BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does It Have To Be So Cold In Ireland?

Snow, snow everywhere. My two homes (Vancouver and Maynooth) are both suffering under the weight of unseasonably snowy winters. And I feel absolutely exhausted from explaining that "I am not used to this weather... Vancouver is mild" simply because I AM CANADIAN. Besides, Brad and I both exhibit much more "snow sense" than our Irish peers, having both grown up in snowy climes.

However, there is one thing that marks us apart in our struggle with the weather... the Irish continue to be cold when outside, whereas we continue to be cold when inside. I was complaining of the cold at Nikolai's music class yesterday and everyone else was surprised, as they found the room to be quite warm! Whereas I was quite fine trudging through the snow to get there... and most of the others' were barely able to make it.

I have my theories...

1. In Canada people would heat to 21 C indoors, or maybe 20 C if you're "environmentally friendly". So the room heated to 18C was cold... to me!

2. The Irish wear layers... all the time (not just when camping, or skiing). This keeps them comfortably warm all the time. We have been wearing vests (undershirts) since the summer (how else can you wear a t-shirt in the summer?), and just today I invested in long-sleeve shirts to be worn under my sweaters. (Aisling showed up yesterday in a short-sleeved sweater, perfectly warm... with 3 layers underneath). They're even selling those footed polar fleece sleepsuits for adults now... big display rack right at the front of Dunnes... I looked at them with interest... but then couldn't bring myself to buy a pair, and went for a heated blanket instead (still a Canadian at heart!)

3. Winter gear in Ireland is non-existent. No snow tires (or even all-seasons for that fact), no snow shovels, no really warm coats, mitts, hats (just poly)... which is why everyone is cold outside. We're wearing warm wool coats, purchased in Canada, with those Olympic red mitts and wool hats. So we're quite toasty when outside! Of note, the news today actually told people to clean off their windshields with a kettle of boiling water... so the Zamboni practice is being advertised by the press.

Now a delicious pudding for a cold day... Spotted Dick Pudding (very British, not so Irish):

Mix together:
300g self-rising flour
pinch of salt
150 g of grated vegetable suet, or butter
150 g granulated sweetener
300 g dried fruit (mixed currents and citrus peel are traditional)
zest of 1 orange

Add and mix to a smooth consistency:
3 eggs (or egg replacer)
3/4 cup milk

If you have a pudding basin, and know how to make a steamed pudding, then ignore the following instructions. Otherwise:

Grease a 3 L mixing bowl (glass, ceramic or metal).
Cover with foil or parchment paper.
Place in a large stock pot on top of a tea towel (prevents the bowl from resting on the bottom of the pot). Fill stock pot with water 3/4 of the way up the bowl. Bring to a boil and steam for 1.5 hours.

Turn out onto a plate, and serve immediately with custard, cream, yogurt, etc.

SOOO delicious. Something to warm you up on a cold day! Didn't get around to taking the picture until we'd eaten most of it....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More to say

While it may be Thanksgiving in the USA, we woke up to snow. In a land without plows or all season tyres, we once again witnessed our neighbours carrying kettles of boiling water out to melt the snow off their cars. I had to stop Brad from saying anything (even though we now know the neighbours... it wouldn't be polite).

Despite the inclement weather, people did gather to protest. 50,000 strong in Dublin today. It seems that some economists think that the Irish bailout (essentially a bailout of the banks) will be much more beneficial for the Germans (and other Eurobanks that invested in the Irish bank bonds) than it will be for Ireland. I tried to find a concise article to back this up and found this blog; this long article; and this protest blog; plus a host of UK based articles which generally resolve with Ireland ditching the Euro and rejoining the Sterling (the Irish only had an independent Punt from 1979 to 1999, so rejoining the Sterling would be a bit of a shift, but not too drastic).

This has been a crazy week blog-wise... but Ireland is a country in crisis, and this is a blog about my Irish life. Ditching the banks would be the best thing to do for the general population... but I don't think that the leadership is able to represent the average person and stand up to intense Euro- and investor-pressure. My bet... is that the budget will fail and all this will be postponed until after an election. Maybe bad for the Eurozone, but sooo much better for the Irish population.

And another snowy picture.

So it's cold here too...

Just thought I'd advertise that Ireland is cold too.  I've been reading about the -20degC stuff hitting the Interior in the past week,and although being un-seasonal, I was feeling very un-Canadian cycling around Co. Kildare.  But it's gotten chilly in the last few days in Eire, and we had our first bit of snow of the winter this morning.  Tossed on a picture of the Sisters next door, who look very regal in the light dusting IMO.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

More of the same

Well, the austerity measures are out, and things are grim. RTE this morning interviewed an American journalist to figure out what the world thinks... and to paraphrase "the cuts announced are so deep that it is inconceivable for Americans to imagine the losses in the public sector, and the tax increases". Remember, when looking at the numbers of jobs cut, etc. that this is a nation of only 4 million people.

