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Picture the scene. A farmhouse in North Kerry, Ireland, November, 2016. It’s windy and cold outside. The farmer of the house is milking the cows. Inside, in the main living area of the house, there are three young boys running everywhere while a mother shouts commands. The children in response jump off the couches, scream at lost blankies, pout at the injustice of it all.

They arrange the meditation cushions, fighting all the time about who gets what colour. The mother, determined, pulls the cushions into a circle. There is a crashing noise in the background. A black cat appears from the kitchen looking coy. She’s undeterred. She asks the children to get down on their cushions. They’re going to meditate.

“May we safe from inner and out harm” And by that she means that the eldest takes his foot off his brother.

“May we be happy and peaceful” hoping that her emphasis on peaceful really resonates in their inner sanctum or that they just stop talking long enough for her to get to the end of the sentance.

“May we be healthy and strong” repeating her lifelong wish that they get to adulthood without her losing her mind.

As she sits in the lotus, eyes closed, in this scene of chaos of sprawling limbs and giddiness, she smiles. Maybe just a little.

“What about the om’s Mom” the second boy giggles. Oh God, she thinks, not the oms.

And then echoing throughout the farmhouse, on a rainy morning in Kerry just before schooltime, three boys and their mother hold some ‘Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooms’ for longer than is descent and louder than is possible.

Sometimes, after this ‘practice’, they arise from the cushions having got the crazy out, othertimes, they pull her up willing her to go on. Mostly, the poor woman gets up shaking her head walking towards the coffee machine, dejected. Why does she do it?

She hopes that they remember that in the craziness, that there was for a few moments, at least, a smiling mom in the middle of it all. That they can always find peace in the middle of all the chaos. Repeat.


Good Guy

During January 2009, I pretty much sat plopped in a tiny sitting room whilst heavily pregnant. I had a heater, a television and crisps. I was happy. Happier still because a few days before my first little boy was due to be born, I was watching the inauguration of the first Black American President, Barrack Obama. And as I patted my little boy (or girl, who knew) in my tummy, I knew it was all going to be ok. This Barrack Obama, well, he was good guy.
My son was born to a world where a good guy was in charge. Simplistic isn’t it? Pretty much. Like it or not, the position of American president is important world wide. It has ripples through the economies and societies of this planet.
My son is a clever, sensitive type. With such a lad, you have to keep pointing out the good guys, that’s how they think these young clever sensitive types and frequently, I would point him towards Mr. Obama because he is exactly what I think he needed to see. You have the sense with Barrack Obama, that it’s all going to be alright. He promotes grace as the way forward, of being exactly who you are and using that in order to make your own place in this planet. That’s what we want for our sons. That they be themselves because as Oscar Wilde puts it ‘everybody else is taken.’
He’s been ‘in charge’ while Philip learned to crawl unknowing that they was a good guy leading a world economy out of trouble.
And now he’s going, this good guy and the alternative not such a good guy is not someone I would promote in my family, not someone I’d like my beautiful sons to be. But there are always other heros, and maybe it’s time for a female role model around here. Just saying.
Thanks Mr. Obama for being the good guy and for letting us know it was all going to be alright.

Fields of France

Have you ever driven with a farmer? It’s a bit of an occupational hazard, for his wife at least. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many strings to his bow but seeing as land is his bread and butter, he is not shy in his description of the land before him on a drive. You might for example be driving around the most picturesque parts of this country and he’ll wonder how the poor creaturs can grow anything. Furthermore, driving through my former county of Cork, he wonders why I didn’t find myself a West Cork farmer (like marrying a farmer had been the plan!) for all their fine land. When he’s in farmer mode, in other words, sur-God-help-him-he’s-only-a-north-kerry-farmer mode. It doesn’t happen often, only when his batteries need changing.

It was on one such drive, in Northern France of all places, six years ago, that he discussed the fertility of the Somme’s acerage. We were on a mission you see. My mother’s Grand Uncle Benjamin had been killed in 1916 during the First World War and a promise to find him and say a prayer over his grave needed fulfilling. My Grandmother had promised her mother she’d find him, my mother had promised hers and when my turn came to do something, I had technology at hand to easily, relatively, find him. Overnight, we had found a photo of his grave online and it’s exact location in a cemetery in the Somme to finally get the job done. Yes, a reminder that technology really is marvelous.

The land in the Somme, I had to agree was incredible. As it was freshly ploughed tillage land, it looked like a healthy head of brown hair freshly combed. Rolling brown December hills surrounded our hire car for many acres as we drove through the former sites of many many battles. Sites where many young sons, brothers, fathers and lovers had lost their very young lives in World War One. It was hard to imagine in the absolute beauty and peace of this lovely land that it once had been the stage for such destruction of young lives. You couldn’t imagine anything above the noise of a combine harvester were it not for the cemeteries. So many cemeteries. Beautifully maintained, ordered, white cemeteries around every corner.

