Monday, April 30, 2012

Thursday and Friday 4-12/13

Guests started arriving at Burtown early thursday morning while the two farm workers were still working in the patio and the outdoor bathroom. One groups of James friends that were travelling from London had told him they expected more and left without having tea or coffee or walking around the gardens much at all. I was set out to guide people around the gardens and answer as many questions as I could while handing out maps and information on Burtowns history. A few people asked where I was visiting from and decided they were better off on thier own once they new I was a hick American. By eleven I was tired of answering questions about the family and the age of the garden which I knew little about, So I went to work weeding instead. I was still feeling a bit sick from the last weekend and did not get much sleep because the kids were up most of the night running around and yelling so I did not want to be very sociable. Clara joined me in pulliing up a large section of celondine until luch with Lesley. We had a delicious meal of fish pie and potatoes with Lesleys mother, Wendy Walsh who is a very well know botanical artist and was the main atraction of the Burtown House and Gardens. We stayed longer than usual for lunch talking with Lesley about Wendy's life and career which was very interesting and made m wonder how well known she might be back home given the amount of horticulturists and garden enthusiests that wer stopping by to see her and her house. After lunch I moved onto planting a new row of peas and beans between the remaining rows of kale and brocolli. Lesley had insisted that each ridge be planted with two rows and that the plants be staggared six inches apart exactly. She told me how they would normally plant everything in seperate pots and start them in the greenhouse so when they get transplanted in the rows everything could be placed in perfect lines. when they were planted directly sometimes they would come up crooked and out of line and had to be moved. she gave me a six inch measuring stick to space out each seed as I planted and said to mae sure the were positioned upright so they would grow straight. This was the most time Ive ever spent on planting two rows of beans and peas, but If it looks that much better then maybe its worthwhile. I then took a while to go around the two greenhouses and the garden to list eveything that has come up and count the numbers of plants for each crop. I took the rest of the day to germinate some more seeds of mostly everything since th Fennels had now decided they wanted to sell organic vegetables from the garden at the cafe. That evening I talked with James about what it would take for them to become organically certified, only to find out they simply could not because of the sprays they use elsewhere on the farm andhaving used so little organic seeds or compost. Even the manure they added to every garden was not acceptable because it was too fresh and needed much more time to decompose. James suggested they buy a fe different organic vegetable from a certified grower nearby and mix in theyer own so the customers might not realize the difference. I disagreed. I thought they should focus on thier own food production formost and aim to get organically certified in a few years. If they have excess vegetables they could be sold without the organic label, but with the aspect that thy had a goal for organic production which might entise the customers the same way. That night, Natasha, Kirsten, and I shared some wine and watched a film by the fire which definately settled some nerves. There was a group of artists coming by in the morning to paint in the gardens and we would all have to be careful not to be in the way. The artists were all from England and had very nice equiptment to use. About twenty spread out through the property looking over various landscapes. I started the morning off working to refurnish six large metal pots which had to be scraped clean of the old paint and then re painted with atleast two coats. The old paint did not com of easy and had to be chipped piece by piece with a small chisle. In three hours I had only gotten half of one clean when Lesley came to me and told me the task was useless. They needed to be dipped in a very strong paint remover or taken of with a drill bit. I went to the vegatable garden to weed, but kept having to change areas because of the artists. If I started to get in thier view I would distract them or obscure thier perception of the landscape and I would be scorned and told to move by some very rude english men and women. After lunch I was put to work polishing silver with Clara in the main house. All of the utensils bowls and decorations had to be done in each kitchen and dinning room. There were hundreds of pieces, to the point that they only had one set of eating ware that was not fine silver between the three houses, and that was in the wwoofer kitchen. After about two hours of wiping down each pice with brushes and cloths, Jo came by to check on us and was unsatisfied with how we were doing. We had gotten off the dark tarnish, but they were not shinning the way she said they expected them to be. We had to go back over everything again until there wasnt even a tiny blemish anywhere on each piece. It had been a beautiful day, and I really prefered to be out in the garden doing anything but this, but didn't have much of a choice between the high class artists and Jos insistance on having all the silver ready for thier next party. I was really looking forward to the weekend by the end of the day, desperate to get some time away enjoying myself. Clara, Kirsten and I had plans to leave saterday with another au pair, Carly, that worked for on of James' close friends. I didn't know the plans, but didn't care as long as it was away from Burtown for a day or so. We all stayed up that night chatting about the new wwoofers' first week, which was not what any of us would have expected. Natasha as starting to get sick as well, and had been lectured for not working hard enough to earn her place with the rest of us and was planning to leave by Monday to go back to her previous host. She said she had never felt so unwelcome or unfairly treated since she started volunteering and traveling eight years ago and advised the rest of us to consider wheather it was worth to stay longer because there are so many great wwoofing hosts in Ireland and any time we were not comfortable or happy we could easily find somewhere that we would be. This was the first week since I arrived that I was not feeling good about Burtown, so I was cautious about being too critical. Yet still, I had plans to leave as soon as possible and move on to the next stage and hopefully find a more sustainable and peaceful place. I had been welcomed to come back to my first host or go early to my next one, but I had trouble deciding when I would leave and how I would tell the Fennels I wanted to go. I didn't want to stress about it for the weekend, so I put it to the back of my mind and prepared for the relazing few days off. 

