The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: June, 2016

The recipe for the elderflower cordial, as requested

20 June Monday. The Longest Day. Full Moon. Lashing Rain.


20 large elderflower blossoms

(Best gathered in the sunshine, as if they are collected on an overcast day, your cordial may taste like cat pee.  I have never checked to see if this is true but I am not willing to take the chance.)

4 lb. (1.8 kg) sugar

2 ¾ oz. (75g) citric acid

2 lemons

Put the flowers into a large bowl (remove all leaves first)

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and 2 pints (a generous litre) of water to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the liquid over the flowers and stir in the citric acid.   Add grated zest of lemons, then slice the lemons and add them to the bowl too.

Cover and leave for 24 hours.

Strain through double muslin.

Pour into sterilized bottles and make a label.

Store in a cool dark place.

Makes about 1 1/2 litres or 2 ½ pints.

Serve a small amount of the cordial with sparkling or still water, with or without or ice.

18 June Saturday

I love to look into the eyes of dogs.  My preferred way to look into the eyes of a dog is to lie down on the floor.  Some dogs are uncomfortable with a human lying beside them.  Even if I am not touching them, some dogs do not feel happy. Some dogs get up, walk away and throw themselves back down onto the ground at a little distance.  Some dogs stay right where they are and they look right back into my eyes.  If the grass is wet or the area muddy I do not lie down with a dog.  In a house that is not my own, I try to pay attention to whose house it is and if it might seem rude to lie down with their dog. It is more often than not a bad idea.  I do like looking at another person’s home from down on the floor, looking up and seeing their world as I think their dog might see it.

17 June Friday

Joe’s cows eat the grass in the field but no matter how flattened it all is by their tearing, they always leave some tufts and thistles and things.  When they walk off the field to go for milking or just off to a different field, the crows come swarming in looking for worms  and other things that they might want to eat. I think the crows have easier access to these things because the grass is low. All of the recent rain can only make it easier to find the things they seek too.

Not oats.

15 June Wednesday

Rain. Hail. Thunder. Sun. Rain. Hail. Thunder. Sun. The weather is completely exciting.  We just do not know what will happen next. The order changes but it all keeps happening.

14 June Tuesday

There is a strange sort of kindness built into life here.  People seem eager to tell you the thing that you want to hear.  They will tell you that you can get a bus connection even if it is not true and if in fact the very bus you want will be leaving three minutes before your own bus arrives. Maybe they tell you this  because they do not want to disappoint you.  There is no thought that you will be disappointed later on when you understand that you missed a bus which you were never going to catch anyway.

Simon went into town early this morning.  He went into town to do a few errands.  He likes to eat breakfast out so he left even earlier than he needed to. The girl in the restaurant gave him a coffee and took his order.  He feared that because he was the first customer of the day he might have a long wait. He did have a long wait. It took twenty minutes for the cook to come out of the kitchen and serve him a big bowl of porridge that was dark and thick and had strawberries stirred into it. He began to eat and realized that what was in the bowl was not porridge.  It was not oats. What he was eating was a kind of bread flour stirred up and served as if it were porridge.  Perhaps the strawberries were added to distract him.  He called the girl over and explained that he had been given a bowl of partially cooked brown bread flour mixed with water and berries. She went into the kitchen and returned saying that the cook had no oatmeal yet as he was waiting for a delivery.  She said that the cook did not want to be the one to disappoint so he made the bread mix hoping that Simon might not notice that it was not oats. She offered something else to replace the lack of porridge. Simon asked for a croissant so she brought him two croissants.  Then she returned to his table with a huge handful of small change.  She apologized and said he must be refunded for his lack of porridge.