Luckily, Irish families are large, and the support networks within families are strong. So it will probably be families that will provide for the losses in social services.

Brad's team lost the final game in the NUIM Engineering football championship, in overtime penalty kicks.  Very close, but there's always next year!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The sky opened up and swallowed them whole

Well, it's all that anyone can talk about today... and is certainly front page news elsewhere. No one is happy... and it is the loss of sovereignty that comes across as most painful aspect to all of this. It is not a great way to start the Christmas shopping season, as everyone feels like saving their money for the rainy days that are befalling the country. However, to take a rather Irish view of it all "ahhh, well... these are dark times, dark times... liers and cheats the lot... but... ahhh... let's focus on the good news".

And the good news would be that Brad's football (soccer) team remains undefeated as they enter in the final game of the playoffs. It's his first year playing, ever, and he's joined the NUIM Engineering staff team. They've beat all the student teams, which must be slightly hard on that student ego... to be beaten by your lecturer. (They even let Brad get some field time... his long legs are rather good at taking the ball away from the opponents... we just wont talk about what happens after he has possession...)

The picture... speaks for itself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunshine and Candy Canes

Now that everyone across the water is worried about us being too cold (thanks for the wool long underwear, Baba and Deda!) and worried about the economy, let me paint a brighter picture.

The weather in Ireland is far "nicer" (by most traditional standards of evaluation) than what most of you in Canada will be living with right now. We don't have snow... shouldn't have any all winter... and we have frosts only about once a week. As for the pervasive Irish rain... well Vancouver is much, much rainier. In fact we've had gorgeous sunny, playground weather days all week (and most of last week... and predicted for much of the coming week). Nearly weekly I have to explain that in Vancouver it doesn't really snow (although apparently it did last night!) and they have around 300% more rainfall.

But it is colder in Ireland because of the mild climate. Thus no heating, insulation, etc. We've all bought new wool jumpers (sweaters) since living in Ireland... and are planning on packing our summer clothes for our xmas trip to Vancouver. (My parents' heating to 21 C will seem absolutely balmy to us, and we're a tad afraid of loosing our thick Irish skin. I truly think t-shirts and shorts will be the answer.)

And my second candy cane involves our last shopping trip to Dublin before we fly out (the next few weekends are for fun with friends, not for shopping). So grab a cuppa (black tea) and settle into my short story involving a cafe.

Now, a few months ago whilst walking around in Dublin, Brad spotted Bono (with his entourage) sitting on the patio of a cafe. Brad made me tour around the block again so that I could covertly get a look too. And while that was thoroughly embarrassing, it was also pretty interesting. Even when sitting having a cup of coffee, Bono looks just like he always looks... he must be permanently attached to those sunglasses. Fast forward to this weekend, when Brad and I tentatively stuck our heads into the Cafe en Seine to see if Bono was inside. Only to discover an opulent, art-deco masterpiece in the form of an affordable cafe/restaurant. So we sat down and had a tea (€2 would be a fairly typical price) and hot chocolate (€2.90, also typical) next to some movie producers talking about their next film. We would have felt out of place if I hadn't recently finished sewing Nikolai's winter coat (see pic above). I figure having a well-dressed toddler is the only accessory one needs, so we all looked pretty spiffy indeed.

The last candy cane actually belongs to Brad, who got to cycle to the Hill of Tara today. Apparently it's just a few mounds of unknown purpose... but he brought us home a clump of mud in his cleat as a souvenir. (Always good to remember the fam).

The picture is of Nikolai going out for a ride. The pattern was Simplicity 2526, with fabric from Murphey Sheehy's.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The IMF and the Famine: a replay in Ireland's history

Well, this week has been an exciting one in Irish politics. Basically, the weighty force of our EU "bosses" seem to be forcing Ireland to take a monetary loan. All this is well documented in the news, but a rough timeline for those overseas who may not follow Irish politics so closely:

-Monday, the various EU countries announce the media that Ireland will be taking a loan.

-Tuesday, the Irish government via the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) held a press conference stating that they are not taking a loan.

-Thursday, the IMF arrives in Ireland for an "assessment".

But there are several things to consider:

1. This relatively new republic (compared to the opulent Greece) has a much less luxurious form of socialism when compared to other EU countries. Beyond that, the government already cut EVERY public sector worker's pay cheque by around 10% last February, and has been slashing the budget for a while. Austerity measures are hardly going to help out here.

2. The public outcry to the spending cuts have hardly been a mew when compared to Greece and France. Yet the cuts have ALREADY gone fairly deep.

