Thursday, August 27, 2015

Łódź is not pronounced Loads

Road trip! This time to Łódź...which is not pronounced Loads if that is what you were thinking. I once blew my boss's mind in the States when at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC I explained that the Łódź Ghetto is the Łódź Ghetto and not the Loads Ghetto.

Łódź is a pretty cool place. Perhaps too cool. I do believe if Łódź challenged Wrocław to a hipster-off, Łódź would definitely win. But we weren't there for the hipsters or Piotrowska Street. We were there for Miś Uszatek!

If I am truly honest here, I think I enjoyed the Se-ma-for Animation Museum more than anyone who has ever been there, ever. Miś Uszatek was my first Polish teacher and what an adorable teacher at that. I was very happy to see him, his friends, his room, the wallpaper, all of it. I've seen almost all the episodes over the years, and I didn't catch on for ages that all the voices were done by one man. Of course there's more to Se-ma-for than Miś Uszatek. 

The Museum tour begins with a stop in the movie theater where you will see a selection of old and new Se-ma-for creations. Then a tour guide, in our case a lovely young lady, tells the visitors all the most interesting things about Se-ma-for past and present. After that, visitors are free to roam around at their leisure. There's so much to say about the museum, but I don't want to spoil it for you so I'll just show a few pictures.

Our trip was a short one, so next we hit Piotrowska, the "mainest" main street in Łódź. We grabbed something to eat, did some sightseeing, hit some shops, and then headed back home.

In reaction to the lack of "Hel" t-shirts or any other Polish souvenirs in Hel, we hit the Pan tu nie stał shop pretty hard - Polish design, made in Łódź, to takie miasto w Polsce. We got 8 stamps in one visit. Is that a lot? 

Visit their online shop at When I wear my "zołza" shirt, people are so nice to me.

I almost forgot about the Łódź hipsters. They're all so very cool. The ladies, so ladylike yet functional and funky. The men, so dapper and colorful. I felt oh so very plain there in Łódź, but I got in some great people-watching. And about that hipster off? I think it would go something like this:

Łódż, I hope to see you again soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

For shame

I ate this whole burger. I am not ashamed.

I'm not a fan of bullying or mobbing in any form. I mean, who is? Well, maybe the bully, but I'm not so sure about that either. I am not a bully. I am, however, a fan of mild public shaming. Why? Because it works. I guess that would make me a shamer? The recipients, shamees?

I should maybe mention here that I use my public shaming power rarely, and I use my public shaming power exclusively for good. Your own good.

You'd probably like an example, right?

Don't do you homework because your child was ill? Pass. Because you were ill? Pass. Don't do you homework just because, for the third time this month? Stand up in front of the room and sing a English. Yes, it all could backfire, you say. Some kids or teens could bask in their class-clown/class-rebel glory. But I don't teach teens. I teach business people. They don't want to stand up in front of the class and sing at all, in English or otherwise. And if the conference room is near the boss's office, that's a good time to crack open the door, just a little bit. Yes, Mrs. Main Accountant, I am talking to you. 

Point of curiosity, the most often chosen song to sing is...Happy Birthday.

For hardcore procrastinators and general lazy buggers, a visit to their boss (the person bankrolling this show) for an explanation as to why said homework has not been completed. Use this one sparingly. News will spread throughout the company and all homework will be completed on time, I guarantee, but aforementioned lazy bugger will absolutely despise you. Never drink any coffee prepared for you by lazy bugger. Ever. And know if lazy bugger ever gets promoted, you are out of there.

Stand at the village shop with your pregnant belly and a ciggie in your hand? It happened. The telepathic scorn I was sending apparently was not enough because Fat Kasia just continued to puff away. I'd reached my public shaming limits. I was speechless. Luckily for me and Fat Kasia's baby, Misiu's ability to speak had been altered in no way. Misiu: Really Kasia? Smoking while pregnant? That's such a terrible thing to do. Fat Kasia: Leave me alone. At least I have stopped drinking. (A prize to the person who can correctly guess and formulate her response in Polish, well, because it was just better in Polish.)

