Monday, June 20, 2011


My family all love their tucker; my 11y/o niece included who stayed with me on Friday night. On Thursday, I emailed her to see if she had any dinner requests - usually she'll ask for something very specific, like spaghetti & meatballs with chocolate pudding....

My email to her..

Hello Hello Hello!

Hope you are having a good week at school!

Do you have dinner/movie requests for Friday night???

See ya Friday night alright?? :o)

Tess texted me back later that day....

Hey, dont mind whatever u feel like but the dessert & tea have to taste good

I responded...

your wish is my command petalness. I'd better get cooking!


U do know im coming 2morrow not today but good things come to those who cook good food and good food takes preparation


Yes indeedy do! Expecting you tmw around 2.30pm. Will be up all night preparing the feast. PS Plumbing Boy said you wouldn't want any dessert!


well he's wronger than climbing the wrong mountain!


Lucky he has a gps otherwise he'd be lost on that wrong mountain!! Don't worry, I be makin' dessert!

LOL. I ended up cooking roast Chicken & Pavlova with whipped cream & blueberries/raspberries. I'm sure you all remember the Ghost pav I made for Tess for her spooky party last year! We watched Gulliver's Travels (gotta love Jack Black!) & hung out in front of the fire.

Saturday night my cuz from Sydney was in town with his girlfriend, so we went out for dinner in St Kilda. It was a pretty quiet night in comparison to our usual effort when we get together - I think we were home & in bed by 11pm & on the opposite side of town to dinner. His GF was a bit weary as was her mate (I think they'd had a few drinks in the afternoon) & my cuz had a footy date Sunday with a few people & a 6am flight this morning so he was resisting the urge to partay!

I managed gym both Saturday & Sunday. Finished the last True Blood book on Saturday on the tready, & don't have anything else left to read at the moment. I think this means I'll have to start running again! I did a yoga class on Sunday morning followed by a bit of a run (3kms) & didn't feel sore.

To be honest, I'm a bit loathe to say I'm back into it (the exercise & good eating). I've mapped out all sorts of training plans & at least 2 challenges since Christmas, but I just couldn't get into them &/or commit. The last one was FOMT, but I only got as far as deciding what to call it & that was a month ago. I have a school reunion coming up but not til November, so that is not really motivating me yet. That said, I've exercised 7 days out of the last 9 which is a vast improvement on zip. So. With a bit of luck I am back into it as the muffin top I'm carrying aint a good look. Now I just gotta sort the eating......I made potato gnocchi last night; the recipe said feeds 4 - 6 people. Yeah. we at the lot between the two of us.....

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blogger reguritated my post

HA! when I first checked after blogger ate my post the other day, I looked in the drafts straight away & either I really do need glasses or it was definately not there. But guess what. Now it is. So. I'm gonna tweak it & try again to publish.

How was your (long if you live in Australia) weekend?

Mine was pretty quiet - I got saddled with the work phone while Plumbing Boy went out dirt bike riding two of the 3 days we had off.

Friday night we went out for dinner & to see some live local muso's play - the food was divine & the music sublime! Saw a couple of old fave's in Nigel Wearne & Sarah Carroll, plus a guy Luke Watt who I'd never heard before who is awesome!

Saturday I slept in (Plumbing Boy had a couple jobs booked in early) so Rosy (my cat) & I were happy to have the bed to ourselves. Pottered about doing household chores then went for a 5km walk listening to my new CD's purchased the night before (made PB answer the phones). If you'd have seen me bopping along with a stupid grin on my face, you'd have wondered what sort of a nut bag I was!

Saturday night we went to friends for dinner & watched them do "home style" Karaoke - they don't have a bouncing ball or lyrics, they just play their favourite songs & sing along over the top. Kind of amusing, but a little anti social as unless you know the words to the music they have, you can't really join in. PB was riding the next day anyway so we didn't stay late. AND I missed out on watching the footy due to said Karaoke. Was not happy. I had to get text updates from my cuz in Sydney!!!