3. Unfortunately, the debt is nearly entirely related to taking on the banks' bad debt... which seemed pretty bad at the outset, but has since grown. Basically, the banks are accused of outright lying about the extent of their problems until after the bailouts started. And even today, the extent of the problems are unknown, as no one trusts or believes the banks. (Could the state sue the fraudulent bankers?)

Regardless, our EU neighbours have ganged up on Ireland and sent the IMF over to "have a look". Naturally, it is the loss of sovereignty that frightens the Irish the most. The IMF is not elected... and their decisions are non-negotiable. (The ultimate "said" goal of the IMF is to have the loan repaid as fast as possible... however, this is generally a business focused solution that does not take into context the social requirements of the culture).

Now to link the IMF to the Irish Famine... this may appear tenuous at first, but it is related to the loss of sovereignty in both circumstances. My linkages between them is 3-fold:

1. In Celbridge there is a monument to the Workhouse cemetery... which details how the potato blight caused the Irish famine.

2. I took an Anthropology class in undergrad (college) that linked the IMF (and World Bank) to Third World famine.

3. Argentina.

The Irish Famine:
The famine came about because the Irish were required to grow potatoes in order to get money from the British, with which they bought food. Any of the Irish who had their own farms did not suffer from the famine. They were able to grow all sorts of things (including peaches, kiwis, tomatoes... it's not all cabbage and carrots), so the potato blight didn't cause them to starve. However, the indentured Irish were required to grow potatoes for their food, and thus they starved during the blight. Enter the workhouse... out of the purest kindness... the British took all the starving families and let them live in the workhouse for food (the other alternative was Kilmainham Gaol). The conditions in the workhouses were hardly good and the life expectancy was only about 30 years... hence the cemetery.

The IMF:
When giving loans the IMF stipulates non-negotiable requirements "to ensure pay back". And in third world countries those requirements often mean growing coffee, chocolate, etc. rather than self-feeding crops. Without fairtrade pricing, these crops are put on the open market, and a surplus arises from the fact that the whole of Africa was converted into growing coffee... so you can buy your coffee at a "reasonable" price. It's basically imperialism all over again (over again... because most of the countries that the IMF has bailed out were previously the fodder of imperialist countries).

Photo: Worker's homes near Liberty Market in Dublin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The blustery day

Today we are hiding indoors with a windstorm warning. It's been rather windy, rainy and stormy all week, with flood warnings all over the place. This is not surprising, given that I'm living on a small island (twice the size of Vancouver Island, or just slightly larger than West Virgina, for a US comparison) tacked out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, rather like an apostrophe on the edge of mainland Europe. The flooding is often related to extremely high tides, and is generally unpleasant to discuss as it often involves septic and sewage flooding.

Despite the shelter that our friendly neighbourhood wall provides, I can hear the howling of today's windstorm beating against our house. But with winds steady at 120 km/hour (gusts up to 140 km/hour) it would be hard not to feel the breeze. The landscape is used to such winds, so although trees and branches may fall, it will hardly equal the disaster of the Vancouver wind storm in 2007.

From my cosy vantage point I am going to cuddle up with a mug of steamy warm tea to spend my afternoon cooking yummy food and pondering a few more Irishisms.

The Press:

At the toddler group the toys are stored in a repurposed cleaning closet referred to as "the press".

Now that the days are growing short (only 8 hours of daylight) and the weather's turned cold, I've taken to drying my clothes indoors. But it is humid... oh so humid... even on a sunshiny day it will take a load of laundry at least 2 days to dry indoors. So now my laundry rack is in use 24/7, and I'm not embarrassed to have my knickers (underwear) and vests (undershirts) hanging out for all to see, as it is all the rage over here to have your laundry hanging out for everyone to see. (In Canada it would certainly be a faux pas (not done) to have laundry drying in your kitchen-living room-hallway. Only delicates would be hung dry... and then usually in a laundry room, or in your bedroom away from visitors prying eyes).

Anyways, back to "the press"... an advantage that most of my friends have over me is a "hot press". A "hot press" is a closet where your hot water heater is located. It's typically built like a pantry with rows of shelves, and is used to finish drying the slightly damp, folded laundry. We do have a hot press... but it's incredibly dirty, without shelves, and at the moment our hot water heater leaks... so not terribly dry either. So from all this I can infer that "press" means storage closet!

The delf:
From participating in everyday conversations with the locals, I'm also guessing that "the delf" means either dirty dishes or a dirty mess to be cleaned up (in particular reference to the kitchen).

**I'm just practicing my skills as an anthropologist... so anyone who might know better, please correct me if I'm wrong.**

Les au revoirs:
Lastly, and most weather related, are the Irish goodbyes. On the phone I've received a barrage of byes (for the sake of precision, here is my direct representation with the speed of delivery being represented by the gaps: "byebyebyebyebye... bye... bye"). My Canadian core found this to be rather rude when I first encountered it, but I have since learned that I am not being railroaded off the phone... but rather just goodbye-d in a typical fashion.

