Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Wedding on August 15, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw (1920)…


Why Do Our Friends Hate Us?

No, no, I’m just joking. We were honored to be invited to share this important event with our friends and the wedding was lovely. The bride looked gorgeous, just perfect. The usually casually dressed groom looked fine in his elegant 3-piece suite and bow tie. It’s just that somebody forgot to tell the priest that weddings are festive occasions.

I’ve been to quite a few weddings and this one was the most unusual to date. Most wedding ceremonies have been about new beginnings, fresh starts, long lives spent together, ups and downs on the way. Positive, positive, positive.

This one was a little bit different.

First, the wedding took place on an important holiday in the Catholic church, Mary’s Assumption into heaven. It could not go without comment or without 20 minutes of rambling commentary if you’d like the less generous (but more honest) opinion. August 15 also marks the anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw which should not go without mention or incomprehensible rambling. What do these two events have in common with each other or have in common with weddings?


Surprised? We were too.

I didn’t know it was possible to use the word death so many times in a wedding ceremony. It’s like the scene in Friends when Monika didn’t get invited to her cousin’s wedding but her brother Ross did so he takes her as his plus one. As she scopes out the other guests at their table she says, “I’m a relative and I didn’t get invited! A blood relative! Blood!” To which her brother Ross says, “Stop saying, ‘Blood’ to strangers.”

OK, I lied. There was something about new beginnings – how death is in fact your new beginning in the afterlife. Awesome.

If the wedding ceremony was black and white (and long and monotonous), then the wedding reception was a splash of color and life.The wedding reception was typically Polish, lots of food, alcohol, dancing and fun. I am American, it is true but occasionally, I feel moderately Polish. Weddings are not that occasion. That’s when I feel maximum American. First of all, I am not much of a drinker. Secondly, I cannot dance. Thirdly, I don’t like flaki or golonka. And lastly, I only know the first verse of Sto Lat.

The bride and groom had a blast as did their guests. They are both only children so the parents and families really lived it up and danced till dawn. We busted out about 2 a.m. My feet are killing me today.

I did dance bo wypada. I had to choose my dances carefully as the repertoire was heavy on the disco polo. Ona tancy dla mnie, anyboy?

It was just nice to see two people enjoy themselves entirely and share such a memorable moment in their lives.


To the mloda para!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

50 Shades

I’ve finally read that 50 Shades book. I know I am behind the times. Living abroad, I often find myself out of sync with what’s going on in the States. Being a weirdo, I often find myself out of sync with the human race, but that’s another story. Apparently this 50 Shades thing is old news to the point that the movie is coming out and I’ve just read the book. Anyone else behind the times out there?

As an aside, I read 12 Years a Slave at university if that scores me any points for cultural hipness.

I first heard about this book about a year ago in the supermarket of all places. A new supermarket opened up in our neighborhood and 50 Shades was one of their grand opening promotional items – only 30 zloty. Several stacks of books took up an end-of-aisle display, and I decided to give it a look. I looked. I scanned. I put it back.I bought bread and milk. Exciting day, it was.

Later one of my students asked me if I had read it. She read half and said it wasn’t worth reading further. I forgot about it.

Once not long after that when I went to help my 15-year-old neighbor with her homework, I noticed her mother was reading the book, the last of three in the series, as it turned out. The mother, about my age, asked me if I had read the books. I replied that I had not. Despite being deep into the third book, she did not recommend them either.

50 Shades of neighborhood Mom: Don’t read them. They’re not any good.

50 Shades of Amerykanka: Really? A lot of people all over the world have read them and the first book was on special at the new market. Isn’t that the third book?

50 Shades of Mom: OK, they’re good but not in the way you think. They’re kind of funny.

50 Shades of Amerykanka: Like funny, strange or funny ha, ha. (Yes, I am a conversational wizard).

50 Shades of Mom: So what would you say if you were in a room with a hot, sexy guy and he said he doesn’t make love, he only fucks?

50 Shades of Amerykanka: I’d probably laugh.

50 Shades of Mom: Exactly. I’d laugh too.

50 Shades of Amerykanka: Yeah, laugh and leave.

50 Shades of Mom: Oh no, I’d still fuck him, but I’d have a good laugh first.

Later while helping the daughter with her homework…

50 Shades of hormone-filled teenage girl: I read those books when my mom wasn’t home. They’re awesome.

Aww shucks. We started out together reading books in English, books such as Harry Potter, then we graduated to Twilight. I didn’t exactly know what was going to be next after Twilight but 50 Shades seems like a pretty big jump.