Sunday & Monday seem to have passed in a blur, although I did manage walking 5 & 6kms respectively finishing book 9 of True Blood as I walked on the tready (easier to answer the phone than while walking outside). I seem to have conquered a mountain of laundry; split kindling for the next week or so, met a cute huntsman spider while filling up the wood box & watched Burlesque (surprisingly good), The Fighter (good but nodded off towards the end) & Black Swan (brilliant, but ruined by PB arriving home & having to have the story explained to him over & over). I'd watch all of them again & recommend them, although Black Swan was pretty out there & I had to shut my eyes a couple of times.

All in all, was not a bad weekend. I would have prefered to have gone away somewhere, but it's hard to compete with a shiney new motorbike!

# Updated Thursday afternoon.

Last night I went back to body pump after having a month or so off with a bout of tennis elbow. My gym has just released body pump 78. Yowsers! The lunge track is a killer! I used "girly" weights for everything involving elbows & felt like a bit of a wuss, but said body part is thanking me for it now & feels fairly good. A slight burn in my forearm, but a bit of heat & some home massage should handle it. I used weights for the lunge track though & am waiting for the DOMS to set in good & proper. I'm a spaz as it is with lunges, so usually concentrate on form without weights, but since I'd been so girly I gave it a crack! I had a really hot bath with Radox last night & felt OK this morning, but I'm starting to feel it now, believe me!

Anyhoo. I am happy my fave instructor is still there & she cracked me up last night with her "go hard or go home" & other such motivational statements. I found myself wondering whether you'd appreciate her or not Memphis! I recon you would......

Thursday, June 16, 2011


How PC is it to correct the spelling of a teacher???

We take work experience students as part of our community service each year; usually we manage 4 - 6 for 2 week blocks at a time. It is fairly taxing & we try to spread them out to give the students the best opportunity to have the best possible experience.

I received an email from a teacher yesterday who was spelling plumbing as plumming & plummer. Should or should I not correct her.

Votes Please!

The other variation that makes me giggle is sometimes people with accents call us plumpers or plumping!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tales from Abroad 11 - Scotland & France.

So. Yesterday I wrote a post about my weekend directly into blogger which of course deleted the whole thing when I hit publish. It was somewhat disgruntled, so perhaps blogger recognised it for the shite post it was & did something about it.

Instead we have possibly the last tale from my Ma & Pa who will be home in 2 weeks. They called Sunday night, I think Mum is getting a bit homesick & wanted to hear our voices.

When we were growing up on the farm, we hosted around 12 international agricultural exchange students, the first arriving when I was around 12 years old. I think we had 8 or 9 in a row (first 3 were from Canada, then we had a run of Scandinavians); the last 3 we had were from France (I'd moved out of home by then), hence the familiarity of the farmers Dad writes about.

Loos, France, 14th June

Our Scottish adventure started from Glasgow where we stayed with cousins. On a sunny day we took a day trip to St Andrews. The city is dominated by the cathedral ruins, although there are quite a few golf links. It has one of the oldest universities in Britain. There is a band of good arable farming land right across this part of Scotland (although we travelled mostly by motorway).

Next we headed to the highlands via "The Road to the Isles". Maillaig is a busy fishing village & ferry terminal. Next day we took the ferry to Skye & rented a cottage in Dornie, right on Loch Long with towering mountains directly behind & over the loch in front. With the sun rising before five & setting close to eleven there were some magnificent reflections in the water.

We took day trips to Glenelg, Plockton, Kyle & Applecross. At Glenelg there were ruins of broches which were the highland versions of the iron age structures we had seen previously. They were perfect beehive shapes with larger wall cavities & used up until the 7th century AD.

In Plockton we went to a local fundraiser. It was a film & seafood night, including local fresh mussels & prawns. The drive to Applecross was white knuckle stuff. Single lane alpine driving with sharp switch backs & few passing places. It was worth it to get to the surprisingly mild coastal town with a coral beach & pretty walled garden.

Another interesting day was watching a local game of shinty on a paddock that sloped from the side of the road down to a loch side marsh by about 7 degrees. There were no buildings, few seats & the players often had to chase their own balls from the sheep paddocks or the rushes. It is like a game of hockey without rules - lots of body contact & overhead stick action.

Next to the shinty field is a burial ground with lots of McRae headstones. There are even more at the ruins of the church at Loch Duich which is the traditional McRae burial ground. There is a certain mystic quality around the country that they left in the 1850's and Australia must have seemed very alien.

