Monday, August 28, 2017

Back to the Cottage

Actually, I've been there and back again, last month. It's been a saga that has taken two years so far, but almost everything essential should be done by the time I go back in November. And so much has been changed or fixed already, thanks to my amazing handyman.

As of July 2017. There will be grass and
a new hedge soon!

It's kind of funny, the image that "cottage" brings up for people. This one actually fits my own mental image: small but big enough, with high ceilings and big windows; historical (maybe 70 years old?) but with modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing; in a peaceful rural area with scenic views; and in the heart of the countryside where my Connolly ancestors lived (and some of their descendants still do). And it just feels right. (And it's an amazing feeling to see one of your dreams actually come true.)

It's still a work in progress, but during this most recent trip in July I got a lot done--it's surprising what a coat of fresh white paint can do! But my tireless handyman Diarmuid is miles (or kilometers) ahead of me. Since I was there last fall, he has:

--cut down the 25 overgrown trees, reduced them to firewood, and hauled off the branches and tree trash

--removed most of the gnarly old hedge around the property

--waterproofed the foundation

--laid PVC drainage pipes and created a reservoir for rain runoff

--located the septic tank (kind of important, right?)

--paved the perimeter of the entire cottage to improve runoff

--leveled, expanded and gravelled the parking area, and

--added a very nice path from the parking area and the back door

And he's nowhere near finished. By the end of this month he plans to have:

--replaced all the gutters and downspouts

--graded and seeded my "field"

--added a small patio so I can sit outside and watch the sunset

--planted a new hedge (of some local plant whose name I can't pronounce)

--added one gate at the far end of the field, and a new fence and gate to keep the cows out at the parking end--complete with an arched arbor with climbing roses (that was Diarmuid's own idea--he made one for my neighbor)

--built new front steps and installed the gate I asked for and he found (to be painted green)

--installed motion sensor lights

--acquired and installed a new washer (the old one couldn't even handle one towel at a time)

--installed a clothesline in the yard, sunk in concrete with a winch for raising and lowering the laundry lines

--installed my new old rock, which he introduced me to last month (I swear it's from a stone circle, and my neighbor has three of its mates on her land)

--replaced two windowsills that leak, and

--painted the house

I'm exhausted just looking at the list. What's more, he's not only hard-working but also reliable, knows what he's doing and gets it done quickly, and charges a reasonable rate. And the lady who lives behind me, who's been there two years now, vouches for him (and can keep an eye on his progress).

There's something magical about Ireland. I tell Diarmuid I'd like something, and presto, it appears. The same thing happens in town: I decide I need a new table or some other item, and in some second-hand shop or the farmers market, there it is, the same day, exactly as I'd pictured it.

Do I get any writing work done? More or less. There’s wifi (which gets a little iffy in turbulent weather). But it’s easy to get distracted. I can’t keep away from the views, so I work at the dining room table and look outside regularly. Oh, see the rainbow. Oh, see another rainbow. Look, bunnies! Where are the cows now? And so on. And then I go into town, and of course I end up talking to people, and they hand me “gifts” of unexpected information that I know immediately will end up in a book. My favorite kind of research!

Coming back to Massachusetts was hard, and not just because of jet lag. Mainly because it's both noisy and bright, all the time. At the Irish cottage there is no traffic (a car or two per hour) and there are no streetlights. There is silence, although you might be able to hear a conversation half a mile away. There is darkness, so you become aware of the cycle of the moon (full when I arrived last month, dark when I left). You can hear birds (my neighbor to the side has chickens, my neighbor behind has ducks) and cows and sheep.

You can breathe clean air and drink clean well water and watch the clouds move across the sky and see rainbows at breakfast. And you can hear yourself think. Want to talk to people? Easy. Want to be alone? Also easy. Want to eat great food? Plenty of small but good restaurants. Want to buy locally grown food and make it yourself? There's an incredible weekly market. 

From an outstanding young baker
at the farmers market

Okay, the cottage is not perfect. The kitchen has little counter space, there's no dryer, and there are no closets at all. But all the rest more than makes up for it. I can't wait to see it this fall, when I'm going back again. It will be all but finished, and we can sit in front of our fireplace (fueled by our own wood) and just enjoy.

The next County Cork mystery, Many a Twist, will be released in January 2018 by Crooked Lane Books.