Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dinners – Moveable Feasts

A trend swept through Ireland in the ’80’s leaving us innocent and dreamy city girls who read everything in the local library, fodder for the future farmers of Ireland. The trend was country and it’s leader was Alice Taylor.  Alice Taylor, and don’t get me wrong, the lady is still a hero of mine, has a lot to answer for. I ravished her books like a grass starved heifer; Longed for the day when I would inherit an auntie’s tea set for Stations, bought all she was selling on the frolicking through the countryside front, and so, fed on a diet of “To School Through the Fields,” my lovely farmer SAW ME COMING.  

No amount of literary loveliness could prepare me for the drudgery of cooking the dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and I have to admit am pretty good at it, not surprising considering the amount of practice I get. I’m not even talking about the scary silage dinners, nope, just your everyday dinner. I know my city sisters are equally afflicted because let’s face it, no matter how many exceptions you are going to throw at me, we girls do the majority of the cooking. A hangover from a past life living as a student in France and Italy has left me pernicky about cooking from scratch, always on the look out for good ingredients so mea culpa, I’ve asked for it. I still have the same ten things I make over and over but I like to know that in the half an hour I allot myself for cooking the dinner, it is well made and tasty. But it’s the everydayness of it. Luckily, I’m not even dealing with fussy eaters (though they do cross the threshold on occasion), I’m talking about the routine of it.

Farmers by nature are creatures of habit. It took me six torturous months to get my man out of eating his dinner at one o’clock. And that was only because it suited our family timetable better (see I’m still trying to justify it). Added to this, the men (often two but it can be more), take off their wellies and sit down to eat as formally as they ate in the ’50’s. So I find myself serving food up to men, who in fairness, come in from difficult labour themselves to rest their weary bones in my dining room for a while. And so it falls to me to give them a decent meal and send them on their way. It’s the setting the table, putting out the cups of milk or water, handing out the dinner, making the tea and biscuits or the odd dessert that make the whole process a bit of an ordeal. I have tried on occasion to make it easier but nought has worked thusfar. My latest endeavor has me roping in the children to help out. ‘Philip the table!’, ‘Daniel the cups!’,  Just in the last week, Philip who will go along with any make-believe adventure has come to answer to ‘service’ if I cast him as the waiter!

Lately, I did reread my well-thumbed “School Through the Fields” and did find hints of the drudgery in amongst the fields and I realize now, that my younger self was blissfully unaware (as one should be at a young age) of real-life down on the farm. For better though, farming households throughout the country are changing and the mealtime routine that for many years was set in stone is now evolving to suit today’s farming family. Alas, for this girl in wellies, for a while longer,  I remain for the most part in the heart of my kitchen dreaming up new ways to make mealtimes easier. Garçon!

Stormy Weather

So, the builders have come and gone and left a pile of 160 broken tiles in their stead. Just a mean reminder of an unforgiving storm and an invitation for all those passing to comment on what a bleak patch we live in. “Was it the design did they say?” “Will it happen again next winter? Probably.” Very legitimate questions, which I asked myself later that night during the wee hours when I couldn’t settle the children to sleep.

I was pondering on the misfortune that rattled my lovely home as I fell off the couch with Dan asleep on the floor next to me to break my fall.  We were camped downstairs around the stove to keep ourselves warm and I was trying to stay awake long enough so that in the absence of phone alarms, I could nudge Dan awake to go out and check on the calving cows (we had three in the labour ward that night). Apparently, it is a farmer’s wife duty to nudge one’s spouse awake at ridiculous o’clock to check on the cows. I wouldn’t mind confirmation on that, if only there were a manual.

Luckily, Mother Nature obliged where Electric Ireland had failed and the bellowing mothers awoke me for nudging duty at 4am. So I struck a match to offer some light to the weary farmer who had to go and tend to ‘the girls,’ ushering in another Valentine’s Day in Hearthill. Romance, as they say,  is not dead and we have survived another storm.