Let me just set the record straight about the nickname Fat Kasia. I did not give her that nickname. The locals call her that, but for the life of me I do not know why. I mean she is fat, pregnant or not, but she's the only Kasia in our village so where's the need to modify? 

So if someone throws a bit of litter on the street or doesn't buckle up their kid in the car or doesn't give it their all in their English classes, they might hear from me. Or not. It depends on my mood. I'm a lazy bugger.

Public shaming extra bonus - Construction Worker Justice, Overheard

I am walking down the street as I do, looking out for anything interesting to see and any doggy bombs to avoid, when I overheard a snippet of conversation of some gentlemen builders who were putting a new facade on a local building. As they were working behind a mesh, I couldn't get a good look at them, but I could hear them just fine. Here goes the conversation, well, lecture really, as an older builder shames his younger workmate.

Co ty? Zawsze widze jak Agata zapierdala z wózkiem a ty co? Ty zawsze masz puste ręce a ona ma dziecko i jeszcze zakupy.

What d'ya think about that? 

Best be behaving. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Instagram and Kielbasa Stories

Kielbasa Stories can now be found on Instagram. 


Because I have so much love to share!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Beer is not a good chaser for vodka

We picked up a hitchhiker today. Not really do-goodery on our part, just room in the car. We would pick people up more often, but we're usually full up with the kids. Before the kids came along, we used to take college students back home from the city pretty regularly. This time we were heading from our house in the village to pick up the kids from a local day camp. It's not more than 10 km, if even that. The bus goes through here rarely though, and it was extremely hot today. Have a heart - we had to pick the guy up. After some pleasantries, he asked to be delivered to the main square if we could, but quickly decided that the local swimming hole would be better. He looked to be about 20, possibly a student home for the summer.

The usual hitchhiking protocol involves some kind of conversation, but since the trip was so short I couldn't really think of anything to say. Turned out I didn't have to as our passenger explained his predicament (but not before asking for a cigarette and expressing his disappointment that we don't smoke). 

You see, the police dropped me off there on the road. I got arrested, and they dropped me there and told me to walk home. They said if they see me back in town today, they're gonna lock me up, so I kind of want to check if it's true. 

Well, that's pretty clear. 

We dropped our little criminal off and picked up the girls. After lunch we too decided that the watering hole was a good idea to beat the heat. And who did we see there? Our hitchhiker with a group of friends drinking vodka with beer chaser and generally horsing around. As we were leaving, the police pulled in. We were on our way out which is a pity because I kind of wanted to check if it was true too.

P.S. I couldn't think of a title and "Hitchhiking" seemed too lame.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mea culpa

My house is not clean. Neither is my apartment. My house is small for a house. I think my whole house could fit into my sister's garage...or slip nicely into her swimming pool. It's tiny. You get it. My apartment would be small for a living room, so as an apartment for 4 it is microscopic. But somehow, I cannot keep them clean. This is not a boohoo I have to clean two kitchens, defrost two fridges, iron a ton of clothes rant. Nope, it's not a post about that...because I don't do those things. I mean I clean occasionally. Anyone who has had the misfortune to use the bathroom at my place might say not often enough, but the Department of Health isn't declaring any emergencies or anything...yet. I just don't let it get in the way of life. I have a friend who can never go out and can never invite anyone in because she has to finish her ironing. I asked her if we didn't meet that day would she do her ironing instead? Because if not then what's the point? She'd never finish it. And who said you have to iron all the clothes before you put them away? We don't do it, and we are happy and wrinkle-free when we head out the door. It's not a rule. It's her rule. If your rule is not working for you, change it.

The first apartment we looked at was enormous. I didn't even once think about how I would clean it. It did imagine myself doing the waltz in the foyer, it was that big. Next I wondered why it was so cheap. I soon discovered that we couldn't view one room because Babcia was in that room dying and that the funny building across the street was a prison, but no worries, when criminals break out of prison the apartment across the street is not their ultimate destination. We did observe a 3-year-old child going to the store alone to buy a loaf of bread and a pack of smokes, so a top rate neighborhood overall.

