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Death is part of keeping livestock.  There is a saying “if you have livestock, you will have deadstock”.  Being able to say that does not make it any easier!

When you raise animals be it pigs or sheep for meat, you know there will be a time when you have to ‘let go’, and they will head to the abattoir and come back as meat for the freezer.  That is part of the whole process.  You don’t become immune to it, but you know that while you cared for the animal it had a good and healthy life.

Sometimes you have to make extremely tough decisions.  It is impossible (well for us it is) to watch an animal suffer and know that despite all the medication/care you have given it, it is still in pain.  We’ve had to make that decision with our beloved Clarence… he was crippled with arthritis and nothing was easing the pain for him.

Clarence…. the start of our journey

Or then there was the time that it was Lucy’s time to go, and we had this horrendous experience.

However, when the death of an animal happens unexpectedly, it is gut wrenching.

This is what happened to us about a fortnight ago.  We had not left the property together since the start of the pandemic, but decided we’d go to a local garden centre for a trip to the outside world!  It was a glorious sunny afternoon.  Our two dogs were left outside.  However, we came home to a trail of feathers and 5 birds gone (3 hens and 2 roosters).  And, worst of all, it was one of my favourite roosters that was taken.

Barnaby was a kind old soul. He never really got to strut his stuff, as he was always second in command to Zack.  Barnaby therefore never developed the true rooster feathers…. just keeping his place, and making sure Zack didn’t feel threatened.  If Zack was on front lawn, Barnaby would hang out with his ladies on the back lawn…. always keeping out of Zack’s way.

When something like this happens, and we presume it was a fox attack, all sorts of emotions hit you.

The guilt : why did we both go out?  One of us should have stayed at home!

The anger : with yourself for leaving the place unattended; with the dogs!!!!  What the hell were they doing?

In the end though, you can blame no-one, life must go on, and as in life and the keeping of animals there is always a risk of something going wrong.

 

 

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Well here we are.  How many weeks into this ‘lockdown’/pandemic?  I’m not sure. Some days I even struggle to figure out what day of the week it is!

How are you doing?

I have to admit some days are better than others here.  There are days when I feel like I’ve no motivation, and could quite happily just sneak back to bed!!!

Then there are days when we get lots done.  So let’s concentrate on the positive, right?

The weather has been glorious since this all started, sunshine for the most part. April was actually warm. We got to dine al fresco quite a bit.  May has not been so warm…. dry but actually quite cold.

The pizza/clay oven has been completed…. eight years after the base was originally built!

clay/pizza oven

New clay oven being checked out as a possible nesting site!!!

My social distancing honesty table has put egg sales through the roof!  I cannot keep up with sales.  Some days there are no eggs for us.

This week we’ve started on a new evening seating area… will keep you posted on progress on that.

I’ve planted so many vegetables, a few outdoors, but mostly in the tunnel.  I’ve tons of vegetables waiting patiently in the polytunnel for the weather to warm up a bit, so I can get them outside.

Harvest 2020 has started with rhubarb and radishes.  It looks like we should have a huge crop of fruit this year, the trees and bushes are laden with fruit.

We are thankful for our very fully stocked freezers.  There is now space in them for the first time in many years, as we work our way through our stock.  There have been a few UFOs discovered… Unknown Freezer Objects!

I’ve been taking a photo or video a day to share especially with people who cannot get out into the countryside.

I’ve also been editing our YouTube channel which I set up, probably 10 years ago, loaded videos to and never did anything more.  So this too is a learning curve.

We’re also learning lots about Webex and Zoom.  There has been a family birthday party via Zoom, as well as a virtual dinner party with friends via Zoom.  Maybe Zoom will be the new ‘going out’?

Like so many other small businesses, we’ve had to rethink ways to make an income.  We’re not sure when/if the bed and breakfast business will ever return to a semblance of normality.  All bookings for this year (which looked like being extremely busy) have been cancelled, every single one!

And because people aren’t allow to travel beyond 5 km from home, or gather with strangers, our courses were hit hard too.  However, we decided we can at least see how they would work online.  I know, it does seem strange doing ‘free range pig-rearing’ on line.  It is working though.  We’ve our third group joining us next week. Over 2 sessions we cover all the theory, and because I’ve been working on the YouTube channel, I’ve unearthed videos of pigs to show everyone!

White soda and griddle bread made during online bread making class

We started the online bread making course last week, and so far, it seems folks like the idea of this class on a Sunday morning.  We can’t do the complete course on line, but we do share the recipes, and do two of the three breads over the course of an hour and a half.

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Within hours of posting my last post, our lives changed even further and now 2 weeks on, we’ve had big changes again!  We are in what is being called ‘lock down’ with travel restrictions and businesses having to close unless deemed essential.  If you can work from home you can, but if your job outside the home is not deemed ‘essential’, then you stay at home.