Kilmartin was a good stop on the way to Oban. There is evidence of the early neolithic & later civilisations everywhere, from standing stones, cairns, burial mounds & artifacts. This is the place where the early kings were crowned (and buried nearby on the island of Iona). The country around Oban is softer with vegetation on the lower peaks & hillsides. We missed otters in the wild but saw them at the excellent aquarium here. We stopped at a good backpacker hostel notable for the fresh scones provided every morning & its position by the picturesque waterfront & busy main street.

This time we managed to be at the right airport (they'd had an unfortunate incident earlier, almost missing a plane as they were at the wrong terminal). Often Ryanair passengers are at the wrong airport. Ryanair fly from Prestwick & say they fly from Glasgow (45 minutes away). We have heard lots of complaints about Ryanair.

A friendly face met us at Paris. It was Vincent who had visited us on the farm. He drove us to his farm near Beauvais. There he milks 70 cows & crops on 200 hectares with his parents. The cows graze on the few hectares which are tied to his milk quota & the rest are cropped. The rotation is wheat, maize, sugar beet & canola. The crops are quite stunted & they desperately need rain. The main topic in the farming journals is the drought (also in the south east of England).

Vincent's cows are feed a complete ration according to production via an outdoor 2 stand feeding station which recognises the electronic collars. From November to March they stay in loafing barns. Slurry is stored & spread when permissible & the dry manure is carted to the cropping paddocks, windrowed then aerated by contractors prior to use as fertilizer.

Herd records & quality assurance is all entered to a national database online daily. He is getting 33 € cents per litre at the moment. Last year when the supermarkets started discounting, the local farmers removed all the milk from the local supermarket. Better than the usual dumping of manure on the steps of Parliament by French farmers! Vincent says French farmers have an emotional response as they are less organised than Australian farmers. A considerable part of his income comes from EU support for cropping but the dairy (apart from the fodder) is unsupported.

Gerberoy, the village voted number one is near to Vincent. It was raining when we visited, so we could walk unhindered as it is usually full of tourists. The buildings are mostly of timber and brick or clay. Most of the surrounding farms are typically French with large wooden doors opening into a court yard surrounded by the house, barn, stable, dairy etc all joined together. They have cellars that were often used to make cider. Most of the ones in the village streets have been converted to modern housing but retaining the facade.

Vincent drove us to his friend Gonzague (and our former worker) in Loos near Lille. This is a very unusual farm because it has 5 hectares and the main farm buildings within the city boundaries. Some of their land was appropriated for a major hospital about 500 metres away and there is always the threat of more land being acquired. They have a legal advisor specialising in town planning and all their operations are a compromise with the community; although they do have significant support for their farm shop.

Gonzague milks 20 cows and operates with his wife (who is also a pharmacist) & parents. 150,000 litres are kept (unpasteurised) to produce butter, fresh cheese, yoghurt & fresh milk for the shop. The yoghurt is by far the best we have tasted. The rest is picked up by the tanker for manufacture. There are 700 battery layers plus meat birds. Battery cages are banned from the end of the year, so they have bought another larger shed. The remainder of the 100 hectares is mostly nearby but some is 15kms away. They also grow potatoes, wheat, sugar beet, maize & canola.

Today we went to the fruit & vegetable market in Lille to buy strawberries, carrots, onions & zucchini to stock the shop. It is like the Footscray market but may be larger. They only sell in season produce. Lille is a very interesting city, having been once under Spanish rule. It was a textile town & trade centre between England and mainland Europe. Barges still carry freight via the canal flowing through the city.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Cholet. It is mostly by TGV - 600kms in 4 and a half hours - so the photos might be a bit blurred. Apologies on 2 counts. Some of you might already have some of this news and the keyboard is QSDFGH not QWERTY.

