Posted by Móna Wise in Features.

Marriage, Munchkins, Money & Muck

Being asked to write a piece for the Nuacht Chláir is an honour and I am proud to submit a few Wise Words whenever a space filler is needed. Being asked to write something for the Nuacht Chláir about myself and my life—now that is a little daunting.

I mean, don’t you know enough about the ongoings at our house already? Can’t you hear me roaring at the kids every morning as we race around the kitchen chasing our tails looking for lunchbox lids and missing shoes? Yes, I am that mother and no, I will not apologise for my raised octaves.

It is all my Mother’s (Catherine Dempsey) fault, really. I like to hold people accountable for their actions. But before I get into deciding what her punishment should be let me tell you how I ended up finding my very happy and content Wise Irish Life right here where I left it when I moved away from home seventeen years ago.

Mum and Dad (Gerry Dempsey R.I.P.) became foster parents when I was very young. I have very vivid memories of my Dad coming in from work walking right by me and straight over to the pram in the sitting room to put his massive hands on the latest little bundle that had joined our family. ‘Ah, hello? Your own flesh and blood is standing right here waiting to be reassured she is the apple of your eye?’ A man of few (and very sarcastic) words, he never had to reassure me of anything. We all (five of us) knew there was more than enough love to go around and of course those babies needed the lions share.

I suppose this is what planted the seed. I had a fondness for fostering from an early age. This is why Mum get’s the blame. It was all her idea and Dad just did what he was told.

I made it my business to find myself one of those husbands.

Shortly after doing my leaving cert I got the chance to visit one of my Aunts in Cincinnati, Ohio. It did not take me long at all to find him.

The last thing my parents were expecting was for me to show up on a holiday back home to Ireland all love-struck with a heathen yank in tow. They had their chance. They could have told me I was mad to fall for a man like that what with no religion and the after effects of a divorce still lingering fresh in the air. But no. One extended family holiday with the two of us staying in Cloon for three weeks and they were as mad about him as I was.

Or was it just the start of our addiction? You see, he cooks. He won their hearts by feeding their bellies.


Biologically challenged

It was love at first sight (and bite) for me. I am lucky to have had that experience. He on the other hand took a lot of convincing and now almost sixteen years later his is still my favourite hand to hold and mine, his.

We knew from the get-go that having a bio-baby was a no-go. We could have spent years (and lots of money) with IVF but were just not happy with the risks associated with the costs. There was no guaranteed baby at the end of it. The talk of adoption entered into our chat over our first bottle of wine shared together and the rest, as they say, is our history.

Having a good ten years as a wedding planner under my belt and he a good fifteen years as an executive Chef, the yearning for our own place started early in our relationship. We spent so much time entertaining and feeding our family and friends and got tired of people asking (and telling) us to open our own place.

Shortly after we got married we started the paperwork on two projects. Adoption in our local state (Ohio) and the search for a building we could convert into a restaurant. I should clarify this by stating that when I say we started the paperwork that was all me. My husband Ron aka The Chef is complete luddite and also incredibly allergic to any kind of clerical or administrative chores.

The Chef plodded on looking at properties that would fit the bill and I sank into the paperwork. To make a long story short (and it get’s even longer) we found the location for our first restaurant (Rondo’s) in January of 2003 and started renovations immediately.

Simultaneously we began to attend adoption classes, to prepare us for what is ordinarily a lengthy three to five year wait for a child. This all fit in to my plan nicely. I am a huge control freak and like it when things go according to my plan. The restaurant would be open and up and running three to five years before we started our family. That gave me time to help the Chef be the best in his field, and then I could take a little maternity leave and play house. What a plan!

Sometimes, things do not go according to plan.

June 17th 2003 was the day we signed our last piece of paperwork and we were officially on the waiting list to adopt a child in the state of Ohio. I was elated. I met a friend of mine at Starbucks and we sat outside in the lovely summer sunshine drinking our frappuccinos giggling like mad over babies and restaurants and all things fabulous.

My mobile interrupted our blathering and it was our social worker. There was a baby girl. She was five days old. Were we interested? Ah, ‘No thanks’, says I. ‘We are opening the restaurant in September and we really need to give it a few years to get on it’s feet to survive. Most restaurants fail in the first three years, so it just would not be practical to bring a baby into the mix at this time, but thank you for thinking of us. Bye bye’.

I went back to my office, banged out a few more hours of work and drove home to help the Chef (and our friends and neighbours) strip 50 years of wallpaper of some of the old walls in our restaurant. By the time I got there, the Chef had chatted to the same social worker and had told her ‘sure, we’ll throw our name in the hat for the baby’.

Early July of 2003 at only five weeks old and not weighing more than 6 pounds, the Chef and I welcomed little RoryBelle into our family. The local media caught wind of the Chef’s big plans to open his own place and his (then) employers fired him. My boss told me that I could ‘not have that baby and do my job at the same time’.

I told her that that baby was my baby and there was no way in hell I was fobbing her off to a daycare, so I quit.

We were jobless with no money. We had an unplanned baby, a mortgage for our house and a mortgage on the restaurant and a hefty car payment. Life, as we knew it, was over. I did what any one else would do. I phoned my Mum aka Granny and asked her to come lend a hand. Of course, RoryBelle being her first grandchild, she was already en-route.