Wednesday April 11

Wednesday I was finally back to work in the garden planting root vegetable with Clara on a clear warm day which we were both happy about. We got new packages of parsnips, carrots, beet root, raddishes, and spring onions to put into an area where leeks had just been harvested. I tilled the soil and leveled out the area while clara picked out any remaining leeks and weeds. We divided the area into four rows and started raking the ridges for planting. I started with two rows of carrot seed along with the transplats out of the greenhouse. Clara got to work planting onion seeds in the last row, and we saved the middle row to be split between raddished and beet root. These were all the crops that James had said do very poorly every year because they plant too early or too late and was really depending on us to get them right this year. The early planting of parsnips, beetroot, raddishes, and shallots had all been hit by a heavy frost and never came up so we were crossing our fingers this time would have better luck. once everything was in the ground, Clara was called up to the house to help with the kids and try to explain to the new au pair, Kirsten how to 'handle' them. Kirsten was having initial trouble getting the girls to listen or stop misbehaving without any type of disipline when they started throwing fits. She had tried giving them a 'time out' or short priod with out being able to have their toys, which James and Jo were against. I continued working in the garden, trying my best to ignore the girls running around trowing dirt and tearing up plants as Clara ran after trying to stop them. I started moving tomatoes and brassicas from the kitchen window to James' office in the stable yard. I then helped gather greens for lunch and putting a salad together since everyone was buisy with various tasks and taking care of the kids. It was just us four wwoofers and the kids for lunch, which did not go very smoothly as the two girls kept running away from the table and causing touble making it hard for anyone to sit and eat. James and Jo were both buisy with planning for the next day when the Cafe would be open and had asked to be left in peace for the afternoon upstairs. After lunch Natasha had to spend a while going around the gardens and picking up dog filth while I was asked to trim all the grass edges around the flower gardens. This took the whole afternoon, since there is so  much area that had to be gone over and all the trimmings picked up. The next day was a big day for the gardens and cafe because they had invited several groups of friends to stop in for coffee and free tours. We were all asked to do a clean up of the house and patio area after we finished working in the garden. James was understandably stressed over the cafe not being everything he had expected at this time and nerves were shot so everyone headed to bed after a quick soup dinner. The next day was atleast supposed to be clear and warm again, so I looked forward to being in the garden working again with Clara and Natasha. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

First week of April and James Birthday

THe first week of April was mostly spent getting ready for James Birthday party. On Tuesday a friend of James who worked as a carpender came by to construct a bar for the cafe. He arrived at eight in the morning to talk with them and determine what materials he would need. I spent the morning weeding gardens closest to the house where people would be gathering during the party. I was mostly digging clusters of celondine and dandilion sprouts. I kept leaving my task to help carry furniture and materials to the gallery as things were delivered. After lunch I helped arrange cabinets and shelves around the bar that had already been completed. I was asked to start scraping spots of dirt and paint off the stone floor that had been dropped as the walls and windows were painted. It wasn't an easy job and I couldnt get most of the spots up without heavy work with a wire brush. I spent the rest of the day doing this, but I didn't get far. There was still scafolding in the gallery so I felt like any progress I had made would be wasted when it was moved after the ceiling was finished. Yet the next morning I went back to the same thing scraping with a razor blade, wire brush and steel wool. Clara and I moved outside that afternoon luckily to trim the edges of the lawn and rake out some more of the lawn behing Wendys house. Thursday was the same routine, but with painting. We were to paint just about everything in the gallery including windows walls shelves, bar, and furniture. Four of us including James and a friend named Shane that would be sharing the birthday party. It again was not hard work, just monotonous and simple. As we finished the bar, Kegs arrived for the new gas tap which would be used for pints. James had ordered two kegs of Guiness and two of Carlsburg which would be expected to