Monday 26 November 2018

Cull-a-Cock Curry

Some lovely sunsets. This taken by a friend on the Facebook
"Ballaghaderreen" account yesterday and used with permission.
Rather pleasingly our 2018 which started out with that long, cold wet Spring where no grass grew and we were all feeding our livestock with hay and supplements, has now given us a lovely Autumn. You will recall we also had that humdinger of a heat wave in May/June so it has been a bit of a weird year for the weather.

Full moon - pic blagged off Internet
So the last few weeks have featured no wind, clear skies (lovely and blue by day, big bright moons at night including the 'Beaver Moon' full moon on 24th this month), some light frosts and minor freezing of the big pond. More importantly there has been no rain so we are nice and dry and mud-less. A lot of the beef animals are still outside on the grass, to the delight of the local beef-men. Indoor housing means more work and more slurry to spread from the tanks under "slatted houses". After their tricky Spring, that will come as a lovely relief.

Blue sky, green grass, white geese and a
rather black-ice frozen pond.
For us,with our sheep, it is already the 26th Nov, less than a month to Christmas and Elizabeth is only today having to buy the extras for the ladies; a bucket of their 'salt lick' mineral with molasses and a bag of their "crunch" (mixed grains, again with molasses). These give them plenty of energy, minerals and trace elements to keep their bones, feet and guts healthy as the grass starts to be exhausted. It is especially important if they are pregnant but Friends of the Blog will know that we are not 'doing' lambs this Winter, so that, at least is not a concern.

Frozen pond. Good news for Brer Fox, bad news for ducks.
The cold, dry sunshine has also been a good opportunity for the 'staff' to polish off a few jobs out of doors (we could have made good use of a couple of last Help-X-ers after all!). The Woman of the House decided to tackle the privet hedge out front.

Elizabeth goes 2 feet back into the hedge prior to taking the
top out of it down to about her shoulder height. The daffs in the
verge will love it and we will be able to see out as we nose the
car into the laneway.
This hedge had grown thick (4'?) and tall (8'?) and since we had been here it had only been shaped/trimmed by any passing Council contractors we could flag down and then picked at by us around the gateway 'splay' when we couldn't see to poke the car's nose out of the driveway. Elizabeth decided to "go for it" carving 2-3 feet back into the  front of it, exposing an old cutting-level at about her shoulder height. She will then cut it off at that height - we will be able to see into the windows of passing cars.

The downside of this, of course, is the MOUNTAIN of prunings that have to be coped with, gathered from the verge and disposed of but this is not, in fact a big problem. Just beyond where the lady is standing in the picture is another gateway - that through to our "Primrose Path". Nip in there and on your right is a cleared patch of ground under the trees (scene of much nettle pulling by Help-X-ers (and myself) this Summer). From here the prunings (after the leaves have fallen) can be tossed over the sheep fence and easily dragged across to the fire-pile ready for Bonfire Night (23rd June in Ireland).

Latest 'time-suck' for the heart patient, Mahjongg (solitaire)
Of course, I am chatting away here describing all this hard work as if I am involved. I can only sit and watch, longing to be fit enough again to help, lobbing in the odd "helpful" suggestion (Sorry, Boss!) and killing time with Mahjongg, Card Patience or some such. This is all Elizabeth's doing at the moment and I am extremely grateful. The daffs in the verge will definitely enjoy the extra light and people (including us, of course) will be able to see over the hedge even from normal-height saloon cars. I was holding off the job while we thought about buying a proper power-tool but Mrs C did this with normal secateurs and loppers. Fair play.

Sometimes just a tomato soup and tea
will do.
The frost and ice have unfortunately brought Brer Fox back out scenting around for sources of food other than the mice which are presumably now retreating under ground. We had our first strike since 3rd Sept. It was broad daylight (they all are!) and I was home alone but wide awake. The Guinea Fowl kicked off and I let the dogs out. They went fast a furious making that bee-line for the hole in the hedge through to the 5-acre field, that tells us that this is probably no false alarm. They were gone a good 20 minutes, so presumably chased the scent a good distance. I went to check the birds and found, sadly, only 5 ducks. A female (inevitably) was missing. Why can't they take the drakes?