My Great Grand Uncle’s grave sat amongst so many others in the quiet of the Northern French countryside. We realised how lucky we were to find him as many of his neighbouring bedfellows had neither name or rank to their headstones. So many unknown soldiers lying anonymously in the field around him. Each one however, honoured in the same way. In neat rows with white marble headstones with flowers perfectly tended above their heads. But for these vast reminders, we would have been looking and praising the finest agricultural land in France. He could have contined to praise this beautiful land were in not for the haunting, not of ghosts or any such myth but of the haunting futility of the many many lost lives buried in this land.

My Great Great Grandmother had only recieved the King’s notice of her son’s death along with some medals for his bravery on the field. But that was it. She never saw where he lay, the beauty of his surrounds, how he lay like an older uncle, deceased at age thirty three among the many men of sixteen or seventeen who would never see their mothers again. One hundred years on since his death, she lay herself so much land and sea away in another cemetary as we prayed and as my mother shed some tears on behalf of this mother and her son lying in the fields of France.

The Buzz

I imagine if you needed to wake the dead, you could just pasteurize milk in their vicinity. Think high pitched buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
If you’re a visitor to our home and not accustomed to this buzzing (we’ve become so familiar with it that we no longer hear it), you might jump from your chair. But really, the pasteuriser is a behind the scenes sort of affair like the rollers in the farmer’s wife’s hair of a Saturday evening, so you’d have to know and love us to ever hear that buzz.
The farmer carries the steel bucket to the milking parlour daily. While he’s milking, he’ll fill it up with creamy milk and run over at some point to bring it to the kitchen table. It’s laborious but like anything worthwhile, worth it. From here, I place the steel bucket into the pasteuriser and fill up around the bucket and plug it in. It takes about ten minutes to come to boiling and then comes the earth shattering buzz. Instinctively, at the hint of a tiny warning buzz, I get to the machine and switch it off. Then comes the glugging. A water hose is attached and milk it cooled. Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug. You might use the water coming out to wash the dishes or when it’s cool, water a couple of plants. Glug, glug, glug. It goes on for a while.
When it has cooled, I lift the stainless steel bucket out and start filling the jugs. I use a funnel to pour the milk into the thinner necked bottles and fill a few small jugs for the dinner table or fancy jug for a visitor. It’s messy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a lucky thing I married a Dairy Farmer with my tendancy to produce sons, for my God, when I say I pasteurise milk daily, I pasteurise milk daily. One gallon a day. In their defense, I also use the milk to make bread, bechamels, yoghurts and any dish that I can liberally apply milk or indeed cream. It is gorgeous. It’s the only word to describe it. Gorgeous. When you pour the milk into the jugs you see the creamy content and it’s true, the cream does rise to the top. It’s an accustomed taste, because it tastes strongly of farm if you catch my drift. When the cows are on grass, really lovely June grass, it’s best, you can taste the lazy rumination of a Summer’s day. By November, when the cows are in, you can almost taste the strength of silage. And I love to open the fridge and see jugs of creamy fresh milk on the top shelf waiting for their culinary adventure or pour into a little boy’s glass.

It is the best part of the job. Watching the cows outside the window grazing on green grass, I am thankful for their milk and the abundance it brings to our dining table. We are very lucky indeed and I love our cows for that.


All Because the Lady loves

Once upon a time when I was single girl, in the days before wellies and well, em, boys, I was quaint and I did love a silver service. Knowing this, a wonderful friend once bought me an antique wooden tray. A egg shell coloured tray with gold rim, just enough space in the handles for a dainty lady to carry and the picture of two antique roses on top. Beautiful. I used it a lot, in my free time, when I wasn’t working, I lived like a retiree, going from one elegant cup of tea to the next. Ah, the memory of it.

Alas, there is nothing like life to come and add some rough edges. Trying to keep my beautiful tray from recieving the Brosnan young boy treatment, I hid it, under the socks; a guarentee that it would never be seen again. For with a gaggle of young sons, a farmer and yours truly, the dilemma of the sock mountain has yet to be overcome, literally.

This morning, in the rush for one pair of matching socks, just one, Lord, just one, I came accross my tray. It’s image must have attached itself to me for it hung with me whilst I ran two boys to school, got an emergency milk cluster shell at the creamery (I know), and the obligatory bottle of calpol for the feverish little one. And because my young man had not slept very well last night, he duly toddled his way up the wooden stairs for some much needed sleep.

So out came the tray.

Holding back on breakfasts, as mommys sometimes do, until the crew are all delivered to their posts, I had it all to eat now. I lay that beautiful tray on my table and on it I placed the warmed porridge with creamy milk, some fresh juice, brown bread with butter and jam, some coffee. It needed a napkin, some lovely (and by lovely I mean clean) cutlery, some brown sugar and a tidy space to lay it down. I dare not look around because you know what the house looks like, I need not describe it to you. No. Instead, know that the lady of the house enjoyed her peaceful breakfast looking out over the mountains of Kerry on a bright sunny morning as the last of the lavendar wave their goodbyes. I dare not come to the end of this post, and know that the lovely tray will have to be put away, maybe somewhere that from now that it will serve as a reminder to the quaint little lady inside who needs a quiet and darling old time.

