My two winters

Waves breaking into the bay
Wind at Scraggane Waves breaking into the bay

The winter in Maine is bitter, exhausting and endless. I don’t miss having to keep every inch of skin covered for fear of frostbite or shoveling five feet of snow twice a day to get out the door. I don’t miss parking bans and brown slush in March. I am dreading getting used to six months of cold again and all the gear and equipment required to survive it, but I will not miss the wind in the Maharees. It blows for weeks at a time and blows consistently at 80 km/hour with gusts over 100 regularly. This isn’t a storm; life goes on as normal. We don’t lose power very often and there isn’t much damage to property because of the landscape but the wind has a powerful effect on the people in a similar way to in Maine. Many summer people or ‘tourists’ with holiday homes intend to stay year round or retire here but the common refrain is “Let’s see how they like it in February” or “We’ll see if they last the winter.” – In many cases they don’t. It’s hard to capture the wind’s strength in a picture or video so I tried to describe its effect in words.

The wind, the wind, the wind
The relentless battering, shaking, creaking, banging, scraping, howling and screeching makes my feet itch by January.
“It ‘s a southerly, no it’s a northerly which is worse, oh wait south westerly is worse again, what direction is it now?“
The children thrash around at night muttering and calling out from their beds.
“That wind would cut right through you.”
The horses spook in their fields and anxiety builds around the roads as the puddles deepen and the waves break closer.
“When is high tide? Tides up now, tides filling, tide is out, they’ll be a good strand on Saturday.”
Sand stings your face while you scurry from the car to pick your beer cans, paper towel tubes and newspapers out of the hedge and right that recycling bin again.
“Bet its wild down your way.”
The car door whips open and wrenches backwards if you are too slow to grab the handle
“Any damage last night?”
Cold air sneaks through the keyholes and whirls around in the chimney
“I was waiting for the shingles to go last night. Didn’t get a wink.”
The palm trees bend and the grass ripples like a green pond
“You’d know winter was here.”

A Hot Drop

The All-Important Cup of TeaI hate coffee and only sporadically drank tea while I lived in the US so I admittedly knew nothing about coffee-making & drinking rituals when I moved to Ireland.  I still can barely make a pot of coffee but I am most definitely a tea-making expert now.  I am not talking about fancy tea leaves and strainers kind of tea just the “quick put the kettle on I am gasping for a cup of tea” kind of tea-making.

Irish people are OBSESSED with drinking tea.  It is a crucial element to every life event and non-event.  According to some sources, Irish people are the biggest tea drinkers in the world, second to Turkey. I believe it.

I had never seen an electric kettle before I lived in Ireland the first time at age 20 and now I could not imagine living without one.  My parent’s both bought them for their respective houses after it became obvious how handy they are (and that my husband would not survive two weeks waiting for our ancient kettle to boil so he could make weak Lipton Tea).

The entire country stops between 10 and 11:30 to drink tea.  I have given up trying to reach anyone in an office around 11 because the phone will just ring or else you’ll get someone who is being forced to take a later tea break to cover the phones and will just take a message for the person you want who is drinking tea and then just run off to drink their own tea before giving the phone message so you are just wasting your time.   Direct quote from a co-worker when her supervisor asked her to come into her office and work through the plans for an upcoming event, “Ok, but I can only come for a few minutes because I have to have my tea at 11.”  The same woman regularly states “Your entitled to your breaks, they can’t make you miss your tea.” Never mind that I don’t think there is a legal requirement to let everyone down tools to boil the kettle and sit for half an hour and gossip around half ten, god help the boss who tries to stop public servants from drinking tea or even suggest they make  cup and keep working!

Some tea-drinking & making practices that I have found intriguing over the years:

  • People drink tea with their lunch or dinner and actually order tea with their meals in restaurants.
  • They drink tea when its hot and when they’re really thirsty and sweaty.
  • For some reason the kettle has to be boiled about 10 times before the tea is made in my office and immediately after the pot of tea is poured, the kettle has to be refilled and boiled again!  There is no reason that the water has to be boiled again but its a major faux pas NOT to fill the kettle straight away and boil the water again.
  • By the way, it also rude to make 1 cup of tea for yourself even if you’re the only person in the kitchen – you should still make a pot of tea just in case someone else comes in and needs tea immediately!!
  •  It is suspicious behavior  not to accept tea or coffee at meetings.   I have left work some days and actually felt dehydrated and sick from the amount of tea I’ve had to drink during the day. Day long meetings or conferences include at least 4 cups of tea:1 cup upon entering; tea break between 10:30 and 11:30; tea after lunch; afternoon tea break.
  • It is kind of stressful making tea for people because everyone has different methods and ways of drinking their tea and if someone changes their tea drinking habits it throws a major spanner in the works.  My colleague randomly announced one day, that she didn’t drink tea…after drinking three cups of milky tea in the office canteen for twenty years!!

In case you are American and wondering “how the hell can one cup of tea differ from the next?” here is a sample of a few tea requirements:

My husband drinks his tea very strong, must leave tea to brew in a HUGE cup for five minutes and stir around.  Splash of milk.  If I don’t put enough water in the cup, he will ask why I made him half a cup of tea and if I add too much milk he’ll thank me for his old lady tea. NO SUGAR – will gag and spit it out if there’s sugar in the cup.

Father-in-law – sometimes 2 tea bags in one cup depending on the type of tea.  Little milk. No sugar.

Mother-in-law – Strongish but with medium amount of milk (more than above two) and half a teaspoon of sugar.

Brothers-in-law – All no sugar, strong and a little milk.

Husband’s brother’s wife – weak and lots of milk – usually need to dump out lots of water to make enough room for the milk. All of the above have to be full fat milk.

A & M at work – decaffeinated tea now; one black and one with lots of skim milk

S – coffee

V, D and J – has to be a pot of tea no matter what – find single cups rude and wasteful I think.  Lots of milk, medium strength, no sugar and regular milk.

I haven’t even touched on the brands of tea or the tea accompaniments and implements – pots, sugar bowls, tea trays, milk jug, saucers, biscuits, cake, bread – all required at different stages depending on the relationship between the tea-drinker and maker and the occasion.