They still have 2 of our previous exchange students to visit with before heading home, so Dad may give us one more update! It sounds amazing that Gonzague's farm is right in the middle of town - Dad said the town is around the same size as Warrnambool (pop approx 30,000). I suspect the stone they lost in Scotland will return in France due to all the butter & pastry they've been consuming! Mum was practicing her French on the phone to me, but I suspect our previous students families speak little english & the language barrier has been more difficult than in the UK. I'm still deciding what to cook for their arrival dinner - they'll probably want a feed of steamed veggies & some fruit. I'll ask Dad for a request or two. When they left I cooked them a rack of lamb with veg, followed by home made apple pie.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

blogger just ate my post.

not happy jan.

will try again later.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tales from Abroad 10 - Scotland in Part.

From me Ma & Da again.........I think Dad ran out of time as he ends abruptly!

Saturday – McRae Country
It was a murky (grey & drizzling) coming up from Glasgow & no good for taking photographs. Glencoe did look mystic & the clouds lifted to show the mountain tops. The water is still streaming down the steep hillsides. After a dry April they have had twice average rainfall for May – 186 mm here. It is very mild & if it stayed dry the dreaded midges would appear but it promises to get murky later in the day. Everyone we talk to mentions creepy crawlies in Australia but here we have noticed kits for dunking ticks in to test for lime disease.

Mallaig was a lot bigger & busier than we expected & you could easily stay longer. The ferries to the isles go from here & it is a fishing port. We had an interesting chat to some fisheries people doing a survey of fisherman. The fishermen are aware that there are too many pots (no licences) & joked that you could walk to Skye without getting your feet wet. One was a marine biologist who did her thesis on how stress affected langoustines.

We took the (large) ferry to Skye & then Kyle where we did our shop for the week. Visited the Clan Donald museum on the way, which helped our understanding of the complex history of northern Scotland.

We have rented a cottage for a week in Dornie. More expensive than we planned as the pamphlet we had wasn’t comprehensive & it was the only one not let out. It is a picture perfect white washed house with every mod con at the end of a 500 metre line of cottages with mountains right behind & Loch Long over the road in front and another back drop of mountains – in fact mountain vistas from every window. There are a few houses further along the loch & we are told a nice walk up the glen.

The climate appears mild & there is a grevillea in the almost Australian garden. It doesn’t show any of the effects of the severe frosts of November that we have seen elsewhere. The visitors book going back to 2000 shows that the house has been full of walkers who have done a lot of “Munroes” which are mountains over 3000 feet.

Dornie is mostly a single street. It has a bar, pub, coffee shop & a corner shop with post office. We walked with a young piper who was on his way to busk in the car park at Eilean Donan. We followed him up later & he had quite an audience even though the castle had closed.

Since 93 there is now quite a large visitor centre & coffee shop on the road & an underpass to Dornie (just a few hundred metres). There is no mobile coverage & I am writing this at breakfast to save time while Mum is sleeping in, as we have to buy Wi-Fi time at the coffee shop.

There is a craft fair at the castle so we will go there today. There is also a game of shinty & we will try to see that as we missed hurling in Ireland. Hurling was described as the ultimate in athleticism, speed & grace by a bloke in Ireland. The lady at the shop here said that if you were hit by the ball at shinty, it was at least 5 teeth gone. Don’t think we will go to the lessons advertised for Wednesday night!

Tonight there is a film night & seafood buffet at Plockton for only 7 pounds. All the comments in the visitor’s book rave about the seafood. You can gather mussels & catch fish in the loch (junction of 3 here). There are also a lot of sightings of otters, deer & dolphins, so we could be lucky.

We will also go to Glenelg. Clachan Duich church ruins will be worth a visit as it is the traditional McRae burial ground. While we think of it we will be arriving home a day later as we have decided to give our backs a rest & break the flight again in KL.

It is very still & you can catch the reflections of the mountains in the water. When you are here it is easier to appreciate the fuss & expectation of spring brings. The growth in foliage is so fast & the days seem to lengthen so quickly. Road signs are often obscured as the trees encroach over the roads. The workmen with their line trimmers & narrow mowers attached to Unimogs seem to be fighting a losing battle. It was still light at 10.45pm last night.

We are appreciating the quiet as the cousins in Rasharkin & Glasgow love a good “blather” but they all delightful. The scales in Glasgow weighed a stone lighter! The 96 year old cousin we visited in Penecuik lived in an aged care unit but only had 30 minutes home help a week & showered & got her own breakfast. We had to fit in with her busy social life. The quiet has just been disturbed by an airforce jet. We seem to remember that they roared up the glens last time.