How many days to Spring?

It’s a farmer’s wife dreaded time of year. The Spring.

For others, it promises new life, buds pushing through the ground, lengthening days, but not generally for the busy young mother and farmer’s wife. Reality down in the farm, the Spring takes our husbands away. Makes them absent, hairier and more likely to fall asleep in obscure parts i.e. the dinner table.

It means keeping up with paperwork, parenting alone, worry over sick animals, rushed conversations in the back kitchen. This is my eighth spring in Hearthill and whilst I’m becoming used to it’s tempetuous ways, we have not yet made friends. This year especially when the season finds me heavily pregnant whilst running around after two little boys, I’m certainly not a fan.

Especially brutal is the fact that just preceding the Spring are the two months where my husband turns into a househusband, putting the kids to bed, letting me have a lie in, cuddling up on the couch for rubbish tv and generally being there whilst the cows are dried off. Bliss.

So, how this year, do I survive the Spring as I feel the Winter sprinting away from me. My survival kit;

1. There’s still time to hibernate. Catch up on lost sleep, early to bed, late to rise. Long snoozes during the day. Christmas programming means there’s lots of films for the children to enjoy whilst you all snuggle up on the couch and store up energy.

2. Try not to complain about it too much. Ops. Make it pleasant for everyone, though deeply frustrating, we’ve got to play the cards we’re dealt. Even if it means ignoring the fact that your partner may not remember your name during those sleep depraved weeks, try not to complain too much. Instead of mourning the loss of Valentine’s day, make a romantic supper for two for whatever hour he might appear at your threshold, though pinch him if he falls asleep into said romantic meal! Just a small pinch.

3. Take the children to see Dad; there are lots of safe ways to have fun on a farm, if you are blessed with little boys, you know they love nothing more than donning the wellies and getting mucky. Feed the baby calves. Let them see a cow calving. Turn up in the milking parlour to help feed the ration. Later on the spring, bring a picnic to Dad in the fields as he’s fencing. A shared flask and fairy cakes can mellow all the family’s frustrations during that busy time of year.

4. Look ahead, the season can’t last forever.

Baby Talk

Being a mother wears you to the skeleton. Takes away during your most vulnerable times (when they’ve screamed and roared for something other than yoghurt ricecakes and told you in no uncertain terms that they are not having a bath), your ability to think in a straight line. There should be a test when you’re going out into the world without a child attached; You’re about to converse with other adults now, have you collected yourself? Indeed, think along the imaginary straight line for a moment.

Even beyond the first year when, and I’m sure you’ll agree, on lucky days, you’ll check you don’t have a baby wipe hanging off the sleeve of your jumper, that there should be a checkpoint for mothers to go through. A policing for our own sake; have you reverted albeit for the duration of your children’s absence to the mature, intelligent being you once were. Hazzah, why not an oath? Do you solemnly swear to at least make an effort not to talk obsessively about your offspring for the length of your tall skinny latte?

There are those that I have granted leave of absence to, sense wise (I’m good that way), in the hope, nay, certainty that they will come back to their senses once their youngest goes to school. I will let them away with a multitude of silly talk, inane twittering about, take your pick, any subject currently clogging up rollercoaster or mumsnet.  Knowing that one day, they will come to and remember how they actually can survive without the scaffolding of kinder talk; That they can converse and thrive outside of the, admittedly, narcissistic bubble of motherhood.

As mothers, today, we live in isolation. Generally, we no longer have the extended family to help out or indeed rein us back in, however abruptly, when we stray outside the parameters of sanity. We can no longer rely on the soundboard of family to gauge whether or not we’ve passed from plain boring to obsessive when it comes to our children. Just as we often don’t have the support of the wider family to come to our rescue in times of influenza or exhaustion, we don’t have the voice of reason to whisper the odd ‘pull yourself together love’ when your baby filter might have, by chance, become a bit clogged up.