met by the Head Gardener in the Chateau car to take us and our lugguage to the Chateau. As we turned around the final curve in the steep narrow road there was a vision I shall never forget..... Le Chateau!

It looked austere but very grand and this was to be 'home' for the next 6 months.

Chateau Pradec was owned by the Mercier family who were based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Jean Jacques and Marie Mercier (well into their 80s)visited the Chateau every year between April and October and during this time the Chateau was available to the rest of the family who came from Italy, France and Switzerland to vacation for as long as they wished. They simply paid a nominal fee and had the run of the Chateau, gardens, tennis courts, swimming pool etc. How the other half live:)

I was now a member of the staff which was led by Carmen Chatelanat, Madame Maria the Italian cook, me, an Italian lady who did not live in, and old Italian lady who came every year with Madame Maria from Italy to help and advise. In the garden was a Swiss German lady gardener who had a Dutch girl to help and another girl from the Swiss German side of the country. Together we ran the Chateau and gardens. I did the cleaning, helping with serving meals in the grand dining room where the Dutch girl, Fokkelien, and Daisy, the other young gardeners took our meals alongside the other members of the family. We would ensure all were served and the meal ran smoothly under the watchful eye of Madamemoiselle Chatelanat!
Here is a picture showing the back of the Chateau. If you look at the top dorma style windows, my bedroom was on the extreme left....

I learnt a lot about people, history, Switzerland and some French!!!! This really was like living in a byegone age, with the family silver being regularly cleaned, crystal glassware being carefully handwashed. The cook perserving fruit and vegetables from the gardens and a host of other things that are just not done these days.

Now, the Chateau is a conference centre with 25 ensuite rooms. Many of the public rooms have been renovated but left in the original style so it is really strange for me to look at the pictures to remember times when I lived and worked there.
Today, this is what it looks like...
The side at night floodlit.

The grand reception hall...

The main dining room, not really changed at all!

Friday, 10 August 2007

I just stumbled upon.....

Well, I didn't stumble upon, I was reading a thread in a forum on Etsy about search engines. Also, a comment was left against one of my posts on this page. To cut a long story short, go to it's fun.

Instead of googling and getting diverted because you see other sites which have nothing to do with what you were orginally looking for, try this site. You simply tell the site what subjects you are interested in and 'stumble'. The site will search for appropriate sites that might be of interest. You decide whether you like it or not and click the 'up' or 'down' button. The more you search the better the searches become as the site learns what you like or dislike!

See further down this page under LINKS for a link to my page and off you go! Have fun:)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Update on vintage quilt

Well, remember I was describing the vintage quilt I made in the early 1980's? The one with the grandmother's flower garden design and pictured in a previous post... well it sold for nearly 4 x the asking price!! Whooppppppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I do hope the buyer enjoys it as much as I love making it in the first place for my mother in law who certainly used it for many years.

I knew that I would simply put it into a cupboard and there it would remain for goodness knows how long. At least it made some space and somebody happy.

One thing I would love to do is to buy and sell antique quilts but I would need a little capital for that and a lot more time. So, I shall stick to making some instead:)

Here's one I am in the process of making at the moment in between small cot quilts!

It's called Trip Around the World - what do you think? I tried to use sage, cream, gold and burgundy. Can't wait until its finished when I shall update you all. Should be a few weeks by the time I do that!

Monday, 6 August 2007

A beautiful weekend

Just had a beautiful weekend! Not only our daughter's birthday but the weather was actual summer! Our last taste of summer was in April!!

Anyway, went round to our daughter's house for a BBQ which was great. After a few glasses of Pimms (hic), lovely food and company we were treated to a visit from our eldest son and his daughter. She is just over a year old and such fun.

So, you see that was a wonderful way to spend Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday, Sunday, went to a local Boot Sale. For those of you who are not familiar with the term Boot Sale this means that you load car up with everything you can lay your hands on from around the house that you want to see, drive to the boot sale which is usually a farmer's field where it is all organised with stewards directing the traffic for sellers and buyers.

Sellers are marshalled into the field in an orderly fashion to park nose to tail. Cost £9 for a car. Then you fend off the enthusiasts or traders etc who nose into your car and often are really rude. I have got used to this now, take my time and tell them if they ask for something I might be selling to come back in 20 minutes or so. Soon gets rid!!! So, next we have to put up our tables alongside the car, cover with a cloth (looks so much better and cleaner) and start laying out the goodies in a way it will entice the buyer who then strolls past all the tables. It's a good way to meet some fabulous people, chat, pass the time of day and look out for each other.

Buyers go to another car park and pay to enter the sellin field.

Well, there must have been a couple of hundred cars all with the same sort of junk (sorry not junk!) but vintage/new items for sale:)

We arrived about 7am and stayed until 12.30. Got sunburnt but managed to clear quite a lot of items from my late mother in law's estate. Nest of tables, a shopping trolley which took up a lot of space in the car and garage, ironing board, cassette player to name a few! Loads of linen which I had washed and pressed so that paid off!

Finally counted our gains and went home to a well deserved shandy to spend the rest of Sunday afternoon, feet up reading the Sunday Times. Great:)

Sale Corner!

Occasionally I will show items that are for sale from me direct which can be paid for using Paypal. Always check to see shipping charges which will need to be added to the item amount!

For regular prices check out my Etsy shop, as well as my sister shop on Etsy which also sells encaustic art

Some paintings can be bought directly from my website

Some samples of my present & past work to give you inspiration for that special gift!
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