I guess that the ducks, which have been used to racing out to the middle of the pond for safety whenever Brer Fox's nose appears through the hedge, were snookered this time by the pond-ice and may have been confused and indecisive, long enough, for the fox to nip in and snatch one. Ah well. Down side of full free range. I read subsequently that mine was not the only "first-in-a-long-while" fox strike that day. An Internet friend who small-holders in Derbyshire had a strike and our friends Sue and Rob over by Ballenagare had a turkey-stag taken. It's that time of year.

Processing the roosters
And talking time of year, as we run into Christmas, all those Spring-hatch baby chickens we were enjoying are now reaching the 21 week stage, which is 'Point of Lay' if you are a female, but time to issue those first Cock-a-doodle-doo calls and start bothering the hens if you are a 'bloke'. We hatched about 30 babies this year so the Law of Averages says we are looking at 15 probably roosters - way too many! These guys need culling out, or you end up with cock-fights and the hens getting too harassed. I watched one poor hen get 'trodden' by 3 roos in quick succession. She did not get up off the ground after #3 for a good 5 minutes, till #4 grabbed the back of her neck and tried to climb on. It's not pretty and is horrible to see done to your gentle, lovely ladies.

We chose 4 likely 'roo's and offed them on Thursday. It seems a shame - they are gorgeous birds, bright of eye, clean of leg and beautifully feathered, with their gold flecking flashing in the sun and their black tails glowing iridescent green (think magpie or head of mallard duck). They have had a good, free-range life and theirs was a quick, stress-free, painless respectful end. They are delicious and still tender - only 6 months old, so no need to go down the slow-cooker, coq-au-vin or "cull-a-cock-curry" routes; normal cooking is fine.

We are always a bit sad by how "scrawny" these big magnificent roosters turn out when plucked - you are pulling a good 2" deep 'pile' of feathers off legs, breast and cape and these are only range-y young adolescents of 'multi-purpose' breeding. (Dung heap specials, basically!)  We are more used to the 'designer' 'Hubbard' meat birds which will go 4 kg carcasses even at 120 days age but our source of Hubbards dried up a couple of years ago, so we are now more than happy with these 2 kg 'babies'.

That, I suspect, is enough for this post. Look after yourselves, till next time.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

A Face in the Shadows?

The picture in question
An amusing story of accidental art..... or maybe NOT accidental? There hangs on our bedroom wall a perfectly good picture; a framed poster sized depiction of French café society. It is in the 'Impressionistic' style, so all dabs of colour suggesting people, parasols, advertising hoardings and so on but lacking any fine detail. We are both Francophiles and we love these pictures and objects that evoke France and especially café society, so we have a few knocking about the house.

This shows all the café elements crowding the paving in front of a row of cafés in a tree lined avenue; people sit with drinks or food, waiters in black waistcoats squeeze between tables taking orders or delivering trays of food. A fiddle player and an accordionist stand in the road, presumably serenading the customers. Two big white flat-cone parasols shade a group of customers and the mature trees cast a flecky shade on the buildings. I imagine that possibly this is the Bois de Boulogne or some leafy part of Paris but I also think that the picture is generic and modern, rather than a classic artwork. I can see no signature and a brief hunt around in Pinterest and on Wiki has not shown our picture up as a famous Monet, Manet or Renoir. I am happy to be corrected on that - my knowledge of the history of art is very sketchy.

Can you see the face?
But why is this of interest? Well the picture hangs on the wall directly facing you if you sit up in our bed, leaning on the headboard and gazing forwards across the 15 feet or so of bedroom as I, with lots of time on my hands at the moment, have frequently done. When I go to bed or for a nap, I have to spend a half hour or so upright while my lungs clear and calm down BEFORE I can lie down, otherwise I just start that ticklish cough and can never get to sleep. Not a major problem but I do get to spend hours looking at that wall and therefore that picture.

Get too close and the 'face' dissolves back into a mess of leaves
and white wall.
I was thinking I was 'losing it' and seeing things when I spotted, one day, a face at the top of the picture in a white patch. To me it looked like a perfectly good, handsome young man's face reminiscent of the classic Michelangelo stature of David, his head tilted slightly forward and his gaze down at the two musicians. Go up close to the picture and the face un-resolves into leaves, shadows and the white wall, but back at 15 feet away I could not 'un-see' it.