I'm thinking Mumsy must have arrived for breakfast & Dad ran out of time to write more so sent this while he had Wi-Fi. So little time; so many places I want to go! Cant wait to see their tales in photographs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Irony & Lamb Shanks

I've had fairly interrupted sleep this week - Monday night I went to bed at 10.30pm & was woken by customers at 11.30pm (wanting to make a booking for tomorrow); 12.30am (uncertain as to whether she wanted someone or not) & 1.30am (I can no longer remember what this person wanted other than the fact that they could have waited until tomorrow). I was a little tired yesterday. Yes, I know all of you out there with kidlets are saying suck it up princess!

Last night I had a client call me at 12.30am undecided as to whether she could wait until tomorrow or not for the plumber & spent 5 minutes talking me through her showering routine. Seriously. None of which had any bearing on her actual plumbing issue.

Eventually I book her in for this morning & she leaves me all her contact details, including her mobile number, informing me that there would be no point calling before 8am, as she TURNS IT OFF WHILE SHE IS SLEEPING. I don't think she caught the irony of firstly arranging for me to call her between 7.00 & 7.30am to confirm her booking; nor the fact that I was wishing with all my heart that I too could leave my phone turned OFF WHILE I SLEEP!

Anyhoo. Last night for dinner, by request from Plumbing Boy, we had my aunties lamb shank recipe. My cuz & I went & visited her in country NSW in 2006 & she cooked the following recipe which was still written out on the original scrap of paper from that trip (I figured it was time I finally wordprocessed it).

She's got a bit of a thing for lamb shanks & has over 100 different recipes, but this is the one she cooked for us that trip & we've been making it every winter since. It's bloody delicious & very easy & I recon you should give it a crack.


4 Lamb Shanks
35 grams butter
2 tablespoons Oil
2 Onions Diced
2 tablespoons of plain flour
700ml Stock
500ml Port
2 Cloves Garlic
3 Juniper berries crushed
2 pieces Orange rind
Salt & Pepper
Bouquet Garni
180 grams prunes

# Brown shanks in butter & oil & set aside.

# Add Onions to butter/oil & season with salt & pepper, stir until soft.

# Add flour & stir for 1 minute.

# Add Stock, Port, Garlic, Juniper Berries & Orange Rind & bring to the boil.

# Add bouquet garni & return shanks to pan (or transfer the lot into a crock pot/slow cooker or oven proof dish).

# Cover & bake in oven @ 160 degrees for 3 hours or equivalent in crock pot/slow cooker.

# Stir in Prunes to warm at end (10 minutes before serving).

Last night I reduced the stock to 500mls as I like my gravy thicker than thinner & usually have to thicken it up a little & it was just perfect. We cooked ours for an extra 1 1/2 hrs, simply because we weren't ready to eat after 3 hours in the oven, although I did turn the temperature down to 150 deg C for that last bit. The Lamb was sooooo tender, just fell off the bone!

We had ours with mash & steamed broccoli & green beans. I bought myself one of those potato ricer sieve things & while the mash gets cold while you press it through & you have to reheat it, the mash is so smooth & creamy & yes you should be drooling by now! PB had first crack at using it on the weekend while I was visiting my sis & struggled with it. I need a couple more goes to work out which utensil is best to push it through the sieve & figure out how to best position it. I had it over a stainless steel bowl but it slipped about & was a pain in the arse. A flat surface would be best I think!

So. How do you make your mash AND what's your fave winter warmer din dins?

Monday, June 6, 2011


I got me a little countrified on the weekend. My sis has a bit of a farmlet & we spent Saturday morning doing jobs about the place. Scoopin' horse poop, spreading sand in a stable & stone dust on the outside track of the round yard; checking for eggs, petting the horses & ponies; playing with the cats & sorting smax the guinea pigs cage.

We were lucky that the rain held off while we pottered about outside; while it was cold we were warm while the sun was out, although it was quite breezy! We wandered into town for coffee just before lunch time @ Simon's waterfront were Plumbing Boy & I got hitched. They've finished off the beer garden which looks fabulous; but we sat inside & watched the waves roll in & some very brave surfers while sipping on our coffee. Simon & his wife were both working so had a quick chat before heading "up the street" to the shops.