Even with all the hubbub, I still hadn’t read them. It’s not that I am a prude. It is more that I am never on the cusp of a trend. Not being up with the times means that you often don’t know what people are talking about. On the upside every time you fly, all the movies are new. Try it.

Finally, while visiting our village library, the librarian, a lovely lady who gives the library a real spirit and can only be described as serdeczna asked me if I wanted to be on the waiting list for 50 Shades in Polish. Apparently the book was racing through our village like wild fire. Again, I wondered, who is the target audience of this book and if it is as awful as everybody says, why is it so popular?

In the end, I did read it. I don’t know what logarithm my digital library uses but the book was constantly on my recommended list. I decided to give it a read.

It wasn’t awful, but here’s the problem with me and all books, films, television series – I often have a problem identifying with the main character. When I read Twilight with my teenaged neighbor I told her I couldn’t believe Bella would give up her life for her first boyfriend ever and anyway how could she do that to her father. The girl said, “Huh?” So in 50 Shades, I tried to remember that the characters are in their 20’s and what kind of person I was in my twenties and how I would have reacted at that age. I tried to identify to no avail. Basically, I think too much. I need to chill. Do they still use the word “chill”?

50 Shades is not the best book I have read recently, but I’d recommend it at least to know what people are talking about. The English version is way shorter than the Polish version. I know, because in the end I persuaded my husband to borrow it from the village library. At least when I was reading it on my Kindle, nobody knew I was reading “that sex book”. Totally inkoguto.

I don’t want Misiu to read it for any tips in the bedroom – he hasn’t started it yet. I suspect he may find the book a bit amusing as well. I want him to evaluate the translation. Some of my Polish friends said the book was vulgar. I didn’t find it vulgar in English. Detailed perhaps, but not vulgar. I also made him read some Marek Krajewski books with me in Polish and English. Result – Krajewski’s books have the same weird vibe in English as they do in Polish. Bravo to the translator.

I am most interested in the opinion of a friend who strangely enough started with book 2 in Polish. He plans to read book 3 in German which is universally heralded as the language of romance and sexuality, isn’t it? I’ve encouraged him to read book 1 first and in English before the German book 3. We’ll see which language is best suited to this kind of literature.

Other translating issues…

Every single day…

The short version…

It could happen to you…

A “thanks” to the Kindle which hides all my sins…

Can’t resist a good “pacz” joke…

And just in case they make a Polish version…

Laters, baby.*

*You knew I was going to write that, didn’t you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fingers crossed and thumbs held

The exterminators were here a week ago. We are a couple of thousand zloty poorer and our house smells like chemicals, but fingers crossed and thumbs held*, let’s hope that it works. To recap, our house in the village has woodworm. The woodworm is eating away at the beams which support the whole structure. I cannot use past tense yet.

The most effective treatment would have been gassing the whole house. This is the solution that I pushed for, but the exterminators were worried about the proximity of the next door neighbors. Strictly according to the law, their house is far enough away but our neighbors are old and like to wander into our garden in our absence, so the exterminator was worried about their overall safety.

The next best method is to drill holes into all the wooden beams, inject them with a poisonous resin, and re-impregnate all wood in the house. It looks like this:


Luckily for us, our beams are exposed. If not, the ceilings would have had to be removed. This process isn’t an instant kill of the woodworm. Any worms die upon reaching the resin and if any make their way out, they will most likely not re-infect due to the impregnation. In one particular beam that showed no signs of infestation, the worms were clearly crunching away. Now all sounds in that beam have stopped. In other places, I can still hear them. It’s quite unsettling.

Additionally, the extermination team gave the barn a spray. The chemicals are available over-the-counter, so to speak, but I am not comfortable using toxic substances myself. They had all the protective clothing and masks and a power sprayer thingy so it was much better that they did it and we just paid for it.

I hope that'll be the end of the woodworm story.

Do you feel itchy?


*Polish equivalent to crossing your fingers for good luck.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Inside and Out

I cannot concentrate on anything. Inside the house we are fighting an epic battle with korniki or some other kind of woodworm which is attacking our wood-framed house. If I were a religious person, I just might cross myself before climbing into the bathtub full of water upstairs. That’s 100 kilos of bathtub, plus water, plus me supported by wooden beams. As it is, I never sit on the couch located downstairs under the tub when somebody is having a bath.

Outside, pokrzywa is attacking us from every front. Yes, I know that stinging nettle is not really a weed, that you can make soup from it and that is has other medicinal uses, but I don’t really care. It is ugly and it has taken over all border areas of the yard and a good-sized patch in the back garden.

Of these two szkodniki I am more concerned by the woodworm. We are planning the next stage of attack this weekend. Fingers-crossed and thumbs held.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What to do? What to do?