Another apartment we looked at was located in a beautiful historic building, ok, potentially beautiful. It wasn't as large as the first one, but the living room was curved with the building, and the apartment had a very funny little balcony characteristic for the building. Ok, you couldn't go out on the balcony. It was prohibited for safety reasons, and you couldn't shut the bathroom door if you happened to be sitting on the toilet. And the grand staircase smelled of urine, but whatevs. I didn't know it then, but the building still had bathrooms in the hall on every other floor, hence the smell and the reason behind the extremely small bathroom. If I had known then what I know now (that children don't let you go to the toilet with the door closed), we might have bought it.

Another apartment was rented out to students who had made provisional divisions of the rooms that were most certainly illegal and definitely a fire hazard. We informed the owner that we were interested in seeing the apartment in the original skład and without the half a kilo of pigeon poo on the balcony. It must have been a sellers market because the owner didn't agree.

In the end, we settled on our little apartment in what was then considered the suburbs and what is now considered The City. We took a small mortgage and paid it off. The lady at the bank couldn't believe we didn't take more money, I mean, the bank was offering more but we took less. "You could buy a bigger apartment," she urged. I know it is attractive. If the bank thinks I can afford, then I must be able to afford it, right? Luckily I was raised by the financially paranoid, so I see only black scenarios. Ok, we would have a bigger apartment today that is true, but at the cost of our peace of mind. It may be small, but it is all ours.

Houses were another story. Some were big, others were small. They all had serious problems. But we were just looking. Just doing a favor for our friend who had just got her real estate license - needed to practice her spiel. You may not know this about me, but I am a house voyeur. I love to see how people live, and Poland still is a foreign country for me. I couldn't refuse an opportunity to see inside houses and look, really look, at them 'cause house voyeurism and looking to buy a house look the same from the outside. 

The house I was really interested in seeing turned out to be a disaster. There was a hole in the roof that had been there awhile allowing water to get in the house and turn to black mold...or mildew - I don't know what the difference is. Anyhow it was a no-go. It was too far, and too big, and did I mention the mold? The next place was 1/4 of a house. It wasn't that bad. It had shutters which we adored. There was something wrong with the floor, and you had to access the kitchen by going outside the apartment, and the land was not officially divided into four, but all of those problems were not serious. The serious issue was that a couple had put in an offer the day before and it had been accepted. But we were just looking for fun. Whatevs.

I have repeated this many times, and I will say it again. I have no idea what we were thinking when we decided to buy our house. When we arrived we were tired and had to wait in the yard for the neighbor to bring the key. The yard was overgrown and there were chickens everywhere. There was also chicken shit everywhere. Watch your step. There was (and still is) a lovely linden tree in the yard. There was also a little bench under the tree. It was adorable despite the chicken that was shitting on it at the time. Misiu looked at me and asked, "How much is that bench gonna cost me?"

The neighbor in his late 70s arrived with the key and proceeded to join us as we looked at the house. He did not miss a step. The house had not been lived in for years, since the gentleman who lived there the house we found out. We were checking out the basement at the time. That's when the neighbor pointing to the place where I was standing said in a pompous tone, "He died right there. Right where you are standing." I don't go to the basement much.

We looked at the old tile stove in the kitchen, at the hodgepodge of old German furniture and PRL classics, at the icons on the walls. The walls were painted with wałek a technique I had never seen before. Upstairs there was a bedroom with a feather bed and also a smoke room...and about a hundred empty bottles of denaturat I assume were used in the smoking process and played no role in the death of the owner. Misiu wanted to check how solid the floor was and discovered not very solid at all. You break it, you buy it, right?

We bought it. The falling down chimney, the crumbling outhouse, no water, no electricity. The whole kit and caboodle. We have a bathroom now, and water, and electricity. And no mortgage. It may be a bit of a ruin still, but it is all ours.

