Archive for June, 2007

A few photos from Ireland

June 30, 2007

Kenmare village, where there was no place for working class people to shop that I could see. It reminded me of the Jersey shore during tourist season, full of tourists and gift shops and lots of restaurants, all overpriced, though it was lovely to look at.

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This next is a secondary road out in the middle of nowhere, (Most of these secondary roads we were on were paved, but no wider!) which leads to a private park, whose name I’ve forgotten, where there is spectacular scenery, including the waterfall in the distance, high peaks, soay sheep, and the day we were there, lots of rain.

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Next is Moll’s Gap, in the middle of a spectacular range of mountains with lovely views, sheep all over them (though hard to see in most of my photos: they look like little white dots, generally), and switch back roads with drop off edges. Our bus drivers were fairly conservative in their driving, thank God, so I didn’t feel unsafe, even when the bus pulled WAY over to the edge so another bus could pass.

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This next is an 8th century church ruins on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. These islands were my favorite part of the trip, very stark, very beautiful. Notice the small walled in paddocks behind the church: some were filled with growing potato plants, some with animals, some awaiting their turn to be grazed. We are told that the islanders, over centuries and still today, chipped rocks off the solid rock of the ground, piled them into walls with air holes so the gale winds didn’t blow them over, and then gathered sand and seaweed from the shoreline, and layered them to form soil over time. The island has generally four inches of soil over the rock of which it consists.

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Next is one of my favorites: the ruins of one cottage with several lived-in cottages around it. Cottage ruins are not taken down, for it is far easier to refurbish an old cottage than to build a new one (in terms of government permission) and who knows: someone from the family may return to the island and want to live there…This photo was taken on our six mile walk from Kilronan to Kilmurvey, on Inis Mor, maybe 2/3 of the way there.

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This last is Bunratty Castle, which looks a little odd with a “Yield” sign in front of it. Because we arrived later than expected, we didn’t get to tour the castle. We were in three of the rooms for the “Medieval” dinner. These rooms were stuccoed…not sure when the stucco was applied. Because the castle is open year round, it has heat, and windows, and of course, stage lighting for the “medieval” entertainment…which included a lovely rendition of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” well known medieval tune, and several lovely Irish folk songs. There was a harp tune by Turlough O’Carolan, and a modernized version of another of his songs. And one Elizabethan madrigal.

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Back home again…

June 28, 2007

Ireland was grand!  There were some things that we would have done differently, if not part of a tour, and some things we liked better than others, and the food was expensive (where we ate!) and not at all what I expected.  I had been told that Ireland was still making Irish food (as in lots of potatoes and plain cooking) but apparently, at least in the southwest, where we were centered for a lot of the trip, Ireland, too, has discovered Nouvelle Cuisine, which others loved, and we hated.  No Irish stew, no corned beef and cabbage, no potatoes!  And lots of what I nastily call the Family Circle School of cooking, which includes chocolate covered chicken with tarragon, accompanied by potatoes mixed with ginger ice cream and oregano (okay, I’m exaggerating…and being nasty…sorry: give me plain ol’ mashed potatoes with plain ol’ lamb stew on top without spices to mess up the natural flavor of the meat and veggies!)  So, we ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (brought the pb and j from home!) while others went out for fancy food.  The Kenmare area is lovely: mountains without many trees, dotted with sheep who browse and eat the puckerbrush as well as grass.  The roads are a challenge: picturesque to be sure, but curvy, very narrow with stone walls covered in ivy and other brush on either side. The main roads appear to be two lanes, though reasonably narrow, and seldom a shoulder, making it interesting for bus to pass bus: they slow down and often get close to scraping paint from one side of one bus to the other bus…or so it seems!  Secondary roads are narrower than my driveway at home and present some interesting situations.  Apparently, while one drives, which seems a process of gunning the engine, speeding ahead, and screeching halt as another vehicle comes from the other direction around a curve in the road, one takes notes of pulling off areas, which are either entrances to driveways or conveniently placed half lane shoulders for maybe 25 feet, and when cars meet in opposing directions, one of the cars backs up and off the road for the other to pass.  There never seems to be an issue with who does the backing up: that courtesy is there, for sure.  But we took a hair-raising taxi ride the six miles or so from Kenmare to the house we were renting one night, which rivalled the ferry ride in very choppy ocean, the bus ride on high mountain roads with no shoulders and inadequate guard rails, and the turbulence on the airplane.  Actually, the taxi ride won hands down for scariest part of the trip…and that includes that ferry ride, described by a passenger as a floating vomitorium!