Vice-Principal: We strive to make our school a welcoming place for our students. And I see that this an extremely important issue for you as parents. What to do? What to do?

Parent a.k.a. Misiu: It is not extremely important. It is normal important. We have the right for our child not to participate in “Religia”. That right has been violated, and we demand it to be respected.

Vice-Principal: We need to find some practical solution. What to do? What to do? We wanted to put an indication that certain children do not attend “Religia” in the class book but other parents didn’t agree.

Parent a.k.a. Misiu: Our child raised her hand and said that she doesn’t attend “Relgia”. The nun knows that she doesn’t attend “Religia”. Three children from that group do not attend.

Vice-Principal: What to do? What to do? Maybe some other indication? Some kind of list posted on the door or some other markings or labeling?

Parent a.k.a. Misiu (nodding in mocking deference): Perhaps some armbands?

Vice-Principal (embarrassed and understanding the significance of what she has suggested): No, no, of course not some kind of markings. No, no that wouldn’t work.

What to do?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Żelazne sumienie

If you can read in Polish, I recommend this article from Gazeta Wyborcza. It’s an interview with Professor Romuald Dębski and his description of how to have a conscience and do your job too.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer of English

The school year is coming to end. Actually, the end of the school year in Poland is long and drawn out in my opinion especially for older kids. The younger ones are just having a good time with trips to the zoo, around the city, the movies and spending lazy afternoons outside in the school playground. Older kids seem to have endless worksheets or in-class movie watching with comments from teachers “…but we’ve finished all the material for this year”.

My girls have had good years. Lizzie has very good grades, has graduated to using a pen instead of a pencil, has started learning Russian with a native speaker, and has learned her multiplication table (more or less). She has also joined the local soccer team, and I can proudly report that she is just as bad as the other kids. I’m joking, of course. She is great. Bring on 3rd grade.

Rosie is constantly praised by her teachers and when asked how she got so smart and who was so smart at home, Rosie replied, “Me”. Naturally, she is correct. This year Rosie took part in a city-wide diction competition and did very well. When asked to repeat the same poem a few months later at the Mother and Father’s Day show, she did so proudly although with her diction much less clear as she had lost 3 teeth on the top all in a row just the week before. But on a positive note she made 30 zloty in one week (current tooth to PLN exchange rate is 1:10). Bring on 1st grade.

I’ve had a good school year as well. I managed to attend one parent/teacher conference myself – Misiu usually goes. I was able to look down at all the other parents who didn’t come and received a reprimanding e-mail from the class secretary. I managed to avoid finding myself seated near “hot mom” from the group, thus keeping my self-esteem mostly intact. I’ve managed to perfect the facial expression I reserve for exclusive use at school when the priest or the nuns greet me. I feel it exudes a proper “you don’t belong here” to “leave me alone” ratio with maybe a pinch, just a pinch of F-off. I’m still working on it. I agreed to do a favor for Rosie’s teacher making the rookie mistake of not asking what the favor was first. That’s how I came to play the starring role of “sick mother” in the Mother and Father’s Day show. Bravo to the teachers who cast another father about 15 years my junior in the role of father to my mother. Bravo to me for holding my tongue when said father inquired loudly, “But who will make my breakfast!?” upon discovering his wife was ill. It was part of his role.

We have no big summer plans. The kids don’t want to go to any camps although I’ve begged them to go to the swimming camp that they loved in the past. They still refused even when offered, well, some pecuniary assistance in making the “right” decision. No go. I guess we will split our time between the city and the village and try to catch some attractions as they come.

One thing I plan to do is read a lot on my new Kindle. I am very pleased with my Kindle and my library membership which allows me to borrow books for free. Prior to my Kindle I was at the mercy of Empik’s foreign language book buyer. I’ve read just about every book they have excluding Leszek Czarnecki’s Risk in Banking which I am sure I will get to eventually. The best part about the Kindle is that I can buy books in English for the girls, just like that. We are currently reading the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary. I remember those books fondly from my childhood as I was a bit like Ramona. I hope that my gamine little Lizzie will see a bit of herself in Ramona as well and know that not all girls have to wear pink dresses and play with Barbies.

Lizzie often reads to herself from one of her many, many books in Polish, but I have noticed that she avoids her English books. With some pestering on my part, Lizzie has started to read more in English but is not satisfied with her own progress. Rosie is so frustrated with reading in English that she actually cried herself to sleep last night. Hence the launch of our Summer of English. My goal is to help the girls catch their English skills up so they are in line with their Polish skills. I’m not sure how to do it exactly (besides just reading together) so I am in the process of brainstorming (with myself) and researching on-line. Any suggestions would be appreciated!