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Second Cut Silage

I’m stuffed from cold chips. It’s that kind of a day. You grab meals while you run between the two smallest boys who want a drive on one of the five tractors bringing in silage outside the door and the kitchen where you run getting the tea ready. By now, I can time it well enough. They have another five acres to collect, the sky is holding, so the silage men will eat before they cover the pit. I’ve got a half an hour.

It was an early start. As always, we were in a rush around the farmhouse, our usual tardy selves catching up with the day. I put the bacon onto boil while I made the scones; a dozen brown, a dozen fruit. With the oven still hot, I put the bacon now smeared with honey, mustard and cloves into bake and it’s scent wafts into every corner of the house. I lay the table and have to run to town. I never know when the crew are to eat until closer to the time so I have the food ready to go. Scones covered, ham cooling, salads ready.

All the way home from town the boys ask if the tractors have arrived. I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably. Every five minutes or maybe less, the same answer. Soon. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see. And then as we drive along our road, we can see the big machines in the silage fields sucking up the grass like a straw in a green field with their forage harvesters. To placate the boys who just want to go to Daddy, I set two chairs up in the field so they can watch the trailers emptying their loads of grass onto the pit and see the awe-inspiring packer climb over the grass even-ing it off expertly. I know it would take my boys in wellies about five minutes to get to the gate so I run between them and the kitchen. With the tractors parked up in the yard, I can switch on the oven and fill the kettle all the time running between the children and the oven.

All plates were eaten whilst watching an Irish athlete go for gold at the Olympics. He broke an Irish record as we all watched on drinking the tea and eating the ham, satisfied. No rest for the wicked, the pit has to be covered, the children have to watch on and I have the ware to wash. The cow’s feed saved for the winter. I might just flick that kettle on again before the running starts again. Second cut silage saved.

Ah, Sleep

I think if I were to read the blog tags retrospectively they would mention sleep and children quite often. It’s been a consideration of mine these past seven years, an obsession really, given the time of our lives.

‘Did you get up last night?’ he might ask. ‘No, they slept through.’ High Five.

Last Saturday morning, I found myself early in a park in Cork. At nine in the morning to be precise. And there I met a woman with her children who was at nine o’clock in the morning trying to ‘wear them out so they’ll sleep the night.’ At 9am. In the morning. And because we’re just coming ourselves out of the crazy torturous sleep schedules of young children, I had to bite my lip so as not to offer this lady advise. You see, she admitted that she hadn’t sleep in two and a half years. The age of her eldest daughter. Two and a half years of no sleep. And it’s not too distant a memory that I’m unaware that the cruelest thing to do to any poor creatur in such a state is to offer her advise. Because she has tried it. How do I know? Why, I’m a mother of young children, I have tried it. All.

And whatsmore, even though I have children who were relatively good sleepers (mainly because if they looked like they wouldn’t sleep, I’d drive them to the local beach and release them like labradors to run until they looked tired), I would have lied. Because as you know, worse that the person who wants to advise you on how to give your children a nights sleep, is the person who tells you (smugly) that their children always sleep. Until ten o’clock in the morning mind you. I haven’t slept past eight o clock in seven years (and it was 6.30 until three months ago).

If she hadn’t been a perfect stranger, I would have told her to go off for a sleep for herself on the park-bench while I watched the children. Odd, definately. Instead, all I could lend this lady was a listening ear. Listen to the delirium of a body who has not slept in a long time as she raved on incoherently about children and the suggestion that her mother recently gave her of putting diluted whiskey in their bottles. It’s how it was long go. Apparently. Happily, we laughed that suggestion off.

So, if you’re off to bed in the sweet knowledge that you will sleep soundly, my friends, sweet dreams. As for all the rest of you night warriors, keep the faith and the whiskey in the cupboard. If you must.

The Takeaway

Thursday night I found myself having a takeaway with my lovely sisters in the city. Just like that, we ordered from an Asian cookhouse before leaving the homeplace and collected it on the way to my middliest sister’s house. From the extensive menu, we ordered Asian food and it came to us so easily in the cutest little cartons. And while I tried to focus on my sisters, I couldn’t take my attention away from the food, so fresh and hot and aromatic. I thought, there has to be more, these are very small cartons but on opening them up there appeared just the right amount of food for all. Delicious. Easy. An accessible meal.

Everything consumable in the city is easy.

