Category Archives: Farmhouse

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.

Bouquet

So I cleared the breakfast ware earlier than usual this Saturday morning to make room for my bouquet of grasses. I was standing on the road herding the cows into the parlour yard for the farmer, I have my uses, when I saw along the hedgerow a meadow of grasses. It’s that time of year, we’ve had heat, sun and now moisture and the hedges are bursting with colour. I was a woman with a one track mind, not the cuckoo flower or daisy for me today, no, I was collecting grasses.

My farmer tells me that the field the cows had just come out of was at one time, perhaps fifty years ago, similar to my beautiful meadow. With reseeding, advances in agricultural knowledge, the grasses for grazing are made up of ryegrasses and clover. Now for the science bit. Such grasses are hardier, better for grazing, have more mid season regrowth (don’t ask me questions), are higher in sugar, have a good PH and are ideal for preserving
IMG_0625 winter food for the cows. Why, the clover is even fixates nitrogen, essential for growth of the sward. I know, I don’t recognize myself. Who is this knowledgable lady? Ta-dah.

So where does that leave our lovely meadow. Well outside the grazing paddock, out to pasture. In the farm’s memory, you could nearly see another farmer spreading a seed-drill of cocksfoot, annual meadow grass or scutch to name but a few. And here we are grazing our cows on ryegrass,  perhaps whispering a hello to great grand children. Wouldn’t that be grand?

So this amateur botanist is away now to clear away the table for the next meal that may or may not include men cutting our grass for silage. It depends I suppose on whether or not this passing shower will turn into rain all day. Such a precarious business this grass growing.

A bouquet of grass for you Madame/Monsieur.

Girl in Wellies 2.0

She thought she knew it all. Had this farming business down. She was wrong.

You might have noticed my absence over these months. I haven’t been away. Still here throwing a shape as they say on a farmhouse in North Kerry. However, to add an extra dimension to the household, I have returned to college (on a very part time basis) to study agriculture. Yes, I’ll say it again, he did see me coming. Studying for ‘The Green Cert’ has benefits for our farm and our plans for the future but what I wasn’t expecting was the fact of how little knowledge of farming I actually had and whats more this new venture in learning was a step into the virtual unknown. Indeed.

I had mentioned to a couple of friends that I was thinking of doing it. The city friends, knowing me, laughed. Did she ever see herself studying farming, didn’t she avoid farmers around campus for fear of ending up anywhere other than a swanky European capital without a filofax or shoe budget to her name (ah the notions of a twenty something language graduate, bless). The country friends, both male and female, have looked at me in awe, telling me their own stories of farming college, the year they ‘gave in Pallaskenry’ and said ‘Fair dues,’ smiling all the while at the poor misfortunate that didn’t really know what she was getting herself into.

The first few visits to college have been tragic. Examinations not going well (something as a top student, ahem, I was utterly unprepared for), and the dawning realization that not having grown up on a farm or not having really been listening to my husband talk about the farm (yes dear, spreading in the High Field, I hear you, should I take in the washing?), I am swimming up the proverbial slurry pool without a paddle. Pooooh- eee.

I mean did you know there were different types of Grass? Nor did I! I thought it was classified by colour; green, greener, greenish, yellow tipped, dark green, oh, that’s green. Forty shades what? No apparently, it’s all Perennial Ryegrass this, Scutch Grass that, Cocksfoot, Timothy, Yorkshire, Meadow Fescue to name but a few. And I think my girlish charms are not going to get me out of this one. (Not that I batted my eyelashes and said Green when asked, no, no!) And they’re going to test me on this. Really! I kid you not. Stand in front of this grass and identify them they’ll say. Identify them? Trust me, they are very similar. Please note (though you may have it figured), if you’re a botanist, this is most definitely not the blog for you.

Turning this around, I see this new phase in my educational life as a opportunity. One that I hope to share with you, if you want to listen that is. Climbing up the next step on the agricultural ladder as I leave the flowery wellies behind for a brand new pair of the more serious Dunlops. If nothing else, farming prepares you for a life of overcoming the odds, all the while with the good farmer by my side, explaining as I go along. You know, I might just learn to wade well through that river of slurry, emerging as a newer and better version of myself. Stranger things have happened, like they’ve labelled grass!

