Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Absolutely Unscientific Research: 500+

In the Polish election last autumn the winning party, PiS, took control, some say thanks to its election promise of the 500+ program. The 500 Plus program works like this: a benefit of 500 PLN is paid to families for the second child plus any additional children after that. We are not talking only about new births, but also existing children. So if you have 3 children, you should receive 1000 PLN monthly (0 for the first child + 500 for the second child + 500 for the third child = 1000 PLN). If the family income falls under a certain amount, that family gets the benefit for all the children. Receiving the 500+ does not affect other benefits a family might receive from other institutions. In comparison, the minimum wage is/was 1850 PLN gross and is due to rise to 2000 PLN gross as of January 2017. That is the monthly payment for 40 hours per week.


Some call it a social program. Some call it a handout. Some call it a lifesaver while others call it vote buying. No matter our feelings about it socially or morally, we must remember its effect economically. The government is not paying people from its own money. The government’s money is our money. And according to the latest proposal of the government, my family’s taxes are due to go up next year about the amount of 2x 500+. Somebody has to pay for it, right? Perhaps they could take it from the Smolensk commission budget.

I don’t believe there are any comprehensive studies at the moment on the effect of the 500+ so I have done some independent and completely unscientific research…in my village. A couple of years ago, I talked to a neighbor lady, they call her Fat Kasia which I find unnecessarily cruel as she is the only adult Kasia in the whole village. Anyhow, we were chatting at the village shop as you do when you are in the village. From the contents of her shopping of flour, potatoes, white cheese, and cigarettes, I gathered that Kasia was planning to make a batch of pierogi for the weekend. She lamented greatly at the cost of everything on their one salary and how unfair it was that the furniture factory didn’t pay her husband his salary on time. I agreed that not getting paid on time certainly wasn’t fair indeed, but I also inquired as to her interest in getting a job, you know, to take the pressure off. There were plenty of job offers at the new sawmill just 2 kilometers away. Kasia could not hide her shock and dismay at my inquiry. “I have a child!” she exclaimed. “I have two!” I exclaimed back. Nobody was judging. Nobody was offended. It was just a difference in our vision of our own lives. Over the next couple of weeks and over a few more conversations, Kasia decided to try to get a job at the sawmill. Her child was 8 years old then, and they lived meters from the school doors. And guess what. She got that job. That first Christmas Kasia had as an employed person was as she put it herself, “the best they’d ever had”. She was pleased to have the job, the possibility of paid overtime on Saturdays if she wanted, and a pleasant holiday season without the usual financial stress from years past.

Then Kasia got pregnant with their very much wanted second child. I met her a few times in front of the shop, her pregnant belly standing in stark contrast to the cigarette she had in her hand. My look must have spoken volumes because she later said to my husband, “What? I quit drinking at least.” Kasia had her baby about a year ago. I still meet her in front of the shop, baby in one hand, baby bottle of Kubus and cigarette in the other hand. Kasia is not going back to work. She’s decided that it doesn’t pay. Even though she would not lose her 500+ benefit. Even though the sawmill offered her a part-time job to start back. Even though her mother offered to babysit those 4-5 hours a day while she’s at work and cook dinner for the family. Even though she’d get a bit more than 1000 PLN a month from her employer, another 500 from the 500+ program, and secure her job position if she decided to return to full-time. It’s just not worth it to her. I’ve read a recent report that says there is absolutely no evidence that people are dropping out of the workforce due to the 500+ benefit. I find that hard to believe as most of us know at least one person and in my case several people who have done just that.

It is no surprise that money we get for nothing has a higher value than money we get for doing something, for example working - especially for someone earning minimum wage, having small children, and needing to travel to and from work each day. Transportation, good winter attire, childcare – it can cost you a significant part of your salary just to earn that salary. That wasn’t the case for Kasia, but yet she still decided not to go back to work. I returned to work relatively quickly after having each child. I was in fear of losing my contracts. There was a time when I did not even earn my ZUS payment (Social Security), not to mention my transportation costs or the babysitter, but I had to do it in hopes of a better future.