disappear by the second night. Clara and I offered to help some more that evening since there was still a lot of remaining work and the party was to start the next afternoon. ovr a hundred and fifty people we meaning to stop in for the party so naturally the idea of anything going wrong terrified James. That evening family arrived and everyone joined for whiskey and wine in the main kitchen. We all stayed up chatting and listening to music as James caught up with his sisters and in laws and shared stories about travel with Shane who had just arrived back from trips so several different countries. The next day was hectic ofcourse as James began to think of all the jobs that needed done sending me and Clara off on new tasks before we could properly finish the previous. Some of the jobs felt pointless, such as wiping down the fences and signs around the garden and raking the gravel paths out smooth so you couldn't see and indentions from walking. I made a quick run around the garden and green houses to water everything since I had not been doing anything out there at all since monday due to party preparations. Tension had been building up over the week, and nerves were shot from the fast paced multitasking and tidying up of evry part of the property. Then the crowd began to arrive and pints started going around. within an hour music was up, people were immersed in loud conversation and empty glasses were bulking up by the twenties. Almost all of the guests had travelled from LOndon or Spain and were obviously very high class. Many came in with fur coats and very fancy suits, talking with a very arrogant and annoying accent. Not many of the guests carried on much conversation with me or Clara often turning away after saying were we had travelled from. Anyone that did care to chat would have something to boast to us about like a two million dollar home in Barcelona or theyer own next big event that would be all of the best things to see. I met screen writers and artists from London as well as well known musicians, producers and a number of Lords and Ladies. I spoke to the manager of Slane Castle as well as a few other high class venues which accepted Woofers. The music went on through the night even with a couple amps being blown by spilled beer, thy were quickly replaced by another by James. James kept asking me to tend to fires and help people find drinks when ever needed while Clara and Lindsay were asked to walk around with two bottles of wine available for any one looking for some. Lindsay went around being curdious and obedient to James request pouring glasses for anyone that motioned. CLara and I didn't pay much attention to the idea of serving since most of the crowd had become very pompous and rude about want more drinks and more fun. Any time the music would stop of the keg would need changed guests would start wanting to leave claiming the party wasnt good enough. People passed out in chairs and hallways for short periods and then jumping back into the crowd with a fresh pint from the bar. A fifteen year old boy was in charge of bartending until ten in the morning, only getting a break from me of Clara who didn't know enough about tending to hold of the pushy crowd asking for all typs of cocktails and continuous pints. At ten the next morning when the bar shut down and people started to thin I headed for a bed and slept for a few hours before being awoken for more cocktails on the patio with everyone that stayed over. We drank through the day, with little to eat and got together agian that evening for whiskey and music in the main kitchen with the extended family. The next day I was starting to feel ill which I assumed was a rough hangover, but lasted the entire day together with weakness and being sick. Clara felt the same way and was sick as well, so we became suspicious that we might have gotten some sort of bug.Lindsay left that morning, over a month earlier than she had planned. She told me before she set off that I should reconsider my own plans and move on before I began to see the home the way she had. The same morning, the maid of the house who came in a few days a week waled out and quit, saying that cleaning up after the out of control party was the last straw and it was no longer worth the payment. Two new wwoofers arrived that night, but I was not up for being too social. James and the family kept hounding Clara and I to join them for a fifth keg and music with the new guests as a way to kill the hangover, but we both passed it up. The next day it became obvious we had gotten some type of stomach virus. We both had fevers and could not hold down any food. Luckily it was a bank holiday and we did not have to work. James had the two new girls clean galsses, organize the kitchen and clean the floors for a few hours which me and Clara saw as taking advantage of them. Natasha, a thirty year old experienced wwoofer from New Zeland was unhappy with the way she had been