Yours, Girl in Serious Wellies, version 2.0.

After Dinner

You’re on the final sprint by after dinner. Homework done, dinner eaten, you can taste the freedom. The boys kick about, watch television, chase each other outside on fine evenings. To wash up now or later. Later, later. The house has the appearance of a day’s living as dinner smells settle and activity levels wind down. The farmer kisses all goodnight and heads out the door to milk the cows. It’s a solitary half an hour drinking coffee, reading, surfing the internet, procrastinating, making a phone call while all the household goes about their own business for a little while.

What comes after is work. Cajoling into pajamas, co-ercing into tidy up, washing faces, teaching how to brush teeth, listening as the milk machine goes across the road. Lights are on in the farmhouse earlier now, we cosy into bed and settle into stories. We visit castles, old Ireland, swim underwater, sail pirate ships and say a little prayer. How much do you love me? Oh, that’s a very long way. Sleep now. Sleep.

Mostly they oblige, three little heads peeking above the blankets as they drift into dreams after a hard days work. I resist the urge to sleep myself and drag myself down the stairs to nighttime radio, washing up, baking bread if needed and organizing. I boil the kettle for the farmer’s supper, switch on the outside light waiting for him to come home. There is much living in a day around here. Rightly so.

To the Mart

He may only be three going on four but already you get glimpses of the man he’ll become. I’ll be talking to Daddy he tells me excited at the day that lays ahead. I’ll be up on the big box with Dan (as he calls Daddy) when we sell the calves. The same calves who he tried to feed some weeks before. The same calves he let lick or morelike swallow his little hand previously.

He walks down the drive with a little swagger behind his father who is busy trying to think of what else he might need for the mart. Calves, check. Calf cards, check, phone, wallet, keys check, little namesake, check. The rain pours down on them but little will dampen the spirits of the three year old, who carrying the ham sandwiches on Thomas the Tank backpack, will drive with Daddy in his tractor to the mart.

The city woman in me used to wonder what we would tell them about the days we would have to put calves in the trailer to take to the mart. It used to make me a little sad but I’ve come to realize that my life as a farmer’s wife is less of a novelty now and more the norm by the year. That these little of boys of mine while adoring their animals, know from a young age that taking the calves to the mart is a part of the job. Not a time for sentimentality mom.

Just before being lifted up high by his Daddy towards his little seat on the tractor, he gives me one big wave and a happy smile. He’s off for a day at the mart, a day with Daddy. Such a big boy now.

Dinnertime

And the living ain’t easy. I don’t want to give up I think as I’m punching the air in the pantry. I’ve come to hide to take several deep breaths instead of throwing a tantrum myself at my longing for one peaceful dinner.

One peaceful dinner where the baby doesn’t throw his spoon on the floor with a giggle, twenty times. One peaceful dinner where my toddler sits at the table and eats. One peaceful dinner where I’m not lecturing the six year old on the value of eating meat and vegetables. One peaceful dinner where we chat, dissect our day, eat our meal. Imagine, all of us eating and enjoying our meal. And by one peaceful dinner I mean, one whole mealtime from lift of fork to final quiet burp without a spillage, a tantrum, a sigh or a complaint. Just one.

Let’s face it, it would be easier to put on the TV, put them in front of it, chat to the husband and let them eat whatever. But I won’t give up!

Now for the science bit.

Research says. Research says. Obesity. Research. You can skip this bit if you want. High achievers. Dinner together. The experts say. Research on diabetes asserts. Obesity. Family bonding. More research. Seriously, how are we supposed to digest?

Look, I’m not looking for Walton like family meals, ha ha happy nudging and joshing each other. I just want a peaceful enough dinner. Does it happen? Will they reach a reasonable age where it just clicks. I’m not looking to hear a hearty laugh as they pass the potatoes, just one meal where we don’t look like one of the bad families from Nanny 911 or what have you.