All schools are still closed, no visiting hospitals or nursing homes.  No travel further than 2 km from your home…. and allowed to do that only for light exercise.

‘Essential’ shops are still open.  Groceries stores can’t cope with the requests for home deliveries.

There is talk of even more restrictions coming in the next day or so.

A whole new language has developed around this Corona Virus.

Stay at home….. is the main phrase being used.  Families not being allowed to visit each other.  Grandparents and grandchildren being separated.  It is tough but it is for the good of all.

Cocooning…. anyone over 70 is being asked to stay indoors, other than to maybe go into the garden (if they have one).

Flattening the Curve…. they are trying to slow down the spread of the disease, hence all the measures that have been put in place.

Self-Isolation… as many people rushed to get back into the country/home from abroad, all are being asked to go into ‘self-isolation’ for a period of 14 days, the length of time it can take for symptoms to develop.

As I say live has changed utterly.

However, there are pluses to this.

We Irish can be very proud of how our politicians have taken the lead.  It is not easy.  And no matter what you may think of their politics, I think they are doing a wonderful job and deserve every praise we can give them.  This was our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on St. Patrick’s Day.

Also, the majority of Irish people are adhering to the requested restrictions to our lives.  Of course, there are the lunatics who still gather and have parties, but they will regret this.  In typical Irish fashion there has to be an upside… and instead of referring to the current situation as a ‘lock down’, we are referring to it as a ‘lock-in’.

For the uninitiated a ‘lock-in’ happens when you go to the pub, closing time arrives, but everyone is having such fun… the doors are locked with the people still inside partying, often in a back room, so that the front rooms have no lights on, and no-one knows you are in there!!!  It does sound a lot better doesn’t it?

We are keeping ourselves busy with outside jobs at the moment as the weather has been good.  If, and when, the weather changes there are plenty of indoor jobs to be tackled.

How has Corona Virus impacted on your life?

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Strange times indeed.

Since last Thursday (12th March) our country has changed.  The government announced measures to contain the now infamous #CoronaVirus by asking us all to restrict our movements.  Large gatherings were banned and sporting events cancelled.

At times it is almost unbelievable.  You look out at a beautiful Spring morning where the place looks so glorious, and yet there is so much sickness about.

Primroses

Primroses

We’ve all developed a whole new language with phrases like ‘social distancing’ in there at the top of the pile.

My poor aunt (in her 80s) found this particularly perplexing.  What are you supposed to do at a funeral, she asked?  Not sure she listened when I told her she will have to stop going to funerals!

By Sunday (15th) more changes were introduced.  There had been videos circulating of crazy people out partying in pubs on Saturday night, so the government once again had to intervene and insist the pubs close.  For the first time in the history of this little country there have been no St. Patrick Day parades.  However, that did not stop the fun.  Check these people having private parades!

We are lucky here.  We have freezers full of food.  Although it is that time of year when the garden has very few fresh vegetables, but we will manage.

The past weekend was spent dealing with guest cancellations.  When we had thought we would have a busy April and May, that is now all gone.  We still have a booking for June.  When/if this blows over will people start to travel again?  Who knows.

Five days into this new ‘normal’, where it has mostly been listening to the radio and watching news programmes.

I feel I am going to have to start putting more ‘structure’ on the days as this drags on.  We could be in this for quite a bit of time.  While I have been trying to put variety into the day… doing indoor jobs, baking, cleaning, nipping to the garden when the weather permits ….I still feel as if I am floundering a bit.  I think I need to find a specific project to tackle… just need to identify one!!!

For the time being stay safe and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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I cannot believe it is almost 2 months since we went on our little trip, and I’ve yet to share part 2 with you!!

I apologise.

Day 2 of our stay at Groomsport was wet.  It rained, and it rained well.  Thankfully we had done all the outdoor stuff the day before!

On the agenda for day 2 was the Titanic Centre.  Many guests who have stayed with us, and been to the Titanic Centre had described the experience. However, it was still not quite what I was expecting.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the visit, but I just had a completely different idea about it in my head.

Titanic Centre

Titanic Centre, Belfast

I had expected to see dusty old drawing rooms, which I did, but only on film.  Even though it was late November, the centre was really quite crowded.

If you do visit, make sure to go across the road and visit the Titanic’s sister ship, the Nomadic.  It is the last White Star Line ship still ‘alive’.

As the rain continued to pour down we decided we’d go visit Queen’s University.  I had heard it was beautiful, but had never been.  And, I must say, even on a terrible wet November day, it is a beautiful building.  We had a wander around, checked out their wonderful silver museum section, admired those who have been awarded honorary degrees… spotted Brian O’Driscoll in among them.

Queen’s University, Belfast

There was time for a quick tea/coffee stop at The Pocket… a quirky little coffee shop across the road from Queen’s.