welcomed because James had appearently sat around drinking while he gave her cleaning tasks around the house and everyone else was resting. I could tell James and Jo both talked to her and treated her less curtiously than me or Clara for some reason, which was bothersom to us all. The other new wwoofer is an eighteen year old from Germany named Kirsten who was looking for experience with the English language and sustainable lifestyles. She was assigned to take care of the three children rather than Natasha who had experience as a nanny and more confidence with kids. Ofcourse the two girls were very unhappy with having a new au pair and began to throw tantrums and making messes which she had little ability to control. At one point during lunch one of the girls threw a plate of food because she had been asked to eat something she didn't like and when Kirsten asked why she did such a thing she replied in a loud voice "Because I can and you can't stop me" and ran away. After a rough first few hours as an Au pair, Clara was told to help out and explain how to handle the children. There was little difference in the behavior as they ran around screaming and making messes for the rest of the day. James was aggrivated with them both for not having more control while guests were still around. I don't understand myself how someone could do the job of looking after the children with James and Jos rules about no discipline or punishment for any bad behavior. We were told that we can tell them "No" as firmly as we could, but to never raise our voices, and if they disobeyed and did something wrong anyway, we were not to do anything but explain it was wrong and clean up after them. They did not want any of the children to be put in a time out, have things taken away or yelled at in any way for misbehaviors. The au pairs were to only offer rewards to the kids if they would listen and behave. So naturally, the kids became very hard to take care of and would only behave or listen when they wanted candy or rewards, otherwise they would ignor the rules and the wwoofers watching them often causing stress for everyone around. The tantrums lasted through the eveningand the next morning when the Gardens opened to the public. All three girls were eventually assigned to handle the three kids while James left for a holiday in Dublin and Jo managed the Garden walks and Gallery Cafe. Tuesday evening the four of us sat together and discussed the situation. We all agreed we each had plans to leave soon as the environment was getting very tense and stressful. Natasha was feeling unwelcome in the home and had also picked up a bug which was making it hard for her to keep up with James buisy work. Clara and I were fighting a virus and were taking turns resting or being sick while the other was working in the garden. I had decided to leave with the others within a week or so, but had no plans or idea how to go about it. I wrote my previous host, and my next host looking for new arrangements and started to get my bags together and ready for a quick departure when the time came. The weekend parties and opening of the Gardens had brought a lot of stress and completely changed the calm and peacful environment we had enjoyed for the past few weeks.   
Monday morning started off easy with a clean out of the chicken hutch. I gathered a few eggs and scooped out the poultry litter which we are collecting to spread in the gardens during the cool season. I spread wood chips in the hutch to replace what I had taken out for bedding. Clara and I then went back to rake the rocky soil that we had started spreading on Friday. One of the farm workers brought in a few more loads of soil to extend the lawn and I got to work with a larger rake to move the piles across the sod. We quickly noticed a lot of the new soil was filled with mostly thick gravel. This material was not going to work for growing and mowing a smooth lawn so me and Clara had to pick out all of it and bring in another few loads to rake again. This took the rest of the morning. Lesley was working to finish a few portraits which she planned to take to a framer later that day and sent off for a show. She came out to chat with us a few times but quickly went off claiming if she hesitated much longer her paintings would never be done in time. Each time she said this I could see her circle the gardens doing various tasks and chatting with james or on of the workers and then stopping by us again only to be even more rushed about getting back to her studio. Lesley, like many wise minds, often has more going on than she can focus on and most of the time seems very scatter brained. Eventually Clara and I got the majority of the gravel out with some lawn rakes and Lesley made it back into the studio. We ccoked with Lesley for lunch as Jo and James were buisy working with party plans. We had broccoli, potatoes and lamb with jellies which is one of Lesley's favorite traditional meals.