13 June Monday

photo 3Document9

12 June Sunday

I picked my elderflowers on Wednesday evening in bright sun. It felt a bit early but I wanted sunshine for the picking and we are promised a continuation of rain and overcast weather in the coming week. There were thousands of the creamy flowers to be seen in every direction but it was not easy to find many that were low enough to pick from the ground.  I did a lot of struggling through nettles but finally got my forty or fifty blossoms.  I was aiming for forty but I lost count and I always think that more is better than too few. I made the cordial.  It is a light brew. I am wondering if it will get stronger and maybe a little darker as it ages.  Today I put my labels onto the twelve bottles. The label with my same drawing changes a bit every year.  I am not sure how much I like this label. It is so good it nearly looks like a commercial production.

11 June Saturday

The two narrow strips where the tyres travel are indeed nicely tarred and patched but the grass down the middle of the boreen is growing like mad.  It is the combination of so much rain followed by hot sun.  The grass scrapes the bottom of the car when we drive up or down.  It is much too wet to mow. If the grass gets much longer we can hope that maybe it will weigh itself down and lie flat.

a Relic

10 June Friday

We woke to the sound of rain.  It is at least three weeks since we have had any rain at all.  Maybe it has even been longer.  To live in this hot summery world has been wonderful but in the last week there has been increased grumblings about the need for rain. Now that we have rain, new complaints will start.  There will be a lamenting that our summer is over already and really it was not nearly long enough.  Meanwhile it is lovely to watch the world turning greener by the minute. Heavy rain on the roof is a good sound.

9 June Thursday

I drove into Cahir and saw bright orange cones all along by the church and the playing field. There were about six men in reflective vests directing  a very few cars. No one was allowed to park on either side of the road for quite a distance.  On my way back out of town a man in a reflective vest directed me in to the second left.  I asked why and he shouted The Relic!  A little farther along another man in a reflective vest stopped me.  I asked what was going on.  He was very excited.  He stood very near to my open window and he shouted “We have A Relic of Saint Anthony of Padua here and we have it here all afternoon!  We have it here until 9.30 tonight!”

8 June Wednesday

The milk trucks are too big for the road.  It does not matter if the milk truck is a DairyGold truck or a Glanbia truck. They charge right down the middle of the road and the middle of the road is the whole road. There is no where to go to get out of their way when they are racing towards you. Even when I am on foot they seem to leave no space. To meet them in a car is terrifying.  Now the roads are full of more big things. Every turn is a confrontation with a tractor pulling some enormous machinery sticking out both behind it and above it.  Sometimes the tractors slow down because they are so high they can see over the ditch and they can tell if a car is coming but most times they just bomb along. Silage, haying, and any kind of harvesting activity that needs doing while the sun is shining is being done right now and it is all being done at top speed.  It is a good time to stay home.



7 June Tuesday

John the Post arrived early.  He jumped out of his van in great excitement about the freshly repaired boreen.  He was so happy with the filling in of all of the terrible holes and gashes that he could not say enough.  He already knew who had done the work. The man who had done the work was known to him.  He said we had found the exact right man for the job. We could not possibly have had anyone better unless we had had that same man’s father-in-law who had taught him every single thing he knew about tarmacadam.  John was also thrilled with yesterday’s cutting back of all the drooping cow parsley. The cow parsley and all of the nettles and tall things growing with it had been making the track narrower and narrower almost by the hour. He said he would happily drive up and down our boreen all day long.

6 June Monday

Andrzej was explaining some of the surgery his sister has been going through.  She had a tumour in one part of her head or neck which had grown quietly inside her ever since she was a child and the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded.  Almost everyone in their part of Poland had been affected as children but only now are the problems manifesting. It took this long for the tumour to grow and become something which anyone could find and identify.  Andrzej was trying to explain the situation of his sister’s neck and her surgery but because his English is not great he often has to resort to peculiar uses of language.  Today he spoke of the doctor who is going to fix The Yoke in the neck of his sister. Yoke is a catch-all kind of word.  It is a word which is used to name something or anything instead of using its proper name.  Yoke is interchangeable with Thing. Yoke is a thoroughly Irish bit of slang. It was fine to hear it coming from Andrzej with his strong Polish accent because I am sure that even if he had known the correct word for the part that was being fixed in his sisters neck we would not have known what it was anyway.  We would not have known the word in English nor in Polish.  It was just fine for him to call it a Yoke and for us to think of it as a Yoke.