Continuing my unscientific research, I have been chatting with the local shop owner. Our village has a population of about 500 people. We have a primary school, a public library, a doctor’s office, a fire station, a chapel, and one shop. Our shop has got the basics, and as you can imagine, the shop is more expensive than the discount shops in the next town over. I don’t really think twice about the cost when I’ve got a kid on the toilet, and I’m running to Mr. Mariusz to buy toilet paper. (It happens more often than I’d like to admit.) The next town is only 7 kilometers away, but without a car, that’s too far for some locals to do their shopping. I inquired if Mr. Mariusz had noticed any changes in local shopping behavior since the 500+ payments started a few months ago. He has noticed some changes. He said some people came in and settled their credits (the infamous zeszyt) immediately, knowing that Mr. Mariusz knows that they got their money. Some people stocked up on the basics, perhaps enjoying the feeling of a fully-stocked kitchen cupboard for the first time in a long time. One lady has done a reverse-zeszyt by giving Mr. Mariusz all the 500 and deducting her shopping from there each time. She allows her husband 100 of the money on the zeszyt for his beer and cigarettes, and not a grosz more. It appears that women are in charge of budgeting that money. Mr. Mariusz has also reported that sales of beer and cigarettes has gone up significantly. He stopped selling hard alcohol some years ago as some of his customers were quickly drinking themselves in unconsciousness outside the shop doors.

What have I noticed? At the start, new trampolines and bikes appeared in our village. Cartons of cigarettes replaced packs or cigarettes. In some cases, packs of cigarette have replaced homemade cigarettes. This year there were not scenes in the front of the shop about a father drinking all the public benefit the kids got for school shoes. I’m not saying that money was not drunk, but there was an additional source of income to buy shoes from. We’ll find out this winter if we have similar scenes of selling the public benefit coal for cash and then stealing wood from other neighbors as it was last year.

Talking to my neighbors and friends in the village, many of them say they voted solely for that 500+ program. They have the knowledge that it most certainly is detrimental to the economy and they don’t care. One family has got one little kid at home and two teens in the orphanage. Since the 500+, they have been trying to get their kids back from the orphanage. They didn’t lose them because they were poor, but because their behavior prevented the kids from going to school. The kids don’t want to come back, not even so the parents can get the 500+ benefit for them. At the orphanage they have clothes, food, school books, a computer room, and basic cell phones. Smart kids.

What about people like me? The ministers were happily talking about people like me who could now afford extra music or language lessons for their children, invest in their kids education. I even saw a car today with a bumper sticker that said “Financed by 500+”. I am now aware that in the new year I will most likely be in the minus and not the plus with this plan. No cóż. Co robić?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's New Pussycat?

And this is what I got when I asked Rosie to find me a picture of a pussycat. 
Who hasn't heard what U.S. Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump, said some 10 years ago using the word "pussy"?

The gist? As a rich and famous guy, he doesn't hesitate to kiss and grope women that he likes. No pussyfooting around, with his power and celebrity he claims he can do anything to women even "grab 'em by the pussy".

Here's the transcript of the most controversial part of the recording:

Trump: Yeah, that’s her.With the gold. I better use some Tic-Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Bush: Whatever you want.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Not familiar with the usage of the word "pussy"? He means women's genitalia. 

As a woman I possess the genitalia referred to using the term "pussy". I have been grabbed by the pussy on three occasions in my life - twice by the same person, a person I know, and once by a stranger who attacked me.

First the stranger...the pussy grab was the least of my concerns at that very moment because a few seconds early said stranger had hit me in the head. The pussy grab let me know that what I thought might be the beginning of a robbery, was in fact something else entirely. 

Now for the person I know...this is someone I don't quite understand even today. I do not understand the intention of the pussy grab. I believe it was a power thing. It accompanied some advice he gave me and repeated on another occasion under identical circumstances. It was generally weird, and I avoid this person whenever I can.

That concludes my unscientific research of the entirety of the pussy grabs I have experienced in my life. While it may be only three times, I can tell you that it is three times too many. Additionally, I can tell you that it is called sexual assault, but in my case that's only due to the area of the body grabbed because other than that there was nothing sexual about it. The first was part of a violent attack, and the second was a show of power. Politics aside, Donald Trump isn't talking about sex here either. He's talking about power, fame, riches, celebrity, and what he can get away with - apparently, by his own admission, sexual assault.

PS I know this has nothing to do with Poland or anything Polish, but somebody told me today that Donald Trump was just grandstanding and that pussy grabs just do not happen. They do happen. It's happened to me.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Super Mom and the Best Bubble Mix Ever!

Super Mom I am not. Despite what my shirt says. That shirt was a gift anyhow. From a Super Mom. She is such a Super Mom that when my daughter had a Super Hero birthday party, my Super Mom friend made us all Super Hero t-shirts and Super Hero capes. Thanks Super Mom.

It's not my intention to make Kielbasa Stories the glorification of myself as a mother. I'm not really into the Mommy Blogger thing, although "Mommy" is one of the titles I proudly hold. The Mommiest of my moments? I do make my kids' birthday cakes and share them here, but not because I'm Super Mom. It's because I'm not. My kids won't eat store-bought birthday cakes, and I'm so proud of myself for not fecking the whole thing up and that it is actually edible.I am in such disbelief that I have to share them here to immortalize them for all eternity. As simple as that. 

