Tea for the Tillie Mom

Tea is on the hob. Sit down for a spell.

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A Cottage by the Sea. A Staggering Cat.


I booked a week off work to detoxify my head, meditate and try to cure my laryngitis. The plan didn’t take. Life intrudes.  Plans change.  I should know that well enough by now.

Frankie is my accidental cat of the past twelve years.  He is the sole survivor of ‘life before widowhood’, that reference point that brings me back to those little moments, the silly talk and the compromises of marriage with Eoin.  He is the furry, shedding link to the Heidi of then, and the Heidi now.  Last Saturday, Frankie suddenly fell from the kitchen worktop.  I caught him mid-way, but when I lowered him to the floor, he fell over onto his side.  He rose, staggered, fell again, then staggered on to the sofa and slept.  Frankie has had a stroke.  He spent three days with the veterinarian, where, among other things, we learned his blood count was quite low, which may be stroke related, or possibly an infection.  He’s home now, mainly confined to the spare bedroom where he dines alone on some very exclusive pâté-type cat food and staggers between his dish, bed and litter tray.  All we can do is wait and see….

Meanwhile, as I stalk Frankie throughout the house like a ghoulish documentarian, gaugeing his progress, other matters are afloat.  I have four weeks (less) to pull my act together and move self and crew to our new digs on the seaside.


Mentally, I have everything packed and organised; literally, not so much. I’m doing the mathematical acrobatics in my head of how I’ll get the money together, how to get things organised and packed, and most significantly, how I’ll get my larger items (bed, bookcases, chest of drawers..) from point A to point B.  My current mantra when I start stressing out is, ‘I have all that I need within me to get this shit done.’  And, truthfully, I do.  I’m resourceful.  I’m plucky.  I just don’t always feel that way.  I also remind myself of how incredibly fortunate I am to have landed this place.  It’s so beautiful and entirely worth all the craziness I’m experiencing now on the build-up to the move.  I have all that I need within me…  Some boxes wouldn’t go amiss though.



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The Farm Report

chicken conferenceI have not written about my collection of cluckers yet.  My three girls have been with me now for about three months.  It’s been a learning curve trying to balance work, the house, the dogs, garden and hens.  We’ve worked out free range times before and after work, and are very slowly getting the dogs calmed down enough to where they don’t charge straight for the run, but we’re nowhere near allowing them out with the chickens at free range times.  The first coop/run I bought did not work out so well.  Far too flimsy, so I passed it on to someone else and bought a very sturdy and roomy coop second-hand.  However it came with a bantam hen and two chicks.  Thus far, I’ve kept them separate in a smaller run.  But she misses her first coop and will run straight for  it when she’s loose in the


garden.  Today was the first day I had my three big girls out at the same time as the bantam and her chicks.  I stayed out with them as I worried the big girls might peck at the chicks, but they mostly ignored them.  But this girl is a bit of a bully.  She went for the bantam a few times, so I honed my inner rooster and intervened.  In fairness the

evil genis

bantam held her own.  First against the bully, then later, she pretty much owned the bluebell.  My blackrock is pretty docile and kept clear of the squabbling.  So, I’m thinking that either tonight or tomorrow, I may integrate the lot of them and just keep a close eye to see how they get on.  The bantam seems capable enough of looking out for herself and the two chicks — so fingers crossed.

Meanwhile all these coop moves and new additions have had an impact on the egg laying.  For three straight days there were no eggs, then on the fourth I found five soft-shelled eggs in the run — a pretty mean feat for three hens.  Today there was one small hard-shelled cream coloured egg (I suspect the blackrock), and a huge double yolker from Bluebell.  The bully has only started to lay, so I’m not too worried about her.  I also don’t expect any eggs from the bantam until she’s back in her original coop and the pecking order is reestablished.

As for these guys…

beach day3

They still view the chickens as  fluffy, feathered things with pink meat inside, but are also getting hip to all the delicious things that come out their butts. Tillie makes a dash for the nest box first thing in the morning, then does a circle around the garden to every spot we’ve ever found an errant egg.  It would seem that chicken poop has given cat poop a run for its money as well.  Yuck.


Writing the middle aged body

no makeup

“Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard.”

— Helene Cixous, ‘Laugh of the Medusa’

When my sister died at the age of fifty-three — too young, too unexpected — my body marked my grief.  I visibly aged, with lines deepening upon my forehead, changes to the texture of my skin, and a ten pound weight gain that sent me into a ‘vanity panic’, the likes of which I had not experienced in years.  I want to say I’m over that now, but I’m not.  I do try to work through it; to change my way of thinking about my body as something beyond a visible surface or structure.  I try to imagine it as something more fluid that melds with, and is part of all of me — my thoughts, intellect, temperament, tastes and such forth — without specific lines of demarcation.  My body-as-me is in mourning.  The aching in my bones, the lump in my throat, the anxiety — even the clumsiness — are the physical manifestations of my grief.  All that I experience, whether it be grief, pleasure, fear or a sudden flash of brilliance, my body experiences.  Why on earth would I castigate this part of myself for something as natural and reasonable as aging and weight gain?