Then it was time to head back to Groomsport to visit their local pub.

For our final day, I was all excited to be going to St. George’s Market.  It was another dreadful day weather-wise but our spirits were high with the thought of all the lovely food we were going to be able to indulge in.  We had invited Laura and Matt for dinner, so we headed off to the market with a vague idea that we would just buy lots of gorgeous food to share.

How disappointed we were!  The market was abuzz, but most of the food stalls were of the take-away variety.  Neither of us are great ‘walk around eating food’ people.  We are more the sit down, be served and chat type.

There were some nice non-food stalls, but overall we were disappointed.

As we were leaving we did come across a mostly-organic vegetable stall… so suddenly dinner became steaks with organic salad and potatoes.  Good, but not what we had planned!!

Despite the last minute change to the menu we had a wonderful evening with friends sharing food, drinking nice wine, and finishing off with some delicious local cheeses.

A nice way to end our wee break.

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For the first time in 5 years we had the chance to get away for a few days.  Besides doing bed and breakfast, it is the animals that are the greatest tie for us, most especially the dogs.  They are about us all day, every day, so if we go away we need to organise ‘company’ for them.

This year, friends, who had come into our lives as b and b guests, volunteered to come house-sit for us.  Other friends offered us a place to stay… so with a bit of juggling it finally all came together and we headed to Northern Ireland.  I thought I’d share with you how we planned (using that term very loosely) our days away.

We had three full days staying in Groomsport – a village located outside of Belfast. We were overlooking the beach.  Even in November this was wonderful!

Our view every morning

We had broad ideas of the things we’d like to do… me : Giant’s Causeway and Carrig a Rede Bridge; Alfie:  Bushmill’s and the Titanic Centre.

Our approach was this… we choose 3 things for each day, a mix of indoor and outdoor activities .. and then stay flexible as weather and time/daylight especially comes into play in November.

Our first day, Thursday, was bright and windy so we headed straight to the Giant’s Causeway.  We took the self-guided audio tour which is well worth it for the myths and legends that the guide was telling.  The views are spectacular.  It is quite a walk down to the Causeway.  Let me say, the columns are way way smaller than all those photos you’ve seen lead you to believe!

The columns are smaller than I expected!

We climbed to Finn McCool’s organ, and then even tackled the 162 Shepherd’s Steps.  Well worth the climb for the views.  I swear you could just about make out Scotland across the water.

Causeway View from Top

In total we spent about 2.5 hours at the Causeway.

As it started to spit rain we decided to head back into Bushmills about 2 miles away to visit the distillery.  This was where we got our first indication of the ‘currency’ charges.  Most visitor centres in Northern Ireland add an extra 30% onto the charge when you are using a ‘euro’ Visa card.  That was a shock!

We still did the tour, which is definitely worth doing (btw no photos allowed in there).  However, we didn’t buy any whiskey as weirdly we can buy it cheaper back at home!!!!

When we came out from tour, rain had stopped so a short drive over to Carrig A Rede bridge.  However, luck was not on our side.  As I say it was a bright and windy day… but the wind meant that the bridge was closed.  It was also at this point that we made the discovery that it gets darker earlier up North!  I know makes common sense, but hadn’t thought about it before we left.  There was at least half an hour in the difference!

While there was still a little bit of light left in the day we continued along the coastal route heading back towards Belfast.  Quite a spectacular route.

More details of our trip coming later.

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I am starting this blog post without any idea of whether I will be able to offer a solution.

Over this past summer, guests have recounted so many bad dealings with car rental companies here.  As the car rental company is generally the first point of contact for an incoming tourist, the fact that this proves to be a nightmare reflects badly on us all.

Here are just a sample of the issues.

US guests having booked ahead and believing that they have paid everything in advance, arrive and are being charged €3 – 5,000 on their credit card as an extra security.  Similarly, US guests booking with a credit card that includes Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), on arrival being told that the cover isn’t ‘specific enough’ and are charged again – often doubling the cost of rental.  Here’s an American article which goes into great detail as to which credit cards offer best coverage (9 Best Credit Cards for Car Rental Insurance Coverage [2019]).

Then there was the German guest who booked and paid for his 10 day car rental prior to travelling.  Then got into Dublin and the rental company refused to accept his ‘old style’ driving licence.  It was valid and in date, but it was just the ‘old style’.  This guest ended up walking away from the pre-paid rental and forking out a substantial amount to another rental company that would accept his old style licence.

As I said at the start I’m not sure I can even offer a solution to all this mess.

From what research I’ve done, here is what I’ve discovered.