I was telling my sisters about our attempt to have a Chinese takeaway some weeks back as our eldest indignant that his classmates had all eaten takeaways, would like to try some. Fair enough. Now, I must add, that others may have tried and may have been more successful but it is not an easy task and after one or two attempts, women stronger than I have said to have given up. So I know of a lovely Chinese restaurant in our nearest big town, Listowel. It’s good enough food and reasonable. What more does a seven year old want for his first takeaway experience? It’s about 15 km away. Problem number one, how to keep the hot food hot and tasty. It’s manageable enough. But alas, there is always the problem of directions.

The entrance to our house has red gates, symphony red according to the colour chart and they are a beauty. Aside from being aesthetically lovely, they are a beacon to lost delivery men when looking for our homestead. If you see the red gates, that’s us. Alas, at nighttime, the red gates, in the absence of street lamps or streets in fact are not visible. Problem number two. So having called up and ordered we waited an unusually long time before I got a call from the village from a forlorn delivery man to say that he was lost. Not the best at given directions (reference red gate), I handed the phone to my farmer who explained the way to our house.  Some ten minutes later, I received another call to say that he has been driving up and down the street and village, he just can’t find the turn off to our house. ‘Stay right where you are’ I said and hopped in the car to go and find the lonesome delivery man.

‘I didn’t think that road led anywhere’, the man said shocked that anyone would even think of living up ‘such a lonely road’. ‘Everyroad leads to somewhere’ I said now channelling my inner hungry Buddha. ‘Amazing’ he said and started to chat about living in the country and how he could never do it. Ordinarily, I would have been delighted to engage but I was aware of the luke warm package in my hands that needed feeding to the wide-eyed expectant family. ‘Rightso,’ he waved me off, standing in the village street-light watching me off not quite believing that there was a road beyond the sportsfield; one he had dared not to travel. ‘Townie’ my Buddha whispered while sending him much good tidings for his return journey.

As for his first takeaway experience, my young son ate it up. Not bad he said.

The moral, everything consumable in the countryside is not so easy. But you can curse the darkness or learn to make a very good Chinese meal. Now to find some of those cutesy cartons.

Home Made Pizza Manifesto

Being an idealist gets you into all sorts of trouble. You might with little time to spare decide to make pizzas from scratch or indeed, even marry an Irish dairy farmer. If you are a romantic with that idealistic streak, well, you know yourself, those rose-coloured lenses often need replacing. Throw into the mix the socialist hangover from your youth and you end up with a big grin with people saying ‘isn’t she lovely’ while really meaning ‘more that a bit naive and she’ll definitely buy it.’

What is more, being an idealist leaves you often susceptible to all sorts of anxieties as the world and humanity throws you curve balls from its tennis ball machine as it assaults your conscious and better nature from all sides. But what protects you, if you insist on continuing to be an idealist and are steadfast in seeing the good in humanity and the world, no matter what, is your absolute conviction that people are good. And well, that people are the same. Really. Just the same.

You and I are really just the same. We may have different access to broadband (you may not have to stand on the roof to get coverage for example), we may view the world differently, pray to a different but the same God, drink coffee in a different manner but we are both the same. Our bank balances may be different, our children though beautifully individual are just the same. We pretty much can only eat three meals a day (with some snacks). We farm differently but have the same end goal of producing food in mind. Naive bless her.

So as an idealist, I’m not buying this new threat to humanity, one of hate and racism thinly masked under a thin veil of populist manifestos across the world. I’m just not buying that. Because we’ve had that. It continues to bob it’s menacing head throughout the history of humanity and is unkind and toxic to the human condition. Remember World War two anyone? Bosnia? I will not believe what you have to tell me, I will continue to be good, a do-gooder (you said it) and try and steer my children in that direction too. Try stopping me.

So, if you don’t mind my silly grin, I’ll continue to be my sunny idealist self, loving my dairy farmer despite his long work hours and low milk prices. And you must excuse me, for I haven’t yet torn the fresh basil for the top of that home made pizza. Champagne socialist moi? Somebody’s got to be. Think goodwill, kindness and compassion if you will. Why not?

 

Hush

There are three little heads all in a row. They ran to bed in troika; from the bathroom, to the toybox, all the time fighting it but to sleep. They spend their summer days indoors in this weather, looking out at the Irish rain. It howls over their little heads as they drift off to sleep. An adventure awaits them and they dream oh such innocent dreams. For those they remember they will retell over weetabix, as they fight for their mother’s attention. One drops off, then the other all the while negociating a trip downstairs, then the third, the littlest who uses his limited vocabulary to talk himself to sleep. At peace. The world to them is at peace. Hush now world, hush and like the young children, be at peace.