First frozen windscreen of 2018/9 winter
It took me a while to decide to ask Elizabeth had she seen it (she has enough worries about my health without thinking her husband is going gaga!), but when I sat her down on the bed and asked she was straight in there with "Oh yes! The face! That's why we have the picture!" It came from Mum-in-Law by all accounts and she'd spotted that face shortly after losing Theo. She had thought it looked a bit like him and had been a bit spooked by it as a result; no longer comfortable with the thing on her own house wall.

Back in the duck egg game. I think these are being laid by
Mumma-duck back on line, but it is possible that one of the
female 'babies' has now reached point of lay. White duck egg
is on right.
To me, it is such a clear face that I got to wondering whether hiding faces in your picture might be a thing. Do we just have a coincidence here or is it deliberate? Hence the Wiki searches, but I can find no word on this, so I will have to leave that to the art experts.

Almost complete restored chair. Just needs a
bit more waxing on the woodwork
Enough on shady faces, though.... what else have we been up to? The Woman of the House has come (regretfully) to the end of her run of evening classes on furniture restoration. She has thoroughly enjoyed these, as did many of her fellow 'students', so she is trying to set up some more classes for around Easter. Regular readers will recall a small bedside chest of drawers which was the first 'victim' of these labours, but the biggest share of the classes have involved the restoration of a much loved (by me) easy chair.

This piece needed all manner of work, so has been an excellent subject for applying the new skills and techniques. All the soft furnishings, webbing and detail had to be carefully removed (noting carefully how they were so that she could rebuild it!). The frame was also starting to sag backwards so that the legs were no longer vertical and the sides were going diamond shaped; that needed straightening and glue-ing.

30+ years of old varnish and dirt had to be stripped and sanded away from the wood so that it could be built back up with our home-grown beeswax polish. The cushion covers were dumped and new ones made using the sewing machine here. The back padding was completely rebuilt as new and I can vouch for its comfort and support. As the classes ended, the chair has now come home, though it still needs more polishing but it is superb and Elizabeth is (and should be) very proud of it. No pressure 'boss' for the 2nd chair - this one's partner!

Hey Dad! Sun's going down. Surely supper
Meanwhile the weather has turned bitingly cold and there was a first frozen windscreen for us this morning. One of the ducks has started into lay - we suspect this is Mumma-duck now done with her child rearing responsibilities for 2018 and come back on line. Sorry if these posts have gone a bit 'sporadic'. Enough for this one.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Gallows Humour...(If I'm Spared)

There were some lovely poppy pictures among the blizzard of
Armistice Day posts on Social Media. This is not my pic,
just one I blagged off the Internet.
A return to blogging, of sorts, though I'd ask you to indulge me in one more where I wax philosophical and slide in a  bit more navel-gazing. All triggered by the combination of my life-threatening episode and then (now) having too much time on my hands to sit and think, plus a bit of Armistice Day and all that talk of death and surviving. It is natural to have that stuff at the front of your thoughts and then we listened to one of Elizabeth's 'History of Rome' podcasts with the title "Chickens Coming Home to Roost" and, Bingo! I had a framework on which to hang all my random thoughts.

Love some of the pictures that Windows uses on log in screens.
When you are young and vigorous.... indeed, right up to your 61st Birthday in my case, you assume you are bullet proof. Well, I did, anyway; perhaps I should speak for myself, not go generalising. You assume you will outlive all those people older than your self, the next generation upwards and all who are obviously, visibly less healthy - more over-weight or heavy smokers and drinkers. You only half listen to news reports of the bed crisis in the Health Service, people sleeping on gurneys in hospital corridors, long waiting lists. Those things affect OTHER people. Cross those bridges when you come to them.

Larch down by the main gate. It's deciduous
but only does this thin yellow for Autumn
When I was working in the UK as a 'baby' Manager, the firm (Exel) launched a campaign to try to control the level of absence among 'the lads' (the warehouse order-assemblers, or "pickers"). Some may have heard of it; it was called "Bradford points". You racked up points for the number of sick/absence episodes times the number of actual days taken and certain levels of score started you on the disciplinary trail - counselling, verbal and written warnings, through to eventual dismissal.