We (women) are judged.  We feel judged.  In turn, we judge ourselves and others. That is the message my sister shared, again and again, through countless telephone calls of self-denigration, always directing the conversation to the weight her body carried.  Always making apologies for the appearance of accumulated fat, as if the space she took up in the universe presented a repellent offence to the imagined order of the world’s landscape.  Leslie went far beyond feeling ‘dissatisfied’ with her body; she loathed it.  Adjectives Leslie used when describing her body:





In her rants (for they were rants) she chided herself for having ‘let herself go’.  She blamed her boredom, her isolation, the lack of support from the people in her life.  She talked of her hurt feelings, in particular the pain inflicted by our father’s scathing comments and judgement, and the pressures (all our lives) to conform to his (and society’s) idealized version of what a woman should look like.  She was right about all of it — the pressures, the boredom –all that was real.  She was wrong about herself though.  By medical standards Leslie carried too much weight.  That, however, did not make her ‘disgusting’, ‘enormous’ ‘ugly’ or whatever negative adjectives she used to describe her physical appearance.  Leslie’s body, in all its variations of shape and size throughout the years, was Leslie. Leslie was loved.  I loved her.  Many people loved Leslie.  And Leslie was beautiful.  Always.  I wish Leslie had lived long enough to accept herself and her beauty.  I wish she were still here to love herself fully as herself.

Leslie was wrong about herself, but she couldn’t avoid it.  Most of the women I know worry and complain about their bodies and their appearance.  The ideals and expectations of what women’s bodies represent, what they mean, how and for what purposes they are valued, detach and alienate women from their bodies and condition us to scrutinize our own and other women’s bodies in the service of an impossible and thoroughly arbitrary standard.  If, for instance, the current ideal of female beauty is a genetically blessed, slender, perfectly proportioned seventeen-year-old, possessing  the valued skin tones and facial features of the day, then even the rare few who meet that standard are already doomed to failure, regardless of their efforts to maintain it.  Bodies change, and to some degree, so do standards.  At any given time, conventionally beautiful women are like billionaires (only with less long-term security).  Sure, they exist; but not as a statistically significant representation of human bodies.  So why buy into such a ludicrously impossible standard that wrenches us away from appreciating and nurturing the bodies that we have and are?

So in the spirit of Cixous, (and no doubt to the horror of Leslie in heaven), I (im)modestly present my presently middle-aged body.  Some of its original parts are missing — a couple of tonsils, a molar, a kidney — but it seems reasonably intact.  I am blessed with strong and healthy limbs that function efficiently, if not always gracefully.  My immune system serves me well, and though as I’ve aged, I find myself less tolerant of wheat and dairy products, I have a healthy appetite and no significant digestive complaints.  There is nothing wrong with my body, yet if I stand before a full length mirror (clothed or otherwise) in less than thirty seconds my eyes will start clocking flaws.  Hereditary flaws, age flaws, bruises, bulges, bumps and my much maligned stretch marks.

new stretchmarks

And here’s the thing: It is not so much having these particularities on and of my body, but, rather, that my eyes register them and my brain interprets them as ‘flaws’.  In that instant I dupe myself into validating the fabrication of a standard to which my ‘flaws’ are measured; a standard that annuls all bodies of their particularity.  Hogwash!  If I faithfully wrote my middle-aged body, its story would have little to do with the inertia of standardized beauty, its flaws instead marking segues and ruptures in its (my) half-century’s journey in this life.

A scar on my upper lip marks my first encounter with stitches, and evokes the memory of playing ‘Batman’ with Leslie, tearing through the living room in the first house I remember living in, and splitting my lip on the coffee table.  It also reminds me of my father telling the story, again and again, of watching the emergency room doctor stitching me up, and how my eyes crossed as I tried to watch the process.  I love the scar because it is the conduit to a memory I treasure.  So too, the freckles on my shoulders — the result of a second degree sunburn acquired on a hiking trip with my father, sister and my sons.  My flesh is a travelogue of mundane scars marking clumsy accidents and a surgical one that tells of surviving cancer.  These stretch marks that I’ve vainly tried for so long to hide, reduce and wish away, merely record that  my belly had once stretched to full capacity to accommodate my first son.  Laugh lines, worry lines, loosened flesh — the body of evidence that I have lived, loved, lost, learned and experienced.  My flesh never abandoned or betrayed me.  It has faithfully transcribed my fifty-two years with an accuracy that words cannot.  Indeed without this body I could not write or speak any words at all.  I simply would not be.