Kenmare has been described by some authority (NY Times magazine?) as one of the 10 best (or is it 5?) places to retire to in the world, but my take on it is: only if you have a lot of money, and like ghettos. (As in a neighborhood or area where everyone seems to be in the same socio-economic class as you, and the shopping district is very pointedly all of one type and price range of clothing.)  I don’t like ghettos, even wealthy ones.  I kept walking aorund Kenmare village wondering where the farmers and shop clerks bought their clothing, for there sure wasn’t anyplace in town that I would describe as having clothing they could afford, even allowing for Ireland’s incredible leap from poorest to wealthiest country in the EU in a decade or two.  I wondered if the local folks were also being priced out of buying and owning land and homes in the area as well (as they are to some extent here in Vermont).

I was surprised to see palm trees in Ireland.  It is more north than Vermont, on the globe, resulting in daylight around solstice til 11 p.m. and beginning again somewhere before 4:30 a.m.  However, temperatures are moderated by the jet stream or something, so that it apparently is seldom below 55 and above 75, at least at this time of year.  The bus driver said they might get a dusting of snow in winter, but it is gone by noon.  I wonder what global warming will do to that climate?

There were far fewer sheep, at least in that part of Ireland, than I expected to see, and most of them were Scottish Blackface, a small browsing sheep with fairly coarse fleece, which is made into Aran sweaters on the islands and in other areas of Ireland and sold in every shop, both handknit and I assume, machine knit as well, since some were very expensive, and some, only moderately expensive.  There were also some that were made from merino and exotic fibers like alpaca, undoubtedly to compete with other country’s markets for soft sweaters.  Personally, I prefer the original fiber.  I find merino dull and shapeless and greasy to feel.  I don’t like it next to my skin at all, though I admit it is much softer.  But then, I don’t frequently wear heavy sweaters next to my skin!  So, it really is of no concern to me if they are more scratchy than merino.

We visited many touristy venues, had a Medieval dinner at Bunratty castle, the only part of which was like unto medieval was not giving us forks.  The music was much more modern with the exception of one Elizabethan madrigal (Renaissance, not medieval!). This was a disappointment to me, for when I heard we were going to a medieval banquet, I thought I’d hear some fine medieval music.  FAt chance.  And the costumes weren’t accurate.  And the food was much more like modern fast food. (Did they have bouillion cubes and instant gravy in medieval times, I wonder?  The few recipes I’ve read from those times speak of turkey stuffed with goose which is stuffed with chicken, which is stuffed with duck which is stuffed with partridge or dove…not with chicken alone…and of greengage plums, called, I believe, bull’s asses.   And the daggers (steak knives) they provided us to eat with (though most people thought they should eat with their fingers!) did not even attempt to look medieval…however, most people, I guess, didn’t notice, and didn’t realize that a reference to Sir Walter Raleigh in a 14th century re-enactment was an anachronism, since Raleigh lived in the 1500’s.  Oh, well, I’m just being too fussy, I guess.

I loved the hills, and wish we’d had more time to walk on back roads and ponder the beauty of the place, rather than zoom past on tour buses.  And being old fogies, going from 8 a.m. til 11 p.m. was too much for us.  For the last two days, we felt it would be a kindness to the rest of the tour folk and to us, for us to absent ourselves from the tour, being wet blankets, and so we did, on the Aran Islands, and we walked and walked and walked, seeing only a few ruins, but seeing them perhaps more deeply, since we could stay there and observe, quietly, for as long as we wanted.  We walked six miles one day from one side of the island to the other.  Perhaps this was our favorite day of the whole tour: quiet and slow paced, and surrounded by the stark beauty of the place and the spirits of eaons of people who lived there for centuries and centuries.  I think I’d like to go back and stay on the Aran Islands for a week, just taking it all in, and studying the ruins.  I appreciated the different landscape in Southwest Ireland, but I’m not in any hurry to go back there.  Too busy a place, too modern, too “with it” for us.

One high point of the trip was meeting Jo from Celtic Memories (see sidebar links!)  What a great person. She spoke at one of our dinners. Her talk was unfortunately truncated by time constraints, but it was wonderful to finally meet her.  I am hoping for some time in the future to sit down over lunch or a walk and spend more time with her, either here on one of her visits, or there, should we actually be able to return some day.

Ireland was a wonderful mixture of experiences, despite the disappointments here and there.  It was a good trip.  John said that the prettiest parts of Ireland reminded him of Vermont.  And, at the end, Deb said, “Okay folks, back to reality. No more fantasy.” I thought to myself,…no, that’s not quite true.  I live in a fantasy world, a dream world, something most people ONLY dream about.  How lucky am I!

I will post some photos tomorrow, though with all the rain, and taking a lot of them from the bus window en route to one venue or another, didn’t make for the greatest shots either.   Maybe Tom’s photos (he took 850 of them) will turn out better and you can see more on the Hodge Podge blog later in the week!

