Category Archives: City Girl

Number 428

On my first married Easter on the farm, I helped deliver calf number 428. It was chaotic. I was only in the yard to remind my newly married spouse that time was ticking and that we had to be driving to my parent’s house in Cork. I wouldn’t ask it now. Come on. But remember, I was new to this and he was still trying to break me in.

So I arrived in the farmyard in my flowery wellies trying to move him on when I heard a lot of mooing; three cows were calving. Himself was helping two cows out in the calving house, one of whom was having difficulty calving (the vet would have to be called) and another who needed some assistance. One nervous heifer (first time mother let’s say) was nervously backing out of a paddock not knowing what was happening to her (in labour). To ease her worry, I, of all people, stepped in, she who had never seen a cow calf before, to help calm the lady down. I shu-shu-shushed her, cajoled her to calm down with my ‘there-theres’ until eventually she settled herself down in a feeding passage (portion in front of the main sheds where silage is placed for the cows to eat) to calf. Not the perfect location let’s say.

When the vet arrived for the cow in the shed, the scene was chaotic, with the two in the shed in trouble, one in the feeding passage in labour, not to mention the new wife in flowery wellies practically singing to the calving heifer. I remember the poor vet asking Dan bewildered if ‘all was alright?’ not quite sure of the scene he had come upon. To be honest, my lady would have calved away by herself but being enthusiastic and fully sure that this new husband of mine could not manage without his new Jane Eyre, I stood behind the cow as she calved. He had given a few instructions. When the crew beans (calf’s hooves) appear and I was sure the calf was coming out the right way, I could help ease the calf out with the cow’s breath. I felt it; and if truth be told, it helped me when it came to my turn in the labour ward. With each exhalation, she pushed her calf further along it’s journey out. I would wait for her to exhale and then pull on the crew beans to help ease her burden. With a breath, a nose appeared, and she’d breathe again; a nose. Eyes, closed. Ears. Shoulders and then slide, the release into the world. She delivered calf number 428.

She was the first little calf I ever helped to deliver. There was so many that Spring and in my quest to impress himself, I spent a lot of time in those days, feeding calves, preparing bedding, cajoling newborns to drink their milk. I remember 428 as a healthy calf. In the years that followed I continued to know her as she was a bit of a pet. They normally don’t but she was one of those who would come over to you for a bit of a rub. If I was hanging out the washing and the cows were grazing in the field behind the house, she would always come over to me. It’s as if she knew.

So Thursday, I got the text. He was selling cows and would I get the cards ready (each cow had a passport that goes with them when they go for sale at the mart)? Her number appeared. There in the list of numbers was number 428. Honestly, the same day was crazy busy. It didn’t have a lot of time to register with me. There was Christmas tree to sort, kids stuff to attend to, I had to milk the cows (me, yes!) so I put it to the back of my mind. Before I knew it, she had left the yard. I can only say that she lived well here. Knowing him, she had always been treated well, ate in fine pasture, sauntered into milk each day for us. But it doesn’t make it easy when a cow leaves the farm. The difference is now though is that I’m not that girl in flowery wellies ‘playing at farming’ anymore. I’m all grown up. Farming is our family business and is our life here. Just like my hands that are no longer soft, I know that we give our animals a good life in return for their produce and then when lameness or old age threatens them, when they don’t go in calf or when their milk supply goes down, it’s their time to leave the herd. No matter what their number.

It’s hard. I’m sad both for 428 and for the girl in flowery wellies who watched her coming into the world. When I finish this post, the thought will be put to bed as I get on with the next chore of the evening. You know, if you’ve read along this while (and I thank you), then you’ll know that I love farming but it really can be a very hard life.

Number 428.

On Women

Are you working?

No, I’m at home? Are you working?

Yes, I am full-time, I feel guilty, the kids spend a long time with the childminder. But you know, someone has to save for their college bills.

I suppose. I will go back to work someday. Soon. It’s hard.

It’s really hard. Most of my wages go on childcare. And they hate going.

I wonder if I’m doing it right. Staying at home. Somedays, I think I’m losing the ability to communicate and socialize with others. I love your outfit.

I wish I didn’t have to dress up every day.

I wish I didn’t have to wear the same pair of jeans around the house every day.

And as for housework. I have a full day of work when I get home in the evenings.

I hate housework. It’s all I seem to do. I get frustrated and bored.

I wish someone did something to improve the lives of the amazing women I have in my life who torture themselves playing the same scripts over and over.

We do our best. Be good to yourself woman, not just today on International Women’s Day. Pledge to be better to yourself and other women. Respect her choices. Respect yours. It’s not over yet.