So, while I wont be stripping naked and charging down the High Street to proclaim and celebrate the wonder and beauty of my body — I will give it a ‘thumbs up’ for sticking by me and being of me.  And, finally, in honour of Leslie, who left too soon to make peace with her own body, I endeavor to retrain my eyes to register stories instead of flaws in all bodies, not just my own.

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The dark haired poet

She’s been writing all morning.  She has a story niggling at the back of her curly head . . . Something about knee caps and shards of broken glass . . . a re-imagining of another (true, sad, painful, personal) story she heard once before.  A story told, in hushed confidence, by someone she dearly loved and sorely misses.  And though her heavy paw has hovered above the keyboard since she rose this morning, she cannot compose that first sentence.

She experiments with different styles; stream of consciousness prose, free-verse … she tries a haiku.  Delete, delete, delete them all.  She grunts and closes her eyes for a minute.  She runs downstairs for her kitty-cat egg timer.  She sets it for five minutes and free-writes.  Here is what she comes up with:

I’madogwhocan’tsit still.  There’s a cat onmywindowsill.  Mommytookasleeping pill. Here is the page that I must fill.   Look! I found the space bar! I should be out chasing a car.  Broken glass Broken glass.  The ginger cat fell on his ass.  Broken glass.  Knee caps. Stop gaps.  Thin skin.  Embedded shards.  Permanent scars.  Symbols.  The dance of veils as  shards emerge through the years each representing a time and place locked away in her head.  It’s out. It’s examined.  It’s remembered, re-membered, removed and moved to that other place.  each time another shard, another moment.  a betrayal an argument a loss a replacement and she grows and grows and grows.  Like a puppy.  a Brown puppy. I was a brown puppy.  I’m getting off track. what about the glass?  the knee cap?  How did it happen. can women fly?  time does not.  How many minutes left.  Done.

She yawns and shakes out her curls.  The dark poet looks over what she’s written.  Perhaps a short nap, a ride in the car, a romp in the park, a poop on the grass will bring the story closer.  With her fat paw-pad, she presses ‘save’, then shuts down the computer.  She completes three circles at the foot of the bed and lies down.  Shiny shards of broken glass dancing inside her curly, dreaming head.


I don’t always do impulsive, but when I do…


I give it all I’ve got.  So here’s what has happened since I last blogged on Tilliemom (about 18 months ag0):

I changed jobs.  I got a traffic ticket.  I (reluctantly) rehomed the hens with a friend, and I worked and worked and worked to get and keep my head above water.  Two weeks ago I received a letter in the post informing me that my rent was going up by 100 euro in September.  One week ago I learned that a cottage I had my eye on last year, but missed out on, was available again.  This evening I got the call that the cottage is mine (on lease, mind). It feels like a dream.

This is so utterly impulsive.  I have four weeks to pull my resources together; pack things, cats and dogs; do a big sweeping clean of my current place and find a way to move my massive bed up the narrow stairs inside the cottage.  Then, I need to settle Tillie and the cats in, and fight the impulse to immediately re-stock on chickens.  Did I mention the place comes with an acre of land?  So, yes, there will be hens.  Just not immediately. (Sigh)

But, here we go. Maybe it’s a weird mid-life crisis thing.  Maybe I’m acting completely on impulse.  I prefer to think I’m daring and brave.  I prefer to think things have simply lined up as they were meant, and that, however impulsive this may seem, it’s all been incubating for quite some time.  The time has come for me to begin again.  The litmus test: I’m anxious, but not remotely afraid.  I got this.


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What are the odds? A chicken update.

Last week I was attempting to integrate the new bantam hen and chicks with my three original hens.  While it went reasonably ok — a few squabbles with the bantam coming up on top, I still felt as if I had bit off more than I could chew, and resolved to re-home the bantams.  As luck would have it, I met a woman in Taghmon while I was working, whose son is a chicken enthusiast.  She called him out to me and he, a very sweet mannered boy of about fourteen, was absolutely chuffed at the idea of taking on my chickens.  I brought them over to him on Wednesday evening.  He asked how much I wanted for them, and I said nothing at all, I was just pleased that he was taking them on.  But he insisted I at least take money for my petrol.  In the end we agreed on a tenner, and the hen and chicks settled into their new home.  Huge relief!

The thing I’ve learned about being a newbie chicken keeper:  They’re addictive.  I spend far too much time reading up on all things ‘hen’ and looking at different breeds and studying their characteristics.   I am constantly tempted to take on justonemorebird!  But my girls are a unit.  They look out for each other, cluck, coo  and call to one another when they find an especially worm and bug filled bonanza spot in the garden.  They just work so well together in their micro community.  So, I’m determined to leave well enough alone.