Getting Ready

June 8, 2007

One week from today, we will leave the house at 6:30 or so, catch the Dartmouth shuttle coach to Logan, stash our bags, and take the T into Boston to have lunch with other Ireland tour folks, then return to the airport by 3, and begin the process of getting on the plane to head out to Shannon. That means I have exactly six days to do the 12 days worth of stuff I need to do to get ready. What, you say? What do you have to do except pack. Well, that might be true if a neighbor were coming in to watch the animals (though I’d still have outside chores to do to get ready), but we have a house-sitter coming, which means I am in the same mode one gets in when one cleans because the cleaning lady is coming! Sounds silly, I know, but the truth is I haven’t cleaned the frig in forever, nor defrosted the freezer, nor cleaned up my sewing room/guest room, and you can’t walk in the pantry, since I tend to throw things on the floor instead of putting everything in its proper place…the list goes on. And outside, there’s all the mowing to do. (Yesterday, a friend stopped in and wondered why I was mowing when that was the sheep’s job. Well, I answered him, for three reasons: 1)sheep don’t much like to eat in 10″ high grass with seed heads on top, not sure why, but they waste a lot, so I mow. 2) All the annuals are in bloom, the ones they skip over: if they go to seed, they’ll multiply and take over the spaces supposed to be occupied by good tasting stuff. 3)I have this crazy idea that if you cut off the seed heads of the grasses, their energy goes into making edible leaves, instead of procreation through seeds. So, roughly two hours every morning, I’m out there, pushing my Bachtold walk behind brush hog around. I’ve gotten most of that done, just about two acres left. Then, I have to set up the fencing for two weeks worth of grass, to make it easier for Ian (Stewart, fellow writer for Black Sheep Newsletter) to change their pasture. And stock in grain for everyone. This a.m. friend, Lucas, is coming to help me refurbish “Chicken Village,” the series of houses and cages surrounded by poultry fencing, where the chickens live. It needs mowing; three of the cages (which are currently all left with doors open to provide shelter when the free running hens need or want it) are losing their chicken wire, coming unattached. One, the turkey nursery, or maybe pre-school, needs the old bottom torn off and a new one put on. (Turkeys have about zero immune system til they’re three months old, so you either raise them off the ground, or you feed them chemical wormers. I opt for the former, which means they are in cages til 3 months. After that, it’s hard to kill them…unless you’re a coyote. In addition to the Chicken Village work, we need to transfer the pigs out to pasture. They’ve done their job of turning up the bedding/soil/manure in the ram pen and the winter chicken quarters, so now, it’s back behind the house to work on some stumps in cleared land. So, now you know why I’ve not been sitting here writing every morning…and it’s time to get at it…mowing from 6:30-8:30 is on the schedule for the day…

Have a lovely weekend, all.

Hog Heaven

June 8, 2007

Today, we transferred Thelma and Louise to the woodsy “pasture” behind the house, where they will rotate around, hopefully digging up stumps for recreation.  They did NOT like being transferred, which involved dog cages, one in each, wheelbarrowing them from the shed in the front meadow to behind the house, and then two of us, carrying the dog cage into the pasture, back for the other one, same, and finally, pouring milk in their milkbowls and letting them out…to “Oh, milk?  Great!  Slurp…slurp…wait a minute!!! Look at this!”  Nibble on grass, check out a few different leaf taste sensations…more milk…more grass…they may never eat another pellet of pig food…they don’t much like it anyway.  They took their nap in the handy little calf hutch I borrowed from Donald, and now up for the afternoon, they are off exploring their 75 foot square paddock full of rocks, trees, stumps, and lots of interesting green growing things.  They are in hog heaven, to be sure!

Time marches on…

June 4, 2007

The rush that was May is over.  There were highs. There were lows. There was one very low, running into early June…but life goes on.

The Massachusetts Sheep and Wool Festival coincides with my neighbor’s and my annual yard/perennial sale, which means two things to get ready for, instead of one on one Memorial Day Weekend.  Suffice it to say, it was accomplished.  The perennials mostly sold; the festival was better than usual.  Massachusetts is a small fair, with a low gate and not that much business, but it is a relaxing two days (once we get everything packed up, there, and unpacked.)  I lucked out in that my friend, Lucas, went with me and was an enormous help unpacking and setting up.  He then met some friends and spent the day doing whatever people do at these things when they aren’t running a vendor booth: watching sheep and dog shows, buying stuff, nosing around to see what new yarns, woolens, fleece has come with whom to the festival, checking out the fleece contest, taking a class or two…while Sue and I sold yarn and fleece, mostly, and talked to a few people about sheep, who may or may not call me to buy some. One can always hope…

