Category Archives: City Girl

A portrait

It’s a tap on the shoulder from impermanence to say, eh, sorry, love, but you haven’t got all day. Sheesh. I know that, on your way, I’ve seen the grey hairs, the little wrinkles that he promises me he loves still. The signs to let me know that on awakening from what seems a ten-year slumber while washing the dishes and changing nappies; I’ve awoken and suddenly I’ve grown older. While sleep-depreived and breastfeeding, spoon feeding and toilet training, I had little time for watching the world or really taking as much notice as I would have liked.

While I was measuring the little steps, their height on my pantry wall, their ability to reach the biscuit shelf, everything else was getting a little bit older too. You’re right, impermanence, time does not wait for any man or woman. Just show yourself out will you?

They’re older now, in fact, they’re all away, at their Nana’s, two nights away and I believe I just heard silence, real silence. There it is again. No sound. No screaming or pushing, laughing, ‘I’m hungry-ing’, no falling, nobody has let the cats in or out, nobody has slammed a door. There is just me and my tap, tap, tapping and head space and oh my, do I have a lot to catch up on.

And empty, the house reminds me of a frame of a beautiful picture, I mean, it’s a very fine frame, a collector’s item really, regardless of the battered edges that lend it a somewhat fine aged contour. But it is an empty picture nonetheless without the three main characters in the picture’s portrait. The little beautiful creatures who take up the foreground of the painting of our lives here. And here, listen to me, me with time on my hands, to tidy in peace, sit still, watch uninterrupted television, to read a book, feed a calf and I’m sitting here thinking of them.

Time without children is time to recuperate, time to recover from the exhaustion of always being somebody’s, some three bodies mother. Where does time go? She’s off to the garden, with a beer and a little music and a bit of appreciation for the finest things in this life.

In gratitude of my beautiful portrait.

 

Anne

 

 

About now

About now, you’ve finished early, taken the tie off, flung it on the backseat or relaxed in your casual Friday gear; you’re off to collect the kids that extra hour early. It might be a Chinese for supper, or that new Asian street food place you like. He puts that wine you like in the fridge and you buy the croissants for Saturday morning or pancakes, he makes pancakes on Saturday morning as a treat. It is, after all, the weekend. I dream of your weekend sometimes, remember, that time when, in a lifetime ago, I clocked out early on Fridays and met up with the gang after hours to exchange out of hours office gossip over cocktails and local beers. Dream of how himself might finish at five, collect the kids while I get my hair done for a night out.

And so to now, how can I describe the weekend to you on the farm? What changes on the Friday, moreso, Saturday to whisper take-that-break? As usual, I can only describe this evenings scene. Friday is market day in our nearby town and myself and my almost four year old make it our business to shake hands with the fish monger (they’ve built up a friendship) and pick up enough fish to feed, let me see, two men, one woman, three boys for dinner.  And then from under her awning, local farmhouse baker, Audrey, who has been up since 5am baking delicious cakes, saves me a job and I carry home dessert for after our meal of fish. The children, like yours, come home without homework and they disappear, to play, shout, cartwheel. This evening they are pirates, all three with hats on as they shout orders to each other while the cows look on, chewing their cud, happily in the sun, until the farmer and his pirates swashbuckle into the field to bring them home for milking.

As to the cats, on weekdays I shoo them out, there are four, Coco and her children Hermione, Harry and Tom (formerly known as Lily) but at the weekend they remain hidden happily in various parts in or out of the farmhouse, in an available basket, basking in the sun on top of one of our collies, Sam and Pepe. I might wash the ware, or not straight away. There’s no rush, the weeks work is done in the farmhouse, I listen to my radio, light a candle, chill that wine, think about writing to you, watch my pirates as they laugh into the Kerry air surrounded by cows and cats and dogs, their family.

The work really doesn’t stop but it might move down a gear, but don’t tell anyone. We continue to milk the cows twice a day, feed calves twice a day, move wires, fence, feed remaining silage to heifers, clean out cubicles for any remaining animals housed, go to the creamery for supplies to keep us going for the weekend, fix water troughs that might need mending, spread fertiliser, slurry, agitate same slurry and an innumerable amount of other chores so that we can have Sunday afternoon off between milking. Phew, you say.

My friends have stopped asking, we’re not really available to meet on Saturdays but we’d love to see you Sundays. We’re great friends on Sundays, between milkings. And yes, it is difficult. But it reminds me to book a babysitter, to remind himself to finish milking early on Saturday. It is our life, one that I know, though it has it’s moments, now, I have come to love. I’ll take my chair and book and tea later and sit outside and watch all my pirates chat with their Daddy as they bring their cows in and delight in the weekend that is here.  Sometimes I bring the cows in but not on Friday evenings let it for Daddy and boy time as they take off along with the cats, dogs and cows to wonder over to the milking parlour all enjoying each others company. And I breathe in the weekend and exhale the busy week that was. Another weekend on a dairy farm as I take my little break.

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

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.