For the afternoon we planted parsnips and weeded some various beds. The Parsnips got an entire row, spread a few inches apart and covered with a light layer of top soil. I then used the tiller to go over a few areas around the brassicas and legumes to break up any small weeds. Clara followed behind gathering all the pieces into a wheel barrow. Clara then went to work on weeding th berry patches while I moved to the poppies. A large section of one of the beds was set aside for oriental poppies which were spread around the different gardens. A lot of scotch grass and two hour crawlers which are both quickly spreading weeds had taken over the bunches of foliage and needed to be carfully forked and pulled. For the last hour we helped James move in a bunch of large photo prints which were to be hung around the house and gallery. On Tuesday a friend of James will come by and build a bar and shleves for the gallery. It was going to be a buisy week getting ready for James birthday party on Friday. Most of his family and friends would be here along with a lot of locals and buisness partners. He was determined to give the best impression before the gallery and gardens opened the following week.    


Sunday morning Clara and I put together a salad and rice in containers with some utensils so we could take a lunch with us on our trip to Glendolough. We didn't know how long the day would be or when we would be back, so a packed lunch, even a small one was a good idea. We had planned to leave at nine to get a good start on any bad weather, since Saturday's clear sky and bright sun was supposed to be followed by clouds and possible showers, but Lindsay overslept and was not ready in time. We were soon in Wicklow once we got on the road. We passed some very interesting farm land and gardens on the way. One interesting sight was an olive tree orchard boardrs by cobble stone walls and a tall birch hedge. The were several sheep farms and small cattle herds in the valley at the bottom of the Wicklow mountains throughout the wide green pastures. We headed up into the hills, climbing fast and heading over the ridges through winding sharp roads. It reminded me of the roads in rural West Virginia, but were very foriegn to Lindsay who had never driven outside of New York before she came to Ireland. She took the road slowly as a line of locals began to gain behind us, again reminding me of driving the roads back home. The park where we were going to hike was in the same town I had met Jame's almost a month before when I traveled to Burtown from Avoca. The area was a reserved section of the Wicklow Mountains National Park with a series of trails the led to som of the higher ridge points in the area and over looked a large rocky gorge nearly a half mile wide or more known as the wicklow Gap. We parked and found the trail we wanted to try which was eleven kilometers to the top. On the way up we passed a monasary village and graveyard with a large old bell tower and churches. There were two large lakes in the valley of the mountain which were surrounded with parks and boardwalks. We hiked past a waterfall coming from the several natural springs through out the hill side and a few areas with shaped rocks and erie trees hich were prayer places for the old monks. When we got to the split onto the trail we wanted, we decided to go the opposite firection around the loop than the rest of the hikers we saw. This was a common tourist area so we were constantly passing by groups and families. The path started off steep and climbed the mountain in a zig zag past areas of thick pine and a lumber lurry. The higher parts were bare of trees and just had grass visable before the overlook of the other mountains in the area. It seemed like scenic views one after another once we passed a certain altitude.from th highest point we could see back to the valley of kildare on one side and glimpses of the Irish sea on the other. Before we started down the path leading to the bottom we sat and took it in for a mintue. The air, the smells, the view of the horizon and the lake below us was all amazing. The path down was mostly stairs. hundreds of them, winding back and forth through a thick forest and across grassy ridges be side the large cliffs dropping into the lakes. After looking over the edge too long I would begin to loose my sense of depth and how far away the tiny trees at the bottom were. We finished the hike and walked back to the car for our lunch. We considered taking our salad and rice back to the lake to sit and eat, but Lindsay was too tired already from all the walking and the lake was another one or two kilometers just to sit and eat. Once we sat down for a while in a patch of grass by the car I felt my own fatigue kick in and my calves start to tense up. It was a nice drive back as dark weather moved in and we stopped for some Irish ice cream to relax with. We got back to the house and settled down for the rest of the afternoon. I spent some time playing music and drawing, then I took a nap and sat around for a quiet evening bfore I started back in the gardens the next morning.