The following week, I was scheduled to go to Pa. (this is last week) on Wednesday to pick up three sheep brought to their home by friends from Indiana for me, plus one lamb I was buying from these folks, and one ram lamb for a friend up here.  Unzickers’ farm is a beautiful and peaceful setting with old house and barn, lots of stone, lovely pastures, complete with brook, in the midst of suburban sprawl in lower Bucks County, Pa.  Tuesday night, as I was getting stuff ready to go (double feed and water for the animals…John doesn’t like dealing with them on his own; he’s always afraid they’ll break out, go into the road and get killed…so he’s nervous, which makes them nervous, making it a sure thing that if they get out, they’ll run from him, into the road…so it is better to set things up so he can avoid going too near them.)  we got a call from our son, that our daughter-in-law’s baby had died in utero at 22 weeks gestation.  They were devastated, as you might well imagine.  So, Wednesday, my plan was to not only to go to Pa. but to swing by N.J. on the way home and spend some time with them.  Got to the farm, called, and found out that she had opted for a “d and c” (read: abortion) to remove the dead fetus, rather than go through labor and delivery…which meant Philadelphia, because, for some reason, abortions on 22 week gestated dead babies is illegal in N.J.  (Does that make sense to anyone?)  Anyway, they were at my nephew’s home. Kirk, an Episcopal priest in Phila. lives with his wife and children in the rectory of St. Timothy’s, Roxborough, near the hospital where Vicki would have her “procedure” as they called it.  It was an hour from where I was staying, so I drove another hour (after the 7 just completed) to Kirk’s, saw my kids and my grandkids, hugs and tears all around, and then I returned to the farm. The next morning, she had to be a the hospital at 6 a.m., when I was just getting up and revving for the trip back home with the sheep.  Drove 7 hours home.  They called mid-day to say they were home, Vicki was well, but tired and resting.  The funeral was planned for Saturday morning. Originally, they wanted me to officiate, but I begged off, saying it was important for all of us that I be the Granny, so cousin Kirk did the funeral.  That meant Friday, we drove back to N.J.  After the lovely, quiet, sad but comforting little funeral service at Trinity/All Saints Cemetery in Princeton, we went out to lunch.  Then, we had to drive back here.  It was beastly hot in N.J., which my body reacted to in its usual way: intestinal difficulties.  We made it back at 7 p.m., having driven through four thunderstorms, two of them quite fierce, picked up Margaret at the neighbor’s and collapsed, emotionally and physically exhausted.   I felt like I never wanted to get into a car again.

But we did, the following morning, to go to church, and for me, to go to my spinning group meeting, a pleasant and healing afternoon.  Got home at 4; found Megan waiting to get her ram lamb, and then other customers came to pick up their little shetland wether, Hamish, and bring him home to meet his new friend, one of Sue and Tom’s shetland wethers.  A third will come from another breeder nearby.

So, there’s new life here at the farm (a new ewe and ram lamb, a new ewe lamb, and a lovely new four horned ram) to comfort me and remind me that life goes on.  Little Robin Elizabeth’s remains rest next to those of my son, her Uncle Peter.  I’d like to think the job of raising her will be his…it helps.  And my dear daughter, Vicki, will rest her body and her spirit for awhile, hopefully, before they attempt to have another baby.  And Granny and Grampy quietly grieve, holding onto the thought that babies who die in utero do so for a reason and that perhaps the baby had such severe problems that living would have been impossible or difficult for her, and this was the better way, nature’s way, to make all things new, however difficult it is for those left behind to live.  And we will rise to the challenge and LIVE…honoring and remembering those we love who aren’t here with us anymore, but living fully, in their honor and because that is what we’re meant to do.

Now, as far as living goes: I have 11 days to lose 10 pounds, firm up the flab, clean up the house, stock in food for the farmsitter, Ian Stewart, a fellow writer for Black Sheep Newsletter, finish a sweater I want to take, and get to the airport, as we head to Ireland on June 15th for 12 days, with a bunch of friends on a homegrown Irish farm tour hosted by fellow jacob breeders with a farm in Maine and a farm in Ireland.  I am very pleased that Ian was free to come farm sit.  He is a former sheep breeder from New Zealand, who now travels the world over, farm sitting for folks, experiencing life, stopping for a few months here and a few months there, enjoying life and learning ever more.  So, my “sewing room” which now looks like a disaster area after a tornado has gone through, has to be turned into the guest room it doubles as.  The tv room, only second place in the disaster category, has to be turned into a second guest room for Ian’s guests, and the frig needs cleaning out, as well, not a chore I am fond of doing…but it is calling out, or rather, something in it is calling out to my nose every time I open it…wish me luck.  I’m off to the attack!


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