Oh, and this week I made pierogi, and I took a picture, and I shared it on two forms of social media, so there!

Having said all that, I'm about to do the most Super Mommiest thing I have ever done. I am going to share with you my super secret recipe for seriously the Best Bubble Mix Ever! And I mean it. That's not click bait. I have created with my own hands the most amazing Bubble Mix with just a few simple ingredients.

I started from buying industrial size Bubble Mix from Tesco for a birthday party we were planning. It cost an arm and a leg, smelled like old socks, and my kids promptly spilled the whole thing in the backyard. Furious and not wanting to lose my temper, I took that now empty bottle and checked the ingredients. As you may know Bubble Mix is basically soapy water, well soapy water and some glycerin. So I bought a bottle of glycerin and mixed it with water and some dish washing liquid. Voila, bubbles. Well, kind of. The bubbles weren't very bubbly. They didn't want to come off the wand. When they did, they popped quite quickly. 

Hmmm, back to the ingredients list. I didn't recognize the rest of the ingredients I must admit. Most of them seemed to be responsible for the old sock smell as far as Google could tell me. Then I Googled one last ingredient, and was surprised that Google showed me bottle after bottle of Durex Play. Yep, the missing link in my bubble mix is the main ingredient in Durex Play. Durex Play is not cheap, but a bottle that costs 28 zl in Poland is enough for about 4 liters or more of bubble mix. However, when buying three bottles at the pharmacy, it isn't the best of ideas to tell the pharmacist that they are for your kid's birthday party. Live and learn.

So here it is...
The Best Bubble Mix Ever

A bottle or jar of water
3 healthy squirts of a good quality dish washing liquid
A small bottle of glycerin 
4-5 healthy squirts of Durex Play 2 in 1

Depending on your bottle and your definition of healthy squirts, your mix might be too concentrated. No worries. When you pour some out for the kids, just dilute it with a bit of water.

What makes this recipe the Best Bubble Mix Ever? Well, the mix is extremely productive. With one dip of the wand, you can make 10 bubbles. The bubbles come off the wand easily, they are bouncy, and they last a long time. Plus it doesn't smell like old socks. 

 Happy bubbling!

PS In case anyone is in doubt that my kids are totally Polish, please note my daughter's footwear ;)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

So my friend died.

My friend from high school died a couple of days ago. This is the view we shared of our hometown.

My friend was 42. He was married with 3 school-age children.

Since we graduated from high school and all went our separate ways, he was someone I might run into at the supermarket when I went home for a visit. He was a guy that I exchanged pleasantries with on Facebook. Congratulations on new jobs, new babies, new cars - that's it for 20 years. Then he got sick. He announced his illness on Facebook, February 2015. It was an aggressive form of cancer, but he was ready to fight. He was one of the fittest, clean eating, clean living people I knew. He looked the picture of health. Actually, he looked better than healthy. He looked like he could kick somebody's ass, so kicking cancer seemed like it would be no problem.

He publicly announced his illness and his plan to fight and was answered with silence. I knew it wasn't because no one had seen his post or that no one cared. It was just a lack of words. I mean what is the proper sentiment to offer when someone who has so much before them declares, hey guys, this just might be where the road ends for me.

I was sick once. I was able to hide it from most of my friends and family in the US. No need to worry them till it was actually time to worry. I couldn't really hide it from friends and family here in Poland; however, the response I got from the people who knew and the people who didn't know was pretty much the same. Kind of like how your chance of winning the lottery doesn't change a whole lot when you've bought a ticket and when you haven't bought a ticket.

I resented that fact for a good long time after I got better. Not when I was sick though. I was grateful for the silence back then. I was grateful that some people treated me like I was already gone. I didn't have the energy to spare worrying about them. 

But I could see from post to post that the lack of response bothered this friend. I had to reach out to him. I told him how my story played out. How resentful I felt. How much I didn't care about it now. How much more sympathy and empathy I have for people now. He said he really appreciated the fact that I had reached out. I wished him all the strength he would need.

For about the next year, it seemed he was winning the fight. He looked great. He said he felt great. He spent a lot of time on social media promoting his sports regimen, fighting against transgender bathroom access, supporting Donald Trump, and telling me to repent for my sins and return on God's path before it was too late. That's not how I would choose to spend my time, sick or not sick, but to each his own.