Thank God for Granny. With her by my side helping watch over the baby, I was able to devote all my time to helping the Chef get the restaurant ready. On September 30th 2003 we opened Rondo’s. That was the day we met, the day we got married and now the day I started a new chapter in My Wise Irish Life.

Fast-forward to present day…

After a sibling (Jack) for RoryBelle entered into the picture I was faced with an awful realisation. Something I was not prepared for at all. I uttered words to the Chef that I am certain he never thought he would hear from my lips. ‘Honey, I want to go home’.

August 2008 we returned home to Galway just in time to enroll RoryBelle in Claregalway NS. This is where I went to school.

I have started to reconnect with lots of old friends and am making a lot of new friends. I also realise that moving back home is not that easy.

Logistically, it is. I can find my way around. The roads are in great shape thanks to the EU and for the most part, Facebook helps me find and reconnect with old friends and stay connected with my pals back in the US.

For the Chef, however, it was an entirely different story. He is a man of few words. The silent, pensive, incredibly artistic type.

Although he was well (and over) qualified for many of the jobs he applied for, not one of them would fulfill him the way owning his own place did. We still grieve the loss of the life we had in the US.

But let’s face it.

There is no place like home!

The Chef is a graduate (1987) of the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, New York). It was then (and still is) the best culinary school in the US. His forté at the time was baking and pastry, but due to a (breathing) flour allergy, he decided to make his living working as a Chef (as opposed to a baker) and has no regrets.

His training will stand to him for a lifetime. After a few years ‘off’ (pottering around our poly-tunnel, building a pizza oven and a swing set and getting heavily involved in raising his own chicken and ducks for the table) he began to enjoy his pseudo-early retirement. Then he spied an ad for Baker Wanted in Morton’s of Salthill. He has now, what I like to refer to as, the Cake Job. He works Monday–Friday from 8am–2pm. He makes and bakes whatever he wants. He will be there for the rest of his working days.

Life. Is. Good.

I, on the other hand, found myself with a lot of free time on my hands once the kids went to school. At the insistence of my Mother, I took a few evening Creative Writing classes at NUIG with Fred Johnson at the helm. I had always loved writing and had written plenty whilst living in the US (newsletters for the restaurant etc.) but had never had the time to chase that dream. The Chef and his career came first, then the kids came first.

Then, a door was opened. A new course (4 year BA Connect—Creative Writing) started at NUIG. The classes were small (15 people) and the points (Leaving cert) were high. In January 2009 I submitted my CAO form with intent on returning to education. I had to submit a portfolio and be interviewed (by the lovely and very talented Dr John Kenny) and I had to do an aptitude test. I am not going to delve into this part of my life.

I, Móna Wise, am a slow learner. It takes me forever to actually read an entire book. I have the worst short term memory ever known to man and I am a terrible terrible test taker. What, was I thinking?

I was thinking that I needed to get some words on a page and needed someone to teach me how to do that.

These days, my Wise Irish Life is a heck of a lot different. That same month I returned to education (September 2009) we enrolled to take fostering classes. We had a hankering for a few more kids but the HSE only place children for adoption with families that do not have kids (and rightly so). That limited our chances at having a larger family. Fostering was a quick fix and we had the extra bedrooms.

I tore into my course like lightning exploring all genres from fiction to poetry and writing for the screen, whilst the Chef and my Mum picked up the slack with taxi driving (to and from school) and hours and hours of homework. Our terrific-twosome settled right into to the flow of the new routine and although that first year was very hard, I managed to pull decent enough grades to keep Granny and her wooden spoon at bay for a while.


Last year (May 2010) two little Irish lassies (also siblings) were placed in our home longterm and our terrific-twosome is now a fantastic-foursome. Becoming foster-parents has changed the world we live in. Completely. Upside down. Inside out. For Better. For Worse. In sickness and in health. It is the bumpiest roller coaster we have been on to date.

Owning and operating our own business, adopting a few kids and moving continents all seems like a piece of cake now.

We are learning so much about ourselves that we did not know. We see how peer pressure to excel in school can have a dramatic effect on a child (and a grown up!) and worry about that same peer pressure when they are all teenagers. We see the pain and confusion in a child’s eyes when a visit with a bio-parent goes awry and we feel the warmth in a child’s hug when an accomplishment (like learning how to ride a bike) has been achieved.

I am a few weeks away from finishing up my second year exams in College. In September 2011 I get to devote my entire academic year to my specialism—Creative Writing. I will take a year off from my other studies (German and English) to live the life of a writer and have already started working on my first book titled The Chef & I.

The book is a love story with lots of tried and tested recipes (and photos) thrown in for good measure. A story that revolves around feeding and nourishing a family and the importance of breaking bread together as a family around the table at least once a day. A story that leans towards teaching how to live a more sustainable life by letting go of material possessions and learning how to feed your family from garden to table.

I currently write a blog at and will have a few articles (monthly recipes) in the Galway Now magazine over the next few months also.

Thanks for reading,
Móna Wise

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