  • Often it is cheaper to hire a car away from the airport… even just travelling from Dublin Airport to Swords (4 miles away) can reduce your rental costs! (A taxi driver told me that it is a €10 journey from Airport to Swords).
  • If you are searching for a car rental company from outside Ireland…. it can often be cheaper to go for a .ie website rather than .com
  • With regard to the CDW issue, I have found that you can buy an annual policy for c. €60.00.  Now I don’t know if all car rental companies will accept such a policy, but it is perhaps worth asking them.

Of course, one of the biggest hurdles with all of the above, is that it is virtually impossible to speak to a ‘human’ when renting a car.

To me, the simple solution with regard to the CDW being included by your credit card company would seem that the car rental companies and credit card companies should perhaps ‘talk’ to each other and clarify the matter.  Or is that just too simplistic a resolution!!!

One solution, that I can offer, when we were travelling a number of years back and needed to hire a car, we too had a nightmare experience as we don’t use a credit card.  Car rental companies won’t accept debit cards!  We eventually found a company called Indigo based in the UK.  They now have an Irish office.  They organised our car for us, with one of the rental companies who had refused us when we approached them.  AND, the rate we were charged on our debit card, was lower than that quoted to us directly by the rental firm.  AND, we actually got to speak to a human to arrange our car hire.  Give them a call if you are travelling … they may be able to assist you.

I have spoken to Failte Ireland (our national Tourism Board) about this whole debacle.  I’m not sure what, if any, influence they can exert over rental companies.

Would love to hear if others have had negative experiences with car rental companies?  Or perhaps someone else has a solution?

 

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How have you all been?  Has your summer been good?

We’ve had a crazy busy time here in Redwood. In May, and even into June, I was convinced that we would have a very quiet bed and breakfast season.  BUT suddenly it all kicked off, bookings came rushing in.  And while it was all a bit manic for a time, we are extremely grateful to all who came and stayed.

It was fun to meet so many wonderful people.

Our guests came from all corners of the world.  This year we had our first guests from Norway, Romania and Finland.  We love hearing about the home lives of folks, and why they make the decision to come to Ireland.

Earlier in the year we had been contemplating renovating an old farmhand cottage, but in the end decided that that there was too much red tape and expenditure.  Instead we’ve converted what used to be my ‘study’ and is now what we refer to as the Library Room.  This has been the most popular room of this season.  It also means that we can now accommodate six people at once.

The Library Room

We’ve had some ‘hairy’ and some funny moments over the past few months.

  • Lots of guests had to be roped into sheepherding duties. We’ve the two greatest escape artists ever this year, no matter which field we put them in they find a way out.  We do our best to provide an ‘authentic’ experience!
  • There were the guests who requested an early book in… then never showed up at all ….. not a happy camper that day.
  • Then guests who arrived with their cocker spaniel … without warning us! Thankfully, I was outside on their arrival and was able to (almost) roar at them to put dog on lead before he spotted the hens!
  • The guests who did so much shopping on their trip, they needed an extra suitcase… we were able to donate a suitcase to the cause!  Did you know charity shops won’t take suitcases???
  • Lots of guests have given us unexpected gifts…. homegrown chillies from their garden in Canada, a beautiful plate from Cincinnati, wine, maple syrup… I reckon they know us well even before they arrive!
  • I got quite a few opportunities to practice my French.
  • We had our first ‘kosher’ guests… we like challenges.
  • We had many boys and girls who were willing to throw sticks endlessly and tire Ross out… can they come back soon, please, he needs more running about??
  • We had the guest who asked if there were sheets on the bed???
  • And the one who brought his own toilet paper???

As the season slows down, we still have bookings between now and Christmas, and even have had a booking for next year (from a guest that stayed this year)!

Fingers and toes crossed for a good 2020.

Maybe you might decide to come stay in 2020?

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We had an interesting conversation recently with BnB guests.

Our guests were travelling for business which they do a lot to the more rural parts of Ireland.  This means that they stay in many Bed and Breakfast establishments, as hotels are often not an option.

The highlight of their stay here…. cotton sheets, real coffee and wild flowers in the bedrooms!

They told us that normally they get poly sheets and instant coffee!  This, of course, makes me think that the tea would probably be TEA BAGS!!!!!

Good grief… what is happening out there?

We don’t get away too often, but seriously, this just brought me back to 1980’s B&Bs.

We’ve never joined any of the B&B associations, or gone for any accolades.  Since starting this journey we’ve just gone with our own instinct and how we’d like to be treated.  Sometimes, of course, it does mean a lot of work.  I know not everyone is into ironing sheets (and towels), but I LOVE freshly ironed sheets on my bed, so why wouldn’t a guest like that?  Ironing sheets also gives me an excuse to indulge in my guilty pleasure…… watching quiz shows/cookery programmes on TV.

Another guest also commented recently that our orange juice was the best.  Guys, I just squeeze fresh oranges… not difficult at all.

What has been your best, or indeed, worst B&B experience?  Or is there something that you would love to see Bed & Breakfasts provide?

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