Goodies and Baddies

On our usual Friday morning outing, we visited our local library, a cafe and the park. It was hard to avoid the news. Hard to the move the librarian onto changing the subject. Difficult to switch the children’s attention from the blaring news on the radio in the cafe. The news was bad. And try as I might to put a brave face on when a terrorist attack happens, today I couldn’t. It has happened too many times in France over the last year. They are resilient these French people but to attack on Bastille day is is, well, there are no words.

I turn the children’s attention to the smartie cookies in the cafe, I spill my own coffee, ‘silly mommy.’ They smile their usual beautiful smiles and I know how good they are. Naturally, they are absolute rascals, just ask the librarian about the terrible two tantrum she witnessed as books flew from shelves this morning. But nonetheless, they are good.

Everything in life, teaching, farming, parenting is a walk on the line between good and evil as you guide your children on the good side, as best you can, so they don’t stray onto the bad. Unfortunately, you can’t fix the world for them. So we continue to walk them along that path until the day we have to let go of their hand as they walk into the world for themselves. There are always goodies and baddies I tell them, or they tell me. In their stories the goodies always win. I wish that it were so.

Courage, mes amis. On t’aime.

Piazza della Signoria

After driving onto the famed Piazza della Signoria in Florence shouting at each other and by the way listening to Italian Nonnas adding to the chorus crying ‘non si puo’, ‘non si puo’ (you can’t drive here they were shouting, naturally protective of their prized piazza), we were glad to abandon our punto and sit ourselves down on a step outside this tiny little cave like cafe where two Italian brothers sold the best panino and vino in dare I say it, Italy.

Could I tell you the name of the street of my favourite eatery? No. But I could take you there by the hand. And so I did. Still in shock from driving onto Signoria, my law abiding Irish farmer welcomed his glass of Chianti like it were a hot cup of tea after silage. A second panino and glass of vino were taken in his free hand to watch the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio as the jewellers on the old bridge switched off their lights for the evening. It was our real honeymoon, we were in Italy and coming to realize that our marriage already was a mixture of drama, Corkonian temper, Kerry compromise, oh and love. A good enough start.

For the next leg of our journey we took our life in our hands (see drama) and drove into the hills of the Mugello. Wanting to impress my new husband with the Italian countryside, we  stayed in agriturismi (Italian farmhouses offering lodgings, breakfasts and sometimes dinner to guests for a fee) along the way. It was on one such stopover that we met the lovely Silvia and Marco. While checking in with Silvia on arrival, Marco passing by spotted Dan’s hands and came over and asked if we were farmers. I was new to the farming game so I might have given a nonchalent shrug more intent on using my Tuscan accent to impress our hosts. Little did I know I was to become translator on our trip for the two farmers. Marco held up Dan’s hands like they were prizes, congratulating him on getting away from the farm.

Remember at this point, I was not yet living on the farm and was only playing at farmer’s wife, stuff of make believe. I certainly did not know what lay ahead or indeed how difficult it would be to leave the farm. Silvia knew. And in her veteran farmer’s wife eyes I saw something that I didn’t quite yet understand.

And my oh my, was I sorry that I wasn’t there the day they taught the words for tractor hitch or Aberdine Angus in college but I managed my translation work by adding the odd ‘o’ or ‘a’ at the end of agricultural vocabulary I was unfamiliar with. As farmers, Marco and Dan were natural comrades, we visited his local farming friends, drank their wine, praised their olive oil. We discussed their difficulties, their problems, their solutions. We learned a lot. At dinner, in front of the other diners in this agriturismo turned pizzeria (Marco made pizza between milking, now, that’s a farmer!), in-laws were paraded in to see the Irish farmer and his rookie wife, God help us. To his utter mortification, my shy Irish farmer, was presented each evening with Beef Florentine which came on a platter half the size of the table. You had to, you see, make sure that when a farmer wasn’t working, when he was on holidays, he was well looked after.

So you see, the fun started in an agriturismo in the hills of the Mugello on a farm in Italy. I learned in the years to come that time off is very precious and difficult to come by in farming.  Over time, he won me over, our house is less Cork temper and more Kerry compromise and calm. Or at least that’s the aim. Those precious escapes are planned with fun and good living in mind. Ten years in, settled on my farm in North Kerry, I think on that time (or escape) with a knowing smile, raising my morning coffee to Silvia and her understanding eyes. And once again, apologies to the Nonnas at the Piazza Della Signoria. Non si puo, non si puo, Signore, avete ragione!