Thursday and Friday

Thursday started off as another cleaning day split between myself and Clara. Lindsay slept in until she was due to work with the kids at ten when Jo was headed into Athy. I took the play room and floors while Clara worked in the kitchen and taking care of our bathroom. Once she headed upstairs to clean the bathroom I hoovered and mopped the kitchen and hallway. I took some extra time wiping down cabinets and side surfaces which had spots from grease and dirty hand marks. With my first host I did my best to keep a tidy area around the wwoofer beds and kitchen, yet I don't think I have ever paid so close attention to having a perfect presentation, definately not in my own home. I realized quickly when I arrived to Burtown that the Fennel's had a high expectation for any volunteers. On my welcoming tour around the house I remember Jame's pointing out areas of dust, spots on windows, hand prints, or items out of place or not put away, all of which were cleaned quickly. I have always tended to leave dishes out or in the sink to handle later, and now every one is washed, dried, and put back away as soon as it is done being used. Already I have gotten very used to keeping up the clean and presentable environment.
Outside after cleaning I started helping Jame's bring in a load of small shrubs and plants that were spread around the patio and cafe area. We spent an hour arranging, digging, and watering the plants. The were a few nasturtium and geranium as well as various spring bulbs which were grouped together between small boxwoods.Then I took a load of anemone down to the nut grove to line a pathway. Each plant had a cluster of foliage and a few buds which would soon open. I burried the plants about an inch under the top soil which I broke up into a soft surface. It then took a while to carry several buckets of water down to the island from the stabel yard for all the plants. For the remaining time before lunch I walked through the beds for peas and legumes and picked out any small weeds. I spent the first part of the afternoon working in the potatoe bed to rake some loose soil onto the ridges then made slate signs for the different root vegetables that had been planted. I then edged and mowed the strips of grass between the various beds. I needed to bring sections of sod from the field to fill in parts of the strip to make a straight section with equal width. It took a few attemps at first to get a line right with pieces of sod, but by the end of the day it looked good.
I started directly after work to start on a root vegetable soup and a pumpkin spice cake. I had everything  chopped and in the pot by six and a cake in the oven shortly after. Jame's invited us out to the pub for music and drinks later that evening after we ate. Lindsay was happier staying at the house alone rather than join us, so she dropped us off and we got a taxi back at the end of the night. This was the last night we would have all gotten to go out and socialize together before she left. Nevertheless it was a plenty enjoyable night just with the three of us and a few thick guiness. I got some great video of the local music and storytelling that is held in the local historic pub each week. It has been the most traditional Irish pub I have been to yet and really have enjoyed every night I've gone. We got bak to the house around twelve and parted for bed.
Friday morning we joined Gile again to weed the flower beds. We first focused on a few overgrown sections of celandine which spread quickly and had to be removed as a whole. Each cluster of foliage had a bundl of bublets at its base which would break off and send up new shoots if they were not removed with the rest of the plant. We weeded until four o clock that day, going over every bed around the house pulling several wheel barrows of all kinds of weeds. It took effort to get into the backs and centers of the beds with out crushing other flowers. Some areas we even needed to crawl under trees and shrubs to reach small sections of weeds. We edged everything again and relined any straight edges, taking away and adding sod as needed. James then took us to another area where he was piling top soil. He asked Clara and I to rake it out over a bare area thich he wanted leveled and grown into a thick lawn. The top soil he had gotten was full of large stones which had to be collected as we went along. We spent most of the time picking out stones and wheeling them to a rubble pile on the other side of the garden. That evening we had a small dinner with the family and discussed our plans for the weekend. We had decided that Kerry, or anything on the West Coast would be too much for Lindsay to handle as a young driver with little experience on small irish roads. Instead we decided to go to an area in Wicklow less than an hour away which she had traveled before. We planned the trip for Sunday when we were all free. Saturday called for better weather, but Lindsay had to take care of the kids while the parents were buisy planning the party they were having the following weekend. If there is not an Au pair available, Jo and James become overwhelmed with taking care of the two young girls and a one year old at the same time. The kids are often sent off to sitters or left with one of the Au pairs just so thier parents can have a meal or drinks alone. I think Lindsay was getting eager to be on her way out of Burtown and free of the Au Pair responsibilities. The trip this weekend would be the last sight seeing journey around Ireland for her. Friday night Clara and I stayed up and watched "Im not there", A movie about Bob Dylans life after Lindsay went to bed early. We made some scones and a berry crisp made of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries had been collected and frozen out of the gardens to go with some wine James had given us for the weekend.