Oak leaves.
Some of my colleagues went a bit wild with this, using it as a tool to "get" at the lads they saw as lazy or shirkers and it quickly gained a bad reputation.

Our new patch of forestry to the north of us, down in the bog
I may have been a bit smug - I had the best attendance record on the site; just 3 or 4 days sick in 20+ years - but I like to think (I hope!) I was a bit more compassionate and gentle with the stats than that. I disciplined very few and sacked none. Now, of course, with the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I would have been out on my ear if they'd applied Bradford to this 2018 episode - 2 weeks in hospital and now 16 weeks unable to work! I am glad my conscience is clear on that one.

Geese near the front drive.
We are both amused to by the 'gallows humour' around some of the conversations we inevitably have on the subject. My big yellow hi-viz coat is definitely past its sell by date, a bit tatty and threadbare in places. We both wax a bit pragmatic when it comes to spending money on these things till we get me through the heart-operation and we both remember our belovéd friend Diane (known to this blog as 'Diamond' early on).

Beech lit by the evening sun.
When she was well on with the cancer, struggling through the chemo and bone marrow transplants and so on, she managed to stay, mostly, quite happy and chirpy. We'd be chatting away about what we might do 'in a while' or after Christmas or even into the next year and she'd suddenly drop into the conversation with a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile, ".....if I'm spared, of course". She was half-joking, of course, not trying to shock us. She was enjoying the chance to say such a semi-dramatic thing for real.

Rooster pot-au-feu under construction. 
But what else is new? The cooking has taken on a bit of a French theme with a couple of house favourites appearing in the authentic style as learned by the Woman of the House while in Toulouse s a young 'au-pair'. One is pot-au-feu. I did this to our latest rooster. It is basically a one-pot casserole of the bird and big chunks of veg but when you serve it, the dish comes out as 3 courses. You start with a bowl of the broth or soup. Only then do you dig out some vegetables and then, finally some of the meat which has had 3+hours slow cooking and falls off the bones; no need to carve.

Horse Chestnut sticky-bud. Excellent source of "propolis" for
the hive bees.
The other dish is 'boulangère', in this case lamb, but you can do it with any meat. This is another 'peasant' dish from poverty stricken rural France. The idea would be that in the village, very few folk could afford to light an oven every day, but the local baker (boulangère) would have had his oven going every day for the daily bread, so the local ladies would assemble that day's lunch (including spuds) in a one-pot casserole and trot along to the baker for him to stick it in his oven while it cooked. I guess they handed over a few centimes for the use of his heat.

That 'hen in question' has developed int a fine rooster. Bad move.
Evenings are drawing in now and I have had to bring my poultry supper and bed times forward another quarter hour so that everybody is locked up safe before it gets dark. Everybody gets fed now at 16:15 and they are locked away at 17:00. Touch wood we have not actually seen the fox since 3rd September but we just know he/she will be back as soon as it gets frosty.

Finally we had a bit of a disappointment (but no damage done). Regular readers will recall our enjoyment of one of our best ever Help-X volunteers, Laura who mowed the place to within an inch of its life when she was here in May. She was delightful and were sorry to see her go.We told her she'd be welcome back any time, working or just resting. Well, last week we got an e-mail from her saying she was still "out there" Help-X-ing  but had a problem with a booking in Portugal and asking might she swing by here for a week. Of course, we said and started preparing for her arrival. But then she found a farm in the south of France, much closer to her home and didn't need us after all. Ah well.

Another 'not mine' pic, blagged off the Internet.
That is pretty much it for this one. Good Luck, now.

Thursday 8 November 2018

War Room

Another not-really-a-post for now (sorry, no pictures) but I thought my family-followers might welcome a health/medical update and a few random jottings. If you have come on here looking for smallholder adventures, then I am sorry to disappoint you again. That version of Deefer-Dawg may well be back but for now she is still on holidays.