My sis had a couple of birthday presents to get, then a bit of lunch, groceries, dvd store & before we knew it it was 3.30pm! We'd been out for dinner Friday night, so Tess & I were cooking a birthday dinner for my sis. By request, it ended up being chocolate self sauce pudding (1st request) preceded by pasta bake with meatballs. We prepared out meatballs & got the tomato sauce on then watched a DVD that I've now seen 3 times in the past 2 weeks. I really liked it. For those of you who have kids, or like movies about quirky little girls, then try Ramona & Beezus. Tess had been hanging out to see it & I didn't mind seeing it again. I'd actually made PB watch it 2 weekends ago. I hired it for me to watch while conquering a mountain of ironing then had hired something else for us to both watch together. The 2nd DVD was crap; so I put Ramona & Beezus back on. He wouldn't say he loved it, but he probably liked the movie as much as the Dad in the movie loved Picky Picky, the cat. Now I want to go & read the books!

Our dinner was as success although Tess got carried away & put birthday candles in everyone's desert. We played a couple of rounds of cards & everyone was in bed by 9.30pm! I had a huge sleep in - woke at 9.30am to the lawn mower! Pottered about with Sis & Tess then hit the road. It was really really windy on the way back to Melbourne - you could almost say there were tumbleweeds blowing everywhere! I spent a lot of time hoping that the gum branches were as flimsy as they looked & wouldn't damage my car!

I made it home before the storm hit; but really enjoyed the drive looking out over the country side at the hills & trees & cows & other livestock. I almost feel like I'd like to move back to the country. I felt so peaceful & calm away from the hustle & bustle of the city. I probably should have pulled over & just sat for a while, but I ended up on phone duty while PB went dirt bike riding which was spoiling my serenity. Ah the serenity. You can take the kid out of the country, but you cant take the country out of the kid. And amusingly enough, I've got a bit of a John Denver addiction going on right now. I love Rocky Mountain High. Love it. Sing along now!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


One of my younger staff members asked me yesterday if I like to watch the same sort of TV shows as Plumbing Boy. My response was, Um, sometimes. I steal the remote at 8.30pm; before that we watch stuff like the news, 7.30 report, current affairs/docco type shows. I like an hour of fantasy before bed, where I don't have to think & am (somewhat) entertained - takes my mind completely off work & serious stuff.

He laughed & said, "people ask me what my bosses are like, & I always say the guy boss, well, he's.... different. But you get used to him after a while. My Girl boss though, she's just like the rest of us, & just tries to fit into his world". I've been giggling about it on an off since then. What an interesting observation. I didn't think Plumbing Boy was that different; I suppose having dreadlocks down to his butt is a bit unusual; & he certainly has an interesting approach at times. You just never never know how people perceive you.

Despite being inspired by Humongous the last week, I've been pretty slack on the exercise front this week. I kinda broke my butt on Saturday morning. I was helping PB out on a job, but got there 45 minutes before him & had nothing I could actually do. I don't think it was the stop he made on the way that made him late, more the nattering he did at the stop(s) that held him up. It was cold so I decided to do some walking lunges to keep warm & get in a bit of exercise, as the longer he took, the less likely I was to make it to the gym later. MAN. the next 2 days, my glutes were on fire!!! My eating has been better though & alcohol consumption significantly reduced.

I've been cooking a bit "fancy" of late. Rather than meat n 3 veg or random wok stuff (whatever veg are in the fridge with chicken), I've been making things like potato gnocchi (from scratch), veal meatballs simmered in napoli sauce; last night we had pork cutlets with roasted pear & lemony garlicy, thymey greek style roasted spuds with steamed carrot batons & green beans. Last week I made fancy mashed potato's where you steam the spuds in their skins, then peel, then mash adding lashings of butter & some cream (PB ate most of that - mash is his fave!). I love cooking in winter! I also love all the salads you can make in summer, where meals are made quickly. But there is something more satisfying about lovingly tending your meals over a longer period of time. Soon I'll get into crock pot meals & slow baked casseroles.....YUM!