He often wondered if this was his last birthday, his last Christmas, his last trip to the beach. He expressed his disbelief of the fact that he wouldn't see his children graduate from school or get married. I too have those thoughts occasionally, but in a "knock-on-wood" way. Not in a "this-is-my-reality" way.

The support finally did roll in. It took some time for people to break the ice, the ice of sorrow and the ice of encouragement. Now that he's gone, the support for his family continues to roll in.

I did my best. At the beginning of his fight, he had asked me to pray for him. It wasn't a flippant request. He was a deep believer and a very public worshipper. I told him that I would keep him in my thoughts, but that I wouldn't pray for him as I am an atheist. Unfortunately, he couldn't understand how I found meaning or purpose in life without the promise of an afterlife. I couldn't understand how while facing death, he couldn't see that his family, his friends, and his relationships were his purpose in life. 

Or maybe he did. Closer to the end, he wrote to me and confided that his faith in an afterlife was growing weaker by the day, and it worried him so. I told him it didn't really matter, did it? Something will happen after we die. We might go to another place or maybe our consciousness will come to an end. What will happen, will happen regardless of the amount of faith we put into one scenario or the other because we have no way of knowing. His last comment to me..."Hahaha, I knew the atheist would be the one to put me back on track." I hope I did.

Mike, it was a pleasure to have known you.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What's all the Hubbub? Harlow

You may have heard of the Polish gentleman who was beaten to death last week by a group of teens in Harlow in England. It is said that they attacked him after hearing him speaking Polish on the phone. I don't know if they attacked and killed him because he was speaking Polish or because he was not speaking English. We are most certain it was because he was foreign. 

I haven't been physically attacked in Poland because I am foreign, or because I was speaking English on the street, or because I wasn't speaking Polish. Nothing like that has happened to me...yet. I have been attacked because I was alone on the street, because I am a woman, because I was smaller, because I was weaker. That's not exclusive to Poland, I must say.

The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs has gone to the UK to discuss the matter with UK officials.

I haven't been beaten on the street for being foreign, but others have. It's not an everyday thing here in Poland, being beaten on the street. It's rare actually. I don't think it's an everyday thing in Harlow either, but that man is dead just the same. I think those kids should have to learn Polish as part of their punishment. They're sure to have plenty of time to do it while incarcerated. Then they should have to face that man's family and apologize to them in Polish.

I haven't been beaten on the street, but I have been shouted at.

"Mów po polsku ty głupia krowo!" he shouted in my face. (Speak Polish you stupid cow!)
"Mów po jakimś normalnym języku!" he screamed as his spittle hit me in the eye. (Speak some normal language!"

"Odwal się! Wystarczy po polsku?" I reply. (Piss off! Is that enough in Polish?)

"Brawo! Pani umie. Brawo!" he says as he claps his hands in applause. (Bravo! You can do it. Bravo!)

So I went from you stupid cow using the informal you (ty) to the formal Ma'am (Pani). From spitting in my face, to applause all in one short conversation.

But that's just some weird guy on the street right? Normal people don't think like that.

"Jesteśmy w Polsce. Mówimy po polsku!" she reprimanded us. (We are in Poland. We speak Polish!)

True. People in Poland speak Polish. My family speaks Polish. But we speak English too, and I will not let anyone shame me or my children when we speak English to each other.

Oh, the above statement came from the Principal of our children's school. I was so happy to point out to her that they taught the kids the wrong words in the Polish national anthem. Kiedy, my dear, not póki. We are in Poland. We speak Polish.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New Teeth!

As I was working in my garden last week a neighbor lady who hasn't spoken to me for about 6 years due to a dispute on our street and the fact that her husband is a sexual deviant, came to the fence to radzić. She wanted some advice about a building project, and I guess I am the expert on our street. Before I could answer her question she shouted out, "Chyba Pani wstawiała sobie zęby!" Yes, she asked if I had got false teeth as I swiftly noticed that she had a new set of false teeth. I assured her that these teeth were my own, in the sense that they grow out of my head not in the sense that I have paid my last installment for them. Her response? "Amazing!" 

Your teeth, false teeth, no teeth? Keep smiling!

Monday, July 11, 2016

I do!

I'm at the age where I rarely get invited to friend's weddings anymore. I mean it's because nobody's getting married, not that I'm so obnoxious nobody invites me. I do get invited out for divorce celebration drinks. FYI, celebratory drinks post-divorce is a hoot. Really. Anyhow, no one expects us to pop back to the States for a wedding (or divorce drinks) especially for a second or a third wedding (or divorce), although one friend did have her new graphic artist husband photoshop me into a couple of pictures. We haven't got much in the way of family here in Poland, the standard source of wedding invites. I'd pretty much given up on weddings, thinking the next round would be our kids.