Other typical goodbyes are definitely more related to the weather in this dark, damp, windy clime: "take care", "mind yourself", and "safe home". As the weather is certainly conspiring against our general well-being, we do need to take care on a daily basis.

Now a recipe for a blustery day, Greek inspired baked beans (loved these when travelling, but couldn't find a recipe on returning home so I made this one up). This may seem a bit time consuming... but you can stick them in your oven in the morning and come back to them at dinner. How better to heat your house on a tempestuous day?!:
Soak overnight 1 lbs dried Lima beans (or Butterbeans)
Heat oven to 250 F (125 C).
Place a cast iron Dutch oven (or metal equivalent) over medium heat and fry 1 cup finely diced onions in oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup tomato paste, and 2 tbsp sugar. Add drained beans, and 4 cups of liquid (mix of wine, broth and water) to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Add in a handful chopped flat leaf parsley, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp black pepper and 2 tsp salt (or to taste).

Give them a stir and cover with the lid. Place the Dutch oven in the oven for 6 to 8 hours, or until the beans are tender. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, then serve it up with bread, colcanon, and your favorite veggies!

The photo is through an arrow slit at the moat in the well fortified Trim Castle.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The season of the dead and fire

Like most "pagan" holidays, Halloween has been adopted into more modern celebration and ideologically less "pagan" holidays. (Other famous co-opting of pagan holidays would include turning the winter solstice festivals into various religious festivals, and the celebrations around the coming of spring). It seems natural with the change of Fall into Winter to celebrate the dead, which is so apparent as all the plants wither into hibernation and seeping cold penetrates through the endless fog. Halloween, in it's essential heart, is an expression of fear of the death of crops and the coming struggle to survive winter's barren larder. Thanksgiving has a similar heart, but it has been spun into a more optimistic celebration of harvest and summer's end.

In Ireland, the Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day around the first of November. All Souls Day involves a series of Masses to remember those that have died in the past year. Beyond simply involving an extra-long Mass at the local Catholic Church, organizations will also have Mass for the dead. As one of the graduate students in Brad's office passed away earlier this year, the Hamilton Institute will join NUIM in a mass for the dead on November 9th. The local GAA club will also be holding a Remembrance Mass.

Remembrance Day, which is primarily celebrated in the British Commonwealth to remember those that have died in war, takes place on November 11th, as it marks the official end of World War I. And the choice a bleak November day probably aided in the maintaining the date of November 11. It would be hard to have a somber thoughtful day, if the bank holiday was at the end of June. Of note, Remembrance Day is a date which divides those in Ireland, as it is associated with British Troops, so even though the Irish fought in WWI... they would have been fighting for the British.

The British do not celebrate Halloween (at least they didn't when I lived there as a nanny). So, I'm sure it was a slight bit of Halloween envy that assisted in the creation of Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes Day is very Halloween-ish in feel. It's a children and teen based celebration involving treats, fireworks and a big bonfire (no costumes or carving... but that might constitute a Halloween copyright infringement). Guy Fawkes was caught on November 5th a long-time-ago sitting under the Parliament buildings with a big stash of explosives. He was caught, hung and the Parliament was saved! So let's celebrate! It makes perfect logical sense (though perhaps it's a bit deranged if you think about it too much) why the bonfire involves burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes. However, bonfire night also often involves burning an effigy of the Pope (perhaps it is more a full-blown Halloween jealousy that bolsters the popularity of Guy Fawkes Day). Though rest assured everyone... in modern day the burning of the Pope's effigy is more just a celebration of a "quirky tradition" than an expression of anger towards the Pope. So relieved to know that religious tensions wont be celebrated by such a quirky tradition.

Well that sums up my round up of the Season of the Dead holidays from this side of the ocean. I don't really have a good photo to celebrate the dead... but bread rhymes with dead... so the pic is of Brad's bread. The void of rustic bakeries in town has inspired Brad to practice.

His favorite recipe at the moment can be found here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Istanbul of late

As some of you may remember we have a good friend Serhat living in Istanbul. We also know that Serhat loves Taksim, and he loves to eat a long leisurely breakfast out on Sunday mornings. So upon hearing of the bombing in Taksim Square we immediately sent off a note.

Serhat and Gozde were in Taksim eating breakfast at 9am on Sunday. They heard the bomb blast, saw the police arriving, and quickly left the area. Thankfully they are fine. But as Serhat put it, he'd like to say his "deepest-hardest-biggest swearing" ever to the people responsible (can't even swear in an e-mail to people with children. Gotta love Serhat for that.)