We didn't just buy it, just like that. We had time to back out. First the owners, 6 of them, had to work out the inheritance issues before they could sell it. We had to get permission from the Department of Agriculture to buy it because in fact it is a 2-acre farm. At the final signing (and paying) we reminded the owners that the house was full of their personal photos and we'd be there to sunset (no electricity). We invited them to come and give their childhood home a final look and to take their pictures. I also asked one granddaughter if she'd like to see her grandparent's house for the last time. Her answer was a curt, bordering on rude, "No". I later learned that she had never met her grandparents as she was the result of an extramarital affair. Whoopsie.

We went to what was now our house and just sat there in disbelief. I collected up the family pictures-first communions, weddings, Christmases, a funeral with the body on the table where I was sitting. One sister asked if she could come and take that table. After seeing that funeral pic I was happy that it would be going. But nobody came. We stayed to 10 pm to be sure. I packed up all the pictures and locked the door. We later dropped the box of pictures at the real estate agent to give to the family.

You know, they didn't give us that house. Well, they did, but in exchange for money, the exact amount of money they asked for the house. We didn't steal it from them. The bank didn't foreclose on them. There was no pressure. 

A few weeks after we had bought the house the sister who had wanted the table called and asked if we happened to be there because she was planning to be in the neighborhood and wanted to pick up her table. I told her that she'd have to arrange it another time because we weren't anywhere close. I also told her that her family pictures were waiting for her at the real estate agent. 

One week later, we came to our house only to see that we had been burgled. The door had been broken open and the place ransacked with some bigger items missing. My first thought of an innocent person with no evil intentions was that we had bad luck. The house had been empty for years and just when we bought it, somebody broke in.

You already know what happened, don't you? 

We ventured out into the garden wondering what we should do. The neighbor came out, saw that we were upset, and asked what had happened. We explained that we had been burgled. "You weren't burgled. The owner was here." I declared, "I am the owner." Sympathy ensued. Long story short, the sister got her table and any other things of value from the "family home" that we "took" from her family. She left a huge mess and damaged the door as well. When she realized that others might not see it the same way, she agreed to the deal that we offered her. If she returned and removed everything from the house and the barn, we wouldn't go to the police. Of course we were "boorish", "cruel", "greedy" and "thieves". Misiu explained "private property", "notary acts", "common decency" and whatnot. She held up her side of the deal and removed every last item excluding 3 pieces of furniture which she left after getting agreement from us. There was a lot of "Don't you know who I am?" and other bullshit, but when she and her trucks and dumpsters cleared out of there, it was the last we heard from her. It was a valuable lesson for us and for our real estate agent. Who would have thought somebody would do something like that?

After that I was a little worried about my reputation around the village but being proven to be in the right, village loyalty was on our side. One neighbor came to the fence for a chat and an attempt to figure out where I was from. 

He said, "Tell the truth, where are you from?" 

I explained that I was American. 

"Not German? Are you sure?" 

I assured him that I was sure of my own nationally.
"So you're not German? Never lived in Germany?"

I assured him that I had never lived in Germany. 

"So you're not the German lady who bought the old mill?" 

I assured him that I was not. 

"Because there's a rumor that there's gonna be a brothel there." 

My response, "Well, at least there'll be someplace to work."

And you know, it is true until today - Only I think my jokes are funny.

This long, long post is my mea culpa for not writing for so long ;)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Welcome to Hel

I've been warned all my life that I'd wind up in hell. Who knew it was such a beautiful place. The sand is a lovely white color. The water is clear. The weather changes from minute to minute, but the air is fresh and crisp. We had a good time.

It was our first trip with the girls to the Polish seaside. They really enjoyed the beach, the go-carts, and the waffles with whipped cream. There was a moment of disappointment when they realized that the water was cold. Then they discovered jellyfish in the water, and all was forgotten. The water is cold. The wind is cold. It rains almost every day. Be prepared. You can get sunburnt even on a cloudy day as my red legs can attest to. I was not prepared.

Here was our stanowisko. We didn't have the windbreakers (parawany) which are extremely popular on Polish beaches. I'm not sure if they are popular because they actually do break the wind or if they just appeal to Polish people's love of fencing themselves in or rather fencing others out. 

our humble homebase 

Daddy, why the windbreaker? There's no wind. ----But there are fellow Poles.