 

 

 

 

In an old Parisian zoo

We walked to a local market with our two young children in buggies. We were visiting the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris and needed a picnic. Knowing I wasn’t going to bring young boys into Parisian restaurants, I came prepared; plastic cups, cheese knife, napkins, healthy appetites. The Boulangerie along the way provided our breads and dessert. The market filling our picnic basket with a cake that was also cheese (but not a cheesecake) and fruit. I spied a delicatessen and left my farmer, or Dan as he is known off the farm, in the shade with the buggies to buy some cold meats.

In the tiny charcuterie, no bigger than a newsstand, locals were filing in to buy lunch. With two slices of pork terrine en croûte and some delicious cold meats, I saw the little shelf where the obligatory bottles of lunchtime red wines were held. Now I love my local butchers but he doesn’t sell wine, only in Paris I thought and it would be rude not to partake in the local customs, I placed the gorgeous bottle of red alongside my purchases. The owner seeing Dan with the two buggies in the shade, asked if we were picnicing. Then I’ll open the bottle for you he said. So matter of fact. So natural. So French.

We chased two little children around the oldest city zoo in the world, trying to catch butterflies in beautiful glasshouses and eventually settled ourselves down to our banquet fit for Marie Antoinette. It was August and we knew how to avoid the tourist trails, in years to come we thought, they would see the highlights. That day, they were young and hungry and blissfully unaware of the city around them. For their parents however, nothing was going to stop them enjoying their most favourite city, no tantrum or awkward buggy. The tastes, the pungent cheese, the baguette, the red wine, real grapes, we melted further into the day.

Later, as we walked ‘home’ along the Seine, we took full advantage of our afternoon nappers in their buggies and pulled into a cafe overlooking Notre Dame enjoying some coffee and crème brûlée.

We repeated that picnic under the Eiffel Tower and in the Jardin des Tuileries over our few days in Paris. Happily, we filled that holiday with nothing but family life, happy to be in Paris. I had learned years earlier, at nineteen, that Paris was more than a city and returned as often as my pockets would allow in the years to follow.  This morning, after these atrocities, I find it hard to describe what Paris is. I reach into my inkwell, seeking solace and know that Paris, to me, is just vitality, good living and truth. Values that I hoped on that sunny day in an old Parisian zoo, in the crust of their baguette, my sons would come to learn too.

Moi, je suis Paris et je suis tellement triste.

Six Years

I’m six years a mother. Don’t worry, the six year old is catered for by way of a cake, party, present but this is my moment. Stand back. Six years seems so paltry a figure for describing such an event. A small step for womankind but one immeasurable step for me. Drumroll please.

I have been changing nappies for six years. Since 15:15 on the 2nd of February, 2009, I have been feeding, kissing, changing the nappy of one boy or another. If this was a TV audience, there would be a grumpy looking man with a queue card saying ‘Applause.’ Instead, I’m holding the queue cards and I’m telling you what to do. Applause. Louder. Call that a round of applause. Six years people, three boys, feeding, wiping poos, minding, loving, adoring, worrying over, playing with, pampering to, reading stories to, nursing better, don’t-ing, cajoling. And what’s that you mumble from the back? I chose it? Oh yes, I did. But by God, I’ve earned it. Uproarious applause please.

Now for the sentimental bit. I love them all but the first one was a pretty good template. Despite being my first, and therefore the guinea pig, he has withstood my awful singing, woeful nappy changing attempts with and flashes of ridiculous looking silly temper. He is and will always be the first one to snuggle under my arm first thing in the morning. His smile makes me weep sometimes. He is beautiful. From 7lb and 10oz of tiny goodness, he has set up shop in my heart and grown into the most handsome little gentleman any mommy will ever have. That woman in the front is raising a hand. Don’t want to know about your Grandson Mrs, have her removed!

If motherhood is a test, then I’m the student with the writing up her sleeve and the ‘please God’ look on her face in the exam hall. Yes, I’m six years a mother and it’s been worth the slog. What’s that? A standing ovation. Oh you.

Happy almost Birthday, my boy Philip

 

 

There’s more, I’ve written for Irish Country Living this week…. http://www.farmersjournal.ie/views-on-farming-from-a-city-girl-173739/

 

Breaking Bread

It’s time to break bread. Now, if reader you find yourself in front of a farmer, let’s say, at an altar, anytime soon, listen carefully. You may not know it, but unknowns to you, he is going to craftily get you to bake him fresh bread every second day. You heard it here first.

At first, there’s outrage. ‘What d’ya mean your mother bakes you fresh bread?’

Then there’s denial. He couldn’t possibly want me to bake brown soda from scratch?

Followed by compromise. Look darling, this bread company delivers really delicious bread. And it’s fresh.

He says nothing (Watch out for the quiet ones).

Ok, I’ll try it once.

This is tasty. What if I were to add some honey for a bit of sweetness.

It’s missing something. One Egg.

And colour. A spoon of sunflower oil.