I can see her now, the Nanny Lady. Anne, your mealtimes are just crazy. You’ve got to get this together, you can do this. Now, this is the naughty step, come to eye level with them and explain and that is where I lose her. Put them on the naughty step at dinner, I’m hungry. Eye level, I’m hungry. Explain? I’m hungry Nanny. And the question on everyones lips is ‘Does Nanny 911 actually have kids?’ Just saying.

What makes the whole situation worse in a farmhouse, is that we often have another man who works on the farm joining us at mealtimes. He’s a part of the furniture around here, we consider him a friend but it is not easy trying to discipline your children in front of someone else. It often makes the situation more fraught. There we are, trying to make idle chat about the weather, grass and greyhounds (don’t ask) while simultaneously trying to get food into three young boys. Honestly. Why haven’t I been canonized? And you know, that they will be worse because they think they will get away with more. Sometimes, I think If he could pick up his plate and go off and eat alone, I think he would. I would. Poor man. Poor us.

I know I can say this to you. I know if you have children under seven, no, eight even, that they can be hard work at dinner times. I know you won’t judge me.  If they’re not, knock yourself out, feel as smug as you like, but please, for the love of God, just don’t call Nanny 911, I promise I’ll eat all my dinner.

Bacon and Cabbage

How could you like a dish that promised to put ‘hairs on yer chest’? I hated the smell of Bacon and Cabbage. Nasty green curly leaves soaking in ugly water, a dish for men. Cork city on Sundays after mass reeked of the stuff, city mothers everywhere plaumausing their spouses and sons (a bonus if your daughter liked it) with bacon that knew certain death by boiling.

It was a dish I had banished to the recesses never to be cooked by my fair hand, not in my kitchen, not at my dinner table. When I was single. Then comes the handsome lump of a husband who loves bacon and cabbage and you ignore him for the first couple of months. He’ll have to be satisfied with the memory of the smell of it from his youth. Not in my kitchen, not by my fair hand. You know what’s coming, resignation.

So, darling like, I asked my husband’s mother how he liked his bacon and cabbage. I might have been gushing, it was the honeymoon period. ‘I was thinking of making him bacon and cabbage, how does he like it?’ My first mistake was asking her how he liked it instead of how to make it.  It was like I had just declared my undying love for her son at her threshold, Oprah style. Not very North Kerry this heart on your sleeve lark I can tell you. The poor woman wasn’t prepared for it, she was indignant, I was mortified, she rattled something about bay leaves and onions to get rid of me and I, pretending to listen, skulked as fast as I could out of the kitchen, red faced and none the wiser on the boiled bacon front.

It took a while to get the hang of it but I think I might have perfected it to the point of cheering him up on a cold March day when he’s had little sleep and in need of a restoring bowl of his favourite dish. I realize that on reading this, you’re thinking I’m a 1950’s housewife daring you to make your husband happy and you could be right that I’m be putting the woman’s liberation moment back a hundred years or so but I’ll take my chances;

Bacon and Cabbage; Love on a plate.

This is one of those dishes that looks after itself. Technically, you should boil the bacon alone first and pour the first boiling of water away to take away the first blast of salt. I put carrots and onions roughly chopped into a big pot along with the lump of bacon and cover it with water. Add in a half handful of black pepper corns and two bay leaves. Leave it boil away, largely ignored until it starts to smell nice and it feels like a cooked slice of bacon when you insert the knife. (It could take from 40 minutes to an hour. You know yourself). For the last twenty minutes, add in the cabbage leaves and a good knob of butter. Why not? The bacon is served sliced hiding under cabbage, delicate onions and carrots alongside a heap of buttery potato mash with juice poured on top. Oh and don’t throw away the ugly water, you can use it as stock in tomorrow’s soup.

It’s boiling away here and it smells less like Sunday after Mass and more like a Kerry farmhouse on a Spring day, delicious. So there you are, that will put hairs on yer chest and may I add, it might just put a pep in your step.