After five minutes on the beach, we were already on a ciocia-basis with our closest neighbor. She requested joining her parawan with our beach blanket to create a more private zone which she defended tooth and nail. Our kids began playing in the sand, and they were lost to us for most of the day.
cold, clear water

a jellyfish delicately returned to the water

one of many sandcastles
We let our kids run, jump, swim, sunbathe on the sand, pretty much do whatever they wanted. From some of our closest neighbors I observed a different philosophy of beachgoing. The philosophy of taking kids to beach and not letting them swim. There are two schools of thought apparently- one, it is too hot to swim - the other, it is too cold. The same ideology applies to eating ice cream as well. The next part of this philosophy involves taking frequent breaks with mother sitting on a beach towel, not the sand, never sit on the sand according to this philosophy. Additionally don't walk in the sand because you'll have sand in your shoes. This said to a child already on the beach. Said child stops walking, frozen in the conundrum presented to him by his mother. How can you take a kid to the beach and not let the kid swim I wondered as one mother tortured her child while all other kids were having fun. "Why did you even bring me here?" asks one 10 year old girl. I wanted to ask the same.

Our girls found some like-minded children with normal parents and spent the time being happy and having fun.

I was very happy to be on vacation. Not that I don't like my job. I love it. It is a very people-oriented job though, so it was nice to not have to talk to anyone or listen to anyone or correct anyone. I'm pretty sure Ciocia from the next parawan was trying to get some English lesson out of me for her grandson, but I just disappeared into my book.

Not everyone looked happy to be on vacation. People were literally running the path to the beach, not because they were excited to get to the sea, but because they were worried about finding a place. I wanted to scream - There's enough beach for everyone! Once they got to the beach they eyed up the other beach goers with unfriendly looks. When new holidaymakers arrived, they told them to move on, there's not enough room. People! We're on vacation. Smile at each other. Enjoy yourselves. Enjoy the (fleeting) sunshine.

One gentleman behind the next parawan was thought to be sleeping by his family but instead required immediate medical attention. The lifeguards did their Baywatch run down the beach, and then the EMT's arrived. Nothing like a possible death on the beach to snap people into perspective and to realize that it is an amazing thing to be alive, to be on vacation, to have our little piece of the good life no matter how small it is. The man was revived, and we saw him on the beach the next day. 

What's a trip to the beach without getting buried in the sand?

an evening on the beach and Rosie's solution to cold water

port side of Hel

sea side of Hel

that frisbee was an excellent source of fun for all of 3 zl

our attempt at a selfie

Lighthouse in Hel from afar

from a bit closer

evenings on the beach were my favorite - kisses from Tatuś

we dropped a lot of money on go-carts

the fokarium with seals

the beautiful beach

We stayed in a private apartment. It was located close to the Cypel and gave us easy access to the beach from both the port side of Hel and the sea side of Hel. The apartment was adorable in a kitchy kind of way. Enjoy.

I had to sleep under this and...

...under this.

a little nautical theme

with a pinch of religion 

and a smidgen of art

and a sprinkle of kistch

basically awesome, that's the owner in his younger years
We also visited some military stuff, bunkers and whatnot. I gave myself a good scare when I shined my flashlight in the prisoner's hole in a door in one of the bunkers and met the eyes of another tourist that I did not realize was already in there. A lot of the bunkers, etc. have been used as toilets by other tourists so visit at your own risk.

All of Hel is a kind of kitschy, touristy place. If you are expecting elegance, go somewhere else. If you are expecting families with kids, ice cream, fish, french fries, beach volleyball, windsurfing, kitesurfing, disco polo bars, military museums, fishing museums, boat rides, lighthouses, seals - then Hel is a good place for you. One thing we didn't find and we were looking for were t-shirts from Hel. We saw a lot of t-shirts such as - I don't need you, I have internet - Eat cupcakes for breakfast - This is my hangover t-shirt - but not even one Hel shirt. People in Hel must have a sense of humor, I mean the bus to Hel is #666. Do Polish people not buy t-shirts when they on vacation?

We're back home, and we miss it already. Now it's time to clean up all the sand we brought with us.