You can probably see where I'm going. We got a wedding invitation in the mail. We rarely get mail that isn't a bill or a last notice of some kind or a summons to testify in court, so we were pretty excited to get some mail. Here comes the tricky part, although the invitation was addressed to us, I did not have a clue who the bride or groom were. Not a clue. It was like the time we found a DVD of a wedding in our DVD collection, not our wedding, not a clue whose wedding it was, watched the whole damn thing, didn't recognize a single person nor the person filming, no idea how it came into our possession. It's like that.

It turns out that the bride is my husband's goddaughter. Da-da-dum! The mystery thickens.

This August, I will have known my husband for 20 years. In all that time, I never once heard a single mention of a goddaughter. I mean I had always let open the possibility that a child much older than our own might appear in our lives one day; my husband was quite the popular guy, but never a long-lost goddaughter. We're atheists for goodness sake!

This goddaughter comes from the Szczebrzeszyn side of the family, and my husband himself had not seen the bride for about 25 years. So I thought we didn't have to go, right? Wrong! We were going! All four of us. Auntie What's Her Name will be so pleased.

And it just so happens as it often does that as we were getting ready to drive across the country, our car died. Not wanting to cancel at the last minute, we rented a car for the occasion.

We arrived to the roadside hotel/restaurant where the reception would take place and got ourselves gussied up for the event. Then we were off to the church. We weren't quite sure we had the right place. I mean we saw a bride, but we couldn't say if it was "our" bride. It turned out it was. We said our Hello's and waited for the wedding already taking place inside to finish up so "our wedding" could begin. The other bride and groom came out to a shower of rice and right behind them a lady we had met at the hotel. She didn't know the bride and groom either and sat through someone else's wedding (complete with mass) not realizing she was at the wrong one till the vows. She came out after the other couple and peered from left to right like a lady Mr. Bean, a Pani Fasola, if you will. She spotted us, and sighed with relief.

The ceremony was a little different than I have come to expect. First, there was no wedding march coming in. We guests were like - is it starting? The young couple is well into their thirties but were so shy and quiet in delivering their vows. I could barely speak Polish at my own wedding, but I belted out my vows loud and clear. In this church after you take communion you cross your arms across your chest and keep them crossed as you return to your seat. At the end of the ceremony, the priest blessed the newlyweds, the guests, and also some mementos from the ceremony. That was new to me. The momentos were a crucifix and an icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. It appeared that they were gifts from the best man and maid of honor otherwise known as the witnesses in Polish. That's a nice tradition because if you really are a couple starting out your lives together in a new home, you'd need blessed objects to hang in your home. After that we were all a little thrown off because the bride and groom and their immediate family very unceremoniously walked down the aisle with no music, and it appeared that they exited the church. We confused guests high-tailed it out of there not to miss the couple and the rice and all that, but we discovered them in a vestibule near the entrance lighting some candles. We decided to go outside as the bride and groom returned to the aisle, and as the music began exited the church. Rice, kisses, wished of all the best on their new way of life, envelope with tysiak...and that's the last the bride and the groom spoke to us for the evening. Oh well.

The wedding reception was fortunately in an air-conditioned reception hall. The DJs specialized in disco-polo with various medleys of YMCA and Cocojambo thrown in. The DJs however thought that they were the most important folks of the night. For example, as the dinner was being served they insisted the bride and groom dance their first dance because the dry ice smoke was a-wasting. We were seated with Auntie's friends from work, so the average age of our table was 67, but we got a hot political discussion going anyhow...I mean after those friends announced loudly that they couldn't stand the current ruling party. That called for a toast ;)

The wedding was lovely. The bride looked beautiful. The other guests were gracious and friendly. Nobody forced me to dance or to drink. I had flat shoes. Misiu could dance with his girls on the dance floor (Rosie said all the songs were about her), but honestly, it was as if I got all dressed up, drove to a random church, and crashed a stranger's wedding.

The kids were all danced out by 1 a.m. so I was able to put them to bed. Unfortunately for us, our room was situated in such as way that our door appeared to be an entrance to a hallway. That left us with wedding guests of various levels of sobriety trying to kurwa mać zamknięty get into our room.

We declined attending the second day party and headed off to Kazimerz Dolny, a place my husband had promised to take me for the last 20 years. Kazimierz Dolny is a lovely place. I recommend it, but perhaps not on the weekend. Maybe a lot of other husbands promised to take their wives there too that day, or so it seemed. We saw the sites, ate some lunch, and got back on the road.

It was an exhausting weekend, and now I have pink tulle skirt and nowhere to go.