5 June Sunday

Yesterday TJ installed a hand rail on the side of the barn. We were not allowed to touch it while the paint was wet. Today I have been up and down dozens of times simply enjoying the fact that it is there.


4 June Saturday

TJ the blacksmith spoke about the apple tarts that his mother made.  There were a lot of children to feed so his mother never made a tart with a top crust. Instead she made her apple tart on a large rectangular baking sheet.  There was a crust on the bottom with sliced apples and sugar and butter spread over the top.  When the children saw that their mother was preparing a tart they tried hard to be helpful by setting the table or doing some small job that she would notice.  They were eagerly competing to be one of the four chosen to receive a corner piece.  The corners were the best and sweetest pieces. The children were convinced that the sugar oozed down into the corners. Unless the baking tray was quite misshapen I do not think that the corners would have more sugar in them than any other portion of the tart, but TJ was so happy remembering the sweet corners that I said nothing. Or perhaps his mother piled extra sugar in the corners just to maintain the excitement.

3 June Friday

Sewing books in the barn on a hot day is tricky.  I need to leave the door open for air but the birds are swooping and dashing around especially the swallows who are nesting in the roof.  They consider the entire area of the barn their own world both inside and out. Once they fly in it is hard to get them out again. It is hard to get them out and they poop on everything in their rush and panic to find an exit which is not glass. Sometimes they knock themselves out flying into the windows. At least then it is easy to pick them up and take them back outdoors. In the past three days I have had three swallows, a starling and a wren in the barn.  Two knocked themselves unconscious and two I captured in a colander. One found the door and flew out by herself.

When the animals bar my way

2 June Thursday

When the animals bar my way, I turn off the engine and wait.  If I am not in a car but I am walking I hop up on a gate to be out of the way. It is silly to get impatient. Today there was a great waving of arms by the farmer on the road. I was driving so I pulled off a bit to the side and waited. The farmer had a huge smile on his face.  Within minutes I understood his amusement. It was not just the sunny day.  A crowd of very young calves were rushing behind him.  There were about thirty of them. They were sort of high stepping in their eagerness.  One of them would turn its head to look behind him and very soon he had changed direction.  His body had unexpectedly followed his head and he was crashing and bumping into the other calves.  Because one changed direction another one would change direction too. They were all stumbling and bouncing off one another.  It was a thrilling time for them to be themselves. They did not know where they were going and it was obvious that it was the first time they had gone anywhere in a group. They had very thin legs and they were wobbly. As always with very young heifers it is difficult to use the word herd.  Herd suggests a kind of group sense and a comprehension of group movement.  This was just chaotic bumbling exhilaration while running along.  The farmer’s wife came up in the rear flapping her arms up and down and smiling with the same big smile on her face. It was impossible not to smile. The thrill of this small movement from one field to another field in the sunshine was infectious.

1 June Wednesday

Paudie’s brother died four years ago. He remembers the date exactly but he told me that he himself does not actually need to remember the date. He knows that the anniversary of his brother’s death will be marked by his parents in the same way each year. The Mother will be wearing one of The Brother’s hoodies all day. The Father will walk the dog while wearing The Brother’s favorite track suit. No one will say a word about the clothes being worn. Just seeing them will be enough.

Paudie says that the second year was the worst because that was when they lost telephone contact with The Brother. Up until then they had his same phone number and they rang whenever there was something to tell. They reported births and deaths and marriages and new jobs and funny stories and christenings and just any old thing that they knew The Brother would want to know. Everyone in the family rang him. They rang and they heard The Brother’s voice telling them to leave a message so they always left him a message.  His parents and his cousins and his Nana as well as Paudie himself and The Young Fella.  Even some of The Brother’s friends called to let him know when there was to be a big party or when someone had passed their driving test. Everyone left a message. No one wrote a text.