We have been in for two out-patients 'follow-up' visits this week, so I have some medical updates though, sadly, not yet that 'first prize' of a date for the heart surgery up in Dublin. That is the 'big one', the one that I hope will finally sort this breathlessness, fluid accumulation and congestive, ticklish cough and allow me to finally bounce back to full health and ability to do useful work round here. Meanwhile, I am still so short of breath that a walk down to the front gate to check the egg honesty box has me pausing at the lane to get my breath back. I can just about do the livestock rounds morning and evening (feed poultry, let them in/out) and I am OK getting coal and kindling from the carport in the fire bucket and getting the home fire(s) burning. That, though, is about the limit. Pathetic and frustrating.

So.... these out-patient appointments, then, one with the main 'heart' guy, the other with the respiratory lady. Regular readers may recall that previous visits in August involved the TOE (Trans-oesophageal echo-cardiogram) tube down the throat job which, in my case, necessitated a total knock-out sedative. That gave the docs the best ever pictures of the state of my heart damage including one important change.

Up to then 'we' had been talking about a replacement Mitral valve, either mechanical or pig spare-part. This is now no longer thought to be the case because my damage is a tear in one of the 'cusps' of the valve and can be fixed (they tell me) by sewing the tear, make do-and-mend style. The doctor here is, I know, in contact with the surgical team at St James's Hospital in Dublin (they don't do the surgery out West here, only the stents etc) so we are all just waiting on a date. Weeks? Months, After Christmas? Watch this space for updates.

The respiratory team, you may recall, had me in the 'Tardis' booth for some breathing tests (50% normal volume, if I remember right, and 63% flow)  but also gave me a sleep monitor pack for the one night, checking for sleep apnoea, snoring and other breathing problems. I saw a more junior member of the team this time but I noticed that there were some comments written on the notes by boss-lady. I may not have mentioned in here that the night chosen for the sleep-pack was not a good one for the coughing - there is a bit of a pattern here where too much walking around hospital corridors seems to stir up the congestive fluids and ensures I have a bad night.

I'd had to hand back the sleep-pack with a little hand written note in it explaining to the technician that she should ignore the 10 pm to 2 am period as the data would be rubbish;just go with the 2 am to 8 am bit where I slept like a log. They obviously didn't need this as their print outs show in great detail where I was asleep, with every breath a little stroke of the 'pen', and they can even tell whether I was sleeping on my left or right side, my back or my front.

In those 6 hours, apparently, I did not snore and nor did I have any full, stop-breathing, apnoea episodes but I did have a couple of what they call "sub-apnoea events", where your breathing slows right down but does not quite stop. However, when we discussed these and the coughing all agreed that it was not worth trying to 'cure' them while my heart valve is still leaking. Much more sensible to sort the valve, stop the back-pressure and congestion, get me into a steady state (I do pray that that means OFF the liquid intake restrictions and the diuretics!) and then look at it all again from the sleep-pack stage. Then we will know whether we still have a problem and can address that.

So we shook hands and said our good byes and promised to meet up again in 4 months which we all hope will be AFTER the heart op. We were half way down the corridor to the exit and suddenly heard our names being called - a nurse had been sent to chase us with one last easy option. My sub apnoea events, apparently, all show up when I am sleeping on my left side, so if I can sleep propped the other way (there are long-ways pillows, apparently) it might improve my sleeping comfort and be a "quick fix". I am happy to give it a try (I did last night) but my sleeping style seems to involve a lot of tossing and turning and I wake up every which way.

Finally, the non-medical news. The calendar eventually clicked round to the much heralded and eagerly awaited US mid-terms. Elizabeth, in particular LOVES her US politics and had been main-lining podcasts on the various 'races' House, Senate, State Governors and so on. That night was always going to be an all night vigil for her. She sets herself up a little "War Room" in the sitting room with the open fire lit, with a supply of blankets for her feet and the sofa equipped with lap-top and the i-phone, chocolate 'Mikado' biscuits and fancy crisps, plus tea on tap.