Meanwhile, early last week, my bluebell laid this:


The thing was massive!  I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like!  I was pretty certain it was a double yolker.  She lays those from time to time.  But it was significantly larger than her double yolk eggs, and at least twice the size of her usual eggs.  Then I cracked it into the skillet and got this:


Ever heard the expression ‘rare as hen’s teeth’?  Evidently, the odds of a hen laying a triple yolk egg are around 1 in 25,000,000.  Go Bella!  Thankfully for Bella, she’s back to laying her normal sized, single yolked eggs.  Doubles, and our little miracle triple, are a nice treat for me, but very large eggs can damage the poor girls.  I’d much prefer that my hens be happy and healthy.  It’s Saturday.  It’s sunny outside and my entire day is free to putter around the garden, take the dogs to their favourite beach  and do some shopping in town.  I feel lucky as a triple yolk egg.

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A quick rant before work

Can someone explain to me, please, what is particularly ‘Christian’ about wishing to obstruct the rights, happiness and well being of others?  Bearing in mind, I don’t really identify myself as a Christian, nonetheless, I don’t occupy any of my time or energy calling upon my non-religious friends to campaign for the disenfranchisement or marginalization of Christian people — or any other people for that matter.  I don’t wish to ‘convert’ my Christian friends and acquaintances into secularists.  I’m entirely happy and content to see my Christian friends enjoying the same basic human and civil rights that, I, as a secularist, enjoy.  So what’s with all this obsession among ‘some’ Christian identified people to impose their own particular interpretation of their faith in all aspects of civic life?  What’s with this nasty obsession to shame, humiliate and ghettoize the LGBT community?  What is particularly Christian about judging others and actively campaigning to obstruct the rights and happiness of an entire community — many of whom identify themselves as Christians — simply because you can’t seem to get out of your head how and with whom people of the LGBT community may or may not love and have sex with?  Where does it actually say in the bible these folks seem so fond of brandishing: ‘Thou shalt vilify, judge, harass, oppress and persecute’ others who don’t see the world the way you do? (This showed up in my facebook on Saturday)


Who is this ‘God’ bloke they keep banging on about?  Why in all His omniscient power and splendor is He so preoccupied with how people have sex, but doesn’t seem remotely concerned with 30,000 children starving to death every day of the year, genocide, global warming, the callous greed of war profiteers, poverty, the plight of refugees and all the various ways humans harm and destroy other humans in His many names?

So, yes, somebody please explain to me how any of this is Christian?

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scatter1Today I finally scattered the ashes of Leslie, Dad and my little dog, Aluta.  Leslie has waited inside a pretty box on the windowsill for more than a year; Aluta and Dad, not quite so long, but long enough.  I had decided on one place to do the scatterings, but changed my mind this morning, choosing, instead, St Margaret’s beach, where I often go with the dogs.  So after feeding my pets and self, walking the dogs, and a quick shower, I loaded everyone’s ashes into my car and picked up Tommy.

It felt so strange as we headed off, chattering away about the referendum, my chickens, his sisters….. while my family’s mortal remains sat in the back seat.  He asked me how I wanted to ‘do this thing’, if I needed to say something, or pray, and I realized I had no idea how to do what I was about to do.  I’d waited so long to finally bring myself to do it  at all that I’d completely neglected the ‘how’ part.  When we’d arrived I simply stepped out of the car, grabbed my loved ones from the back and walked straight to the shore line and scattered, one by one.  First, Leslie


That went alright.  I just whispered, ‘I love you’, and let her fly.  She hovered a moment, then slowly sprinkled down to the waves.  It felt right, at last.

Then, Aluta.


That’s when I started to cry.  Fifteen years with that sweet, neurotic, little dog, from the time she could fit into my coat pocket to that awful morning when she just couldn’t breath another day.  She was my constant and letting her go has been hard.  But she flew, and followed Leslie into the surf.

Finally, without stopping to reflect or wipe my tears, I opened my dad’s urn and began again.

dad takes flight

I told him he was good.  I told him how I loved him. I let him go.

This is where they are

they are hereI stayed for only a few more minutes, then headed home with a mixture of all their ashes on my right hand.  I honestly don’t know how I feel about this experience at this moment.  Maybe a bit relieved that I’d finally made a choice and carried it out.  I cried for a little while, but on the drive home, we didn’t talk about it.  I don’t think I could at that moment.  I just listened to him prattle.  For once a bit thankful that he’s such a Chatty Cathy.  What I mostly feel is very tired, like I’d been running around all day, even though I haven’t.

I miss them.  I have a place to go to be near them.  That’s enough.