He still says nothing. There is, it seems, the beginning of a wry smile. And a habit is forming.

A really hot oven and the smell of baking bread rises above the noise and farm odours. A dish of water at the bottom of the oven and the bread is moist.

Eight years have passed.

Then comes the little voice that says ‘I love it when you put brown bread and jam in my lunch box.’

And the ‘don’t you make a lovely loaf’ from visitors.

‘Mommy bown bed.’

When the milk cheque is seeping out through the holes of the purse, it’s less expensive and it might just keep the doctor’s bills down.

And then there are the days with three children and getting to a shop when you live in the middle of a field seems impossible and you realize it’s just easier to put on the oven.

If you let the a jug of milk out for a couple of nights, it’s butter milk and that’s when your bread is so soft it brings a tear to the farmer’s eyes.

And then, you know he’s got you. Listen carefully to those vows. He might just whisper ‘In sickness as in bread’ while you stand there grinning and nodding at the cat who just got the cream.

Buona Domenica

It’s been one of those weeks in Hearthill, everyone from the tetchy toddler, sick older brother, cranky mommy and patient farmer need a dose of tender loving care.  And so, administrating the dose, I refer as always back to the Italians in praise of all things bright and beautiful. They do it all so well; abundance, style, living, delight.  As an Italophile I try to bring a touch of La Dolce Vita into our home as often as I can moreso to remedy any lack of lustre that the Spring might impose. Just for today, Indulge me……

The Italians take the ordinary and translate it into the exquisite on a daily basis but more so on La Domenica, Sunday. It starts on Friday evening, down the little sidestreets, at the clink of the espresso cup on saucer after the obligatory fix of caffeine coming home from work, on collection of pastries for weekend treats, you begin to hear the echo of ‘Buona Domenica’ in big cities and small villages alike throughout Italy. ‘Buona Domenica’, ‘Have a Wonderful Sunday’ and even though it’s Friday, that Sunday moment is brought forward to signal the beginning of something special at the end of a week’s hard work.

Here, in Hearthill, Sunday is the day when the wellies are abandoned, fresh coffee is brewed, hot French toast is placed alongside the Sunday newspapers. There is normally a walk on a local beach, a leisurely chat with neighbours, delayed milking. It is a day for homemade pasta, fresh herbs, bambini covered in tomato ragu, leisurely dinner time. As with all good things alas, the moment when the milk machine is fixed onto the udder arrives and the familiar thrup, thrup, thrup of the milk machine comes echoing from the parlour signaling the end of a lovely Sunday and the beginning of a new week of work on the farm.

Buona Domenica….

Mother’s Day

The first day I realized I could do this mothering bit was on Mother’s day, 2009. Philip was six weeks old. I had him dressed up in his finery, placed him in his red pram and ventured the Listowel Farmer’s Market which has since become a weekly treat for young Brosnan boys.  First it was Philip, now Daniel and I wonder who will be next to join our merry jaunt?

On that Mother’s day, some five years ago, I didn’t want conversation; it was a test. Could I get him out in the world and keep him safe? Trepidation. I was weak. If someone looked in the pram, I held my breathe for their judgment. Was he tiny? Cold? Please, just say handsome. I was missing my own mother acutely having just moved to the countryside and therefore felt very uncertain as I took tiny steps into this unknown world of motherhood practically blindfolded. So after hearing some praise, I bought some daffodils to place on my pram. A picture of peace, daffodils to remember the day.

I decided Philip might like to treat me for Mother’s day so we went to the Listowel Arms Hotel. Looking for reassurance, I asked the lady at reception if I could feed him. As only another mother who spots a nervous first timer can, she leads me to an inviting foyer with black and white chequered tiles and dainty tea setting. I feed my handsome little boy and tuck him under my arm lovingly while I finish my first cup of ‘civilized’ coffee since giving birth.  Philip stares up at me in awe while we share a peaceful moment in the warm foyer.

It was a little step for woman and baby but a giant step for this first time mother. The ladies in the Arms know us now and I have it timed. These days, I waddle to the counter with young Daniel, order a coffee, some scones and half a glass of milk (so as not to spill!). The natives smile at my jam-smeared son’s face and we flick through the pages of his latest ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ comic. I know I need to finish my coffee by the last story.  I do so in order to maintain some semblance of civilization in this busy mothering life.

The boys, as gentlemen in training(!), somehow know that this is a big deal to their quaint mother and oblige more often than not to humour me for the quarter of an hour it takes to have that coffee before running wildly, as is right, back into their world.  Somehow along the way, my young trainees have guided me, though not always gently, along this mothering route and I smile at the memory of the terrified young mother who had just discovered the delight of a stolen moment of calm with a young son.

Happy Mother’s Day to you who are, loves or remembers a beloved mother.