This is a US election and count, so she also had a little plan of the time lines for GMT (our local time, obviously) but also the "Eastern Time" equivalents in which the live feeds and pod casters tend to report. Polls close for some states at 7 pm (ET) which is midnight here, for example. Most states had closed by 23:00 (ET) which is 04:00 GMT. Hawaii and Alaska come along at 05:00 GMT but by then enough 'mainland' stuff has happened that our all-nighter has a clear picture of 'how it went', so she leaves me a little summary in case any interested parties should  call and goes off to catch up on some sleep with a request to be awoken with tea at midday. History will show that the Democrats took back the house and gained some good Governorships, plus got back one Nancy Pelosi as Leader of the House, but lost ground in the Senate.

And there you have it till next time.

Sunday 4 November 2018


I couldn't quite stay away. In particular, I couldn't let a major milestone like our 25th Wedding Anniversary slip by without a mention. 3rd November 2018, High Noon, as Elizabeth loves to point out.

Plan A had been to take the weekend off in Westport at a nice hotel, nice restaurant. We had Charlotte of the Mini Horses* lined up with time taken off work to cover the farm baby-sitting. Then I got sick and the hospital visit  and op were looming over us, threatening to scupper any plans we might have involving hotel bookings plus I'm on restricted fluid intake so I'd have been the one ordering quarter pints of Guinness!

We decided to rein it all in, stand Charlotte down and re-schedule a 25.5th  or 26th Anniversary when we are over this hump and we know where we are. Plan B was to be a home version of the fine dining, some wine and with the place set up as much like a hotel environment as we could manage - house gleaming like a spotless new pin., best table linen and fancy candlesticks, best china (I'm pretty sure the china is also 25 years old - it was surely a wedding present).

Near neighbour and local florist supplied these gorgeous
It was a miserable, wet, cold day, so we also had fires going at both ends of the house and a goodly stack of logs on hand. I was set up to "cheat" a bit surreptitiously on the fluid volumes - saving myself (almost) enough cc on the water bottle that I could join Mrs C in 2 glasses of the fizz, a glass of the posh Beaujolais and a 'tint' of Teelings whiskey with the cheese.

The menu was as follows......

Salmon Fish Cakes with salsa of tomato and cucumber.
Steak with roast-on-the-vine cherry toms and duxelle (mushrooms)
Pear and chocolate tart
Cashel Blue cheese with slices of pear and water biscuits

'Fizz' - McGuigan's (Oz) frizzante
'Fleurie' Beaujolais from Francois Dubessy
Teelings whiskey

Nom Nommetty Nom!

Ooops. Looks a bit black in the pic but trust me, that's
just the mushrooms (Duxelle). Steak was deliciously rare
It all added up to a superb, splendid day and evening and, for me, a lovely relaxing spoil. The Lady of the House, of course, was on duty for which I am so, so grateful, swapping between accessorising her floaty dress and pearls with a champagne coloured shawl and the kitchen apron, one minute 'Domestic Goddess', the next 'Domestic Help'.

Pear and chocolate tart to the right..
The steak had come from our good friends and local butchers, Ignatius (and Joe) Gannon down in Castlerea, who "deal with" our lambs when required. Joe had thrown a couple of burgers into the bag for good luck and both congratulated us on the 25 years.

When you can't have many cc of liquid in
the day, might as well make them count.
After a suitable rest (a 'trou Normande'?) to let the pear and chocolate tart settle (I love that combination of flavours) we segued into the Cashel Blue cheese and with that cleared away, we played a couple of games of Quixx (one to me, one drawn) and adjourned into the Sitting Room for a nice long evening of reading and total rest congratulating ourselves on a Celebration well planned and excellently executed.

We also thoroughly appreciated the blizzard of congratulations and good wishes that come to us via Facebook and Twitter whenever we have one of these family type things to 'announce', so if you are an FB-er or a Twitterer and happen to be reading this too, then thank you very very much if you supported us that way. Plenty of jokes about the "next 25 years" too of course - I'd be 86, which is quite do-able if I can get through the current hiatus. Who knows what the future holds. 

Ah well, just a couple of unrelated pics to use up. The 'pie' is my Turkey-Shepherd's pie. 

The picture of Deefer is one Elizabeth took of her asleep on my lap last night. Have a good weekend, all.

* Charlotte of the Mini Horses has pretty much handed the horses (Romeo, Bob and Cody) back to Mum and has branched out into 6 (at the last count) goats. Good luck with those, Char' !