It was a shock on the day when The Mother rang with some bit of something to tell and to leave on the answer phone and she was informed by a recording that the number was no longer in service.  It took them a while to get through to each other and then to the phone people who said that the money in the mobile phone had run out and there was a limit to how long a telephone could still be considered active if it was not active.  The Mother wept and explained that it was indeed active.  She explained that they spoke with The Brother every day or almost every day and she asked how could they take his voice away.  Well, they did and it was too late to connect that same number again and so they lost the voice of The Brother and Paudie said that was the hardest thing after having already lost him once.

31 May Tuesday

Tommie was told to drink more water.  He was told that he needs to hydrate himself.  He needs to hydrate himself on a regular basis but especially now that the days are warm and the sun is high.  Tommie was told that hot sweet milky tea is good but it is not the same as water.  He was told to drink water.  He complained about this to everyone he met. He asked me if I drank water myself.  He said he was too old to start drinking water. He said Why would anyone drink water? It Carries no Flavour.

30 May Monday

The heat continues. No one can believe it.  It goes on and and and it does not rain and everyone is happy although now they are starting to worry for the crops and if it might be getting too hot.  We cannot walk up the Mass Path because it is so overgrown with the cow parsley and other stuff and the only way to walk through all of that is to wear long trousers and long sleeves and since it is too hot for that much clothing we have to do our walking elsewhere.  We decided to meet and go up along the waterfall and then cross the river and cut back on the ridge, over the side of the mountain and then drop down the fields. It was a large loop and maybe a bit hot and exposed for the time of day. Breda had sort of invented this walk and she was eager to do it again.  This would be her fourth time and each time she was refining and varying the route a little bit.  I had done it with her the other day when it was equally hot so I knew I was foolish to do it again in the sun.

Before we set off we saw Michael Kennedy.  Breda called out to him Hello Michael to get his attention because when we had been out the other day we wanted to ask him about the nearby Holy Well.  He came over and I saw that it was not Michael Kennedy but Breda kept talking to him and using his name and he kept answering.  I was sure it was Jimmy Dunne but I could not say anything because I felt like I would be interrupting.  He went down the narrow path with the four of us.  He showed us that there were actually three wells in that place and he said that they were all considered Holy. He said that all the local babies had been dipped into that water no matter how cold it was nor what time of year.  He told us that the small field just beside was called a chapel even though there had never been a building built on it.  It was just a gathering place for any mass held at the holy well so the field got called The Chapel. We walked back to the starting place with the man who was not Michael.  Then we saw Michael himself walk down from his farmyard and Breda recognized her mistake. It was not Michael she had been talking to but his brother Jimmy.  It was not Jimmy Dunne but Jimmy Kennedy.  Jimmy did not mind being mistaken for Michael.  He did not mind being called Michael.  He had simply answered her questions the best he could.

29 May Sunday

I was sitting outside with a book and a cup of tea. It is too warm to do much except to enjoy this weather.  I looked up from the page and saw the fox standing a few feet from my chair. It was the young fox, the one with the bright red shiny coat.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  Neither of us moved. If I had stretched out my leg I could have touched him with my foot.   I went back to my book.  He sat down for a few minutes and then he got up and quietly continued off down the field.

28 May Saturday

David the Egg Man made a visit to the market today.  Everyone was happy to see him. It is maybe two months since he gave up the market.  As always, his leather shoes were well polished.  His eyes were bright. He did not look like someone who had just come out of hospital. He did not look like someone who was almost 85 and just out of hospital.  He explained to each person who greeted him that he had found homes for all of the Laying Hens and he had only kept eight back for himself.  He was wondering if he had been a bit hasty as the eight he had kept did not even lay enough eggs for his own use.  Both of his sons stopped in nearly every day still expecting to find eggs to take home for their families.  Neither of them had adjusted to buying eggs in a shop.