It is my sisters birthday tomorrow so I'm heading down to the country to help her celebrate. It will be the first time in forever that I don't have obligation to visit with anyone else at all. Mum & Dad are in Scotland; aunt & uncle are in London for another 18 months & Grandma, well she now resides elsewhere. In some aspects a bit sad, but it will be nice to just chill with my sis & niece & not feel like I should be seeing more people & doing more things! It's going to be as grand top of 13 deg C both Saturday & Sunday so I suspect we will be spending a bit of quality time on the couch in front of the fire watching movies!

I think we are going out for dinner Friday night when I get down there, then Tess & I will make a multiple course dinner including birthday cake (?) or at least candles on desert for Saturday night. Tess is really getting into cooking, so I like to get her in the kitchen making stuff whenever I can. We might take a drive along the coast for a bit: there is nothing more spectacular than a stormy Victorian coast line in winter! I think I'd better be packing my winter woollies that's for sure!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tales from Abroad 9 - the Irish Wrap Up.

Received the following from me ma & da this morning, who are still travelling. Bear in mind they are retired farmers & Dad works at the local vet clinic, so all you country folk should understand most of what Dad's written. If any of you city slickers need further explanation, I'll do my best! Irish Daughter - I hope nothing Dad has written is offensive - I'm interested in hearing your take on his observations of your home land - & please excuse any "local" spelling mistakes!.

Now. Grab yourself a cuppa & enjoy a little Irish countryside & hospitality!

Rasharkin, Northern Ireland

Hello Everyone

We are nearing the end of our time in Ireland. It has been an interesting time to be here. The Queen's visit has meant a lot more to the Irish than it might appear from the papers back home. Much more important than President Obama's visit. The people live up to their stereotype. Most are very friendly & quick with a witty phrase to cover every situation and some are shy and economical with words. A vet we met said that it was particularly difficult to extract symptoms from some Irish farmers and each county had different names for different conditions. A universal term of founder is applied to a multitude of conditions and a sick cow was said to be "lonesome" in Donegal. A mother was heard to call her shy son as "wild" quiet.

The country is much like all the photos & pictures we have all seen. The mountains are taller than we expected. Some parts are just like England with hedgerows, stone walls, stately homes with manicured gardens and castles. Derelict churches are left standing because of the cemeteries in the grounds. There is lots of evidence of previous civilisations. Iron age ring forts & burial tombs, Norman signal towers, earthen lookout mounds and old churches. The stone & render ages quickly & you are never sure how old the buildings are. You can buy a new thatched roof at a price. Even the smallest holding seems to have a stone entrance.

We rented a house in Killorglin for a week. It was very relaxing to slow down to the Irish pace of life & explore Kerry at leisure. It is as beautiful as they say. In Clare we stayed 2 nights on The Burren which is a protected wilderness area & sparsely populated. The ridge lines look a little like Broken Hill and parts like the Stoney Rises but it is mostly limestone. The valley floors are "turloughs" or dried lakes which fill after rain. We thought they were filling after rain but it was sheets of limestone shining in the sun. Sure enough after heavy rain there was water the next day. Farming is allowed under controlled conditions. They must winter the stock outdoors to control invasive weeds. The main problem for a farmer then was heavy snow when a cow might be blinded & lose her footing. The hostel owner used a Belgian Blue bull with no calving problems.

His brother owned the pub -one of the few other buildings in the village. It was full of Michael Cusack memorabilia. He was a local & the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association which controls football & hurling & provides a social centre for every Irish community. At one time it was quite political & it's involvement in the Queen's visit was almost like Sorry Day for the Irish. There were music lessons before the session in this pub. The small bar was full & served surprisingly good meals. There are a lot of pubs per capita & alcohol consumption is alarmingly high by published statistics. They seem very relaxed about drink driving & speed limits however we were assured driving in Ireland isn't nearly as exciting as it used to be. We visited the cliffs of Moher from here. We saw them but the wind & rain too fierce to take photograph.