He’s grand

Please understand. If you are a young mother in need of company, reassurance and a chat with your babe in arms then the mother and baby gettogether is a very valuable haven. But it was not for me. And it has taken me seven years before I can come out of the baby closet and tell you why.

I gave an hour of my life to a mother and baby ‘todo’ and I will never get that hour back. Nor do I want it!

Living in the countryside when you are a young mother is altogether very difficult. Living anywhere when you are for the most part alone with a new infant without your parents, siblings and friends to rant to is very difficult. You love your new infant but the trouble is he doesn’t come with instructions or a wide vocabulary or an ability to dress himself. Imagine!

So finding myself in a similar state when my first born very patient child was born, I took the advise of a visiting nurse (it’s always the nurse!) and took myself off to a mother and baby group. Now to begin with my expectations were high. I wanted to know how to keep this little person in good stead while keeping myself, well, sane. I wanted laughter, I wanted a little light relief, I wanted some friends. I don’t ask for much. Instead what did I get? An hour long conversation on poo. No. An hour long graphic and visual conversation on poo.

Only a young mother, breastfeeding her child or otherwise can fully appreciate the obsession that one has when her first born arrives with the colour of their, excuse me, stool. But put a group of young walking wounded sleep deprived women with young babies in a room is, or was in my mind, a reciepe for disaster. All it takes is one person to mention the poo word and they were off.

‘Yes, it was black and tar-ry on day one, and then it became more yellow and mustardly.’

‘Is yours still mustardy’. ‘Yes.’ ‘And smelly.’

‘Mine isn’t so much as mustardly as kind of greenish now. The nurse said that was alright.’

‘Can I see?’ And yes, she did reveal all. I was indignant on behalf of the babe in arms. But it didn’t stop there. All members of the assembled group joined in while I covered my sons eyes at the scenes of bare bottom nudity while rashes were examined and nappy contents continued to be dissected ad nauseum. And what was I looking for? What did this party need beside alcolhol?

Why, a sense of humour. Why are we mature adults not seeing the hilarity of talking about poos. Was I the only one who felt that I had just left the real for the surreal? That common sense had left the building and taken its buddy humour with it. Looking back, the only sensible addition to the meeting would have the presence of an older mother, a granny or mother of three grown children to periodically look up from her knitting and say ‘he’s grand’. Sitting there in the middle diffusing all anxieties with ‘he’s grand.’ ‘That’s nothing girl’, he’s grand’. For that’s how it was done you know, new mothers were held in the care of the wider family and shown how to rear their young and dismiss nagging worries with nonchalant shrugs and laughter.

So there you have it. I feel lighter for having said it. I’m sure there are more positive experiences out there in the world of mammy and baby meetings but I don’t want to know. I am no longer the young mother lost in a sea of questions about babies but beggining to become fluent in the language of the mature mammy uttering ‘he’s grand’ at every fall. ‘Up ow that, you’re grand.’

So come here you young mammies, please know, he (or indeed she) is just grand. Big love to you.

Don’t try this at home

I passed supermom mode one bar of chocolate ago and am now in a fuzzy, confusing place. This day started way too early ago with my second little darling starting school. Let’s just say my blue-eyed challenging humdinger of a baby has made it out into the real world. To say that he inherited his mommy’s spirited streak does neither of us justice but it is safe to say that around this day, some five years ago he looked into my eyes on his arrival (trust me, this kid could see), and I knew it was going to be an interesting journey, to say the least.

So at nine am, I left him at the classroom and with him my heart for he for all his wildness is the funniest most lovable rogue that a mommy ever had the pleasure to know. He was happy, I was happy-ish. Arriving home, I was intent on making the day perfect (eeek) and started into baking the first-day-at-school-cake while trying to give our third son a bit more attention given that he was now the centre of all my attention. So the cake, think jam and jelly and cream and fruit squashed between two sponge layers. Delicious. But no, why stop there. My eldest was starting into a new class too, why his favorite, he would have to have meatballs. And the third little boy could help. Sigh.

And then I would fold the washing with the third. Then we would play and read stories and chat and have tea and call Daddy for lunch. Dizzy yet? Then we would collect our newest school go-er and chat about his day at school. And then, we would try and fit in another number of jobs and then we would collect Primo. And then we would cook the meatballs. And have a first day at school party with the cake. By now, believe me, we’re tired. And then, we would go to bed for pity sake. We would read. We would eventually fall to sleep. And then, yours truly would go and get organized for the next day. Nope, not over yet.

As the craziness continued, I felt it most necessary to take out the agricultural notes I had spent all summer avoiding and of all nights begin revising them tonight. Tonight. So as I sit here writing a blog post (why not), I am up to my oxters in diagrams on the external features of a Beef animal (I would say a cow), feeling like a bit of a rag. Someone show me the way to go home. We do it though. We go too far. And don’t we know it. And don’t we have to reel it back in. Wherever you are out there, mind yourselves and for God’s sake, don’t be stuck if you need to know what end of beef animal (aka cow) you’re looking at. Sleep tight.

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.