In Galway we start to see Loughs large & small. Lough Corrib made Oughterard a prosperous fishing town until the 70's. The hostel owner then made a living as an eel fisherman until EU regulations protected eels. It was a garrison town and the locals experienced discrimination because they became English speakers. The "paddock" behind the hostel was the famine burial ground. The west of Galway has lots of exposed limestone and there are lots of peat bogs still being worked everywhere. It is sad to see empty houses, abandoned housing developments & pessimistic newspaper reports but all the people we have met are very philosophical. One bright note is the optimism for farming. Lamb & beef prices are at record levels. Milk prices are only around 27 euro cents a litre but they are optimistic & looking to expand. Many of the farm lads working in trades have come home so there is a push for efficiency & modernisation to accommodate them and an increased interest in agricultural education. There are minimum education standards required to be eligible for the EU farm support programs & avoid inheritance tax. Most of these are now directed toward environmental considerations rather than production. Farm advisers spend a lot of time interpreting EU policy & filling out grant applications.

Along the way we visit the Museum of Irish Life - part of the National Museum. Tourism is very important to the country & they do it very well. Every tourist site we visit we find out something new about the tragedy of the famine & the exodus of emigrants. About the Troubles and their relationship with the English. About the plantations (of people). There are a surprising number of protestant churches in the south and English people (for centuries) as well as EU people now. The further west & north we go, the more Irish is spoken & fewer English road signs. Part of the in car entertainment is listening to the satnav lady trying to pronounce the names of the towns.

Donegal is a the liveliest town we have seen. The larger cities might have been lively but we have tried to avoid them. We only had time to see the south of the county and we saw less exposed stone , more signs of forestry & again spectacular coastal scenery. It is only now that we experience any sign of sectarianism - photos of Bobby Sands on a pub wall & more political music. When we arrived in Rasharkin in Northern Ireland there were black flags flying on some of the lamp posts. They are commemorating hunger strike martyrs. The fountain in the garden at the agricultural college was dedicated to a student victim of the Omagh bombing. The new deputy mayor of Belfast refuses to speak to the new Sinn Fein Lord Mayor (25 year's old). AND there were 13 bomb alerts with at least one "viable" device on Friday. It is quite surreal as we have received the most wonderful hospitality from our cousins and everyone we have met. Everyone seems to know everyone. It is important in both the north & the south to know where you are from & that is the first question asked of both local & visitor. Although the weather has not been good we have been ferried back & forth between showers to see most of the scenic north coast. The Atlantic has been very rough but we see the occasional intrepid surfer.

We were able to visit an Agricultural college. The chap who showed us around spent most of his time educating farm advisers on this task especially on controlling nitrate runoff. Regulations were tightened this year & many farmers had to increase effluent storage to avoid applications over winter. The students staffed the 2 dairies & made nearly all the management decisions. Apart from November to March housing much the same as home. A new tool for declining fertility was 3 different bulls in 1 straw for problem cows. We visited a turkey farm yesterday. It was a breeding unit run by a young couple. There were a dozen rubber boots lined up against the wall. Enquiry revealed they belonged to the AI technicians. The breeding company milked the stags on farm & immediately inseminated the 3400 hens in a cage in the middle of the shed. We were too polite to ask for further details of the procedure. The laying is controlled by light. There are nesting boxes each side of the shed - 1 to 5 hens. About 5 times a day arms move and gently sweep the hens off the nest and push the eggs onto a conveyor belt. They are graded A or B on shape & shell quality & picked up 3 times a week to be sent to the incubating farms. The farmer relied on his farm consultant to deal with the company. The company is responsible for all the inputs & management decisions. The farmer is responsible for egg collection, shed management & daily husbandry. He said it beats milking cows. The birds are very placid & quiet but wary of strangers; therefore the same team of technicians do all the bird handling always in blue overalls. The silage season is in full swing everywhere we have been & some are on their second cut. We stopped in a reasonable sized town yesterday & watched a constant stream of tractors towing silage wagons & muck tankers passing through the square. It is common to see tractors towing large machinery on the motorways & they ignore other traffic on country roads.

You will have to wait for (Mum) to tell you about all the gardens & stately homes we have seen. Rhododendrons are everywhere & have become an environmental problem. We are almost castled out!

Next, Scotland & France.

Now I really really really want to visit Ireland!!!!!!!!!!!