Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

imageI am one of those rare women who is satisfied with her looks. Not that I am a beauty queen, far from it, but I’ve learned to live with and love what I’ve got.

I’m about average height and average weight. Well, that needs a disclaimer. In Poland I’m what you would consider normal but in America my friends say I’m super skinny and ask if we have food in Poland. One benefit is that I get all the good sales stuff at the Gap. Hey, somebody has to buy the size 0. I used to complain about my weight issues until I realized that I don’t have any, and then I shut my mouth.

My hair is dark brown, although about 10 years ago it was light brown and 10 years before that almost blonde. I haven’t started coloring my hair yet, but I think the time is rapidly approaching. I really don’t want to color my hair. It has nothing to do with ageing and vanity. I’m just lazy and it takes time. Also, I like my natural hair color and will be sad to never see it again.

I have an interesting eye color, or so I have been told, by people who are standing way too close to me in brightly lit places. That’s the only way you’d notice my interesting eyes because in regular light they just look brown. Brown eyes in Polish are called “piwny”. Piwo is beer, so I guess that’d make my eyes “beery”. Misiu’s ID says that he has piwny eyes tooimage except his eyes are quite another color, almost blue/grey. Maybe the lady at the ID office was a bit “beery” that day herself.

I used to get compliments on my complexion, but something has gone haywire with my hormones since Rosie was born, and it is reflected in my skin. I still get compliments on my teeth which are pretty straight (except that one wicky-wack tooth that gives me character), and they’re pretty white despite all the coffee I drink. My teeth must be nice because while giving birth to Rosie, the midwife looked up from between my legs where all the action was going on and said, “Wie Pani co? Pani ma bardzo ładne zęby”. (You know what ma’am? You have very nice teeth.) What else could I say but, “Dziękuję”. There is one small problem with my smile though - it comes with a slight underbite. Who knew that a few millimeters in the wrong direction could make such as difference? A slight overbite is cute and endearing. A slight underbite is masculine and frankly a bit scary. A lot of people say that they can hardly notice it. Those are the same people who will compliment your Mohawk ;) I’m absolutely positive that it is noticeable. A few years ago I was really ill and went to a private hospital in Berlin. As soon as I stepped up to the reception desk, I was directed to the department of malocclusions (bite problems). That’s not what I was there for of course.

image I don’t have nice hands or feet and admire nice hands and feet of others. I don’t mean in a sick way, just in passing. I am convinced that I have weird legs, so that’s why you’ll rarely find me in a skirt these days. I do not have any fashion sense whatsoever. We can go to the same store and you’ll come out with 10 new outfits each one better than the last and I’ll come out with nothing, not even the new socks that I need so desperately because I have a severe shopping disability. Send help, please!

I have a lot of scars. The worst one’s are medical but the most numerous are, let’s say, kitchenal. Cooking and ironing are difficult and dangerous activities. I’m also ambidextrous. I write with my left hand, but do practically everything else with my right hand or with either hand. I use right-handed “normal” scissors, but in elementary school always got stuck with the “lefties” dumped on my desk. Being ambidextrous was great for freaking out the pitcher in baseball games in high school PE and is also useful if you have a boo boo on one hand. You can just use the other. I started out using the computer mouse in my left hand, but later I got too lazy to move the mouse to the other side and to change the “clickers”, so I just started to use my right hand. For fun, I recently tried to change back to the left, but I have lost my mouse dexterity completely in my left hand and am too impatient to exercise and get it back.

Basically, I look like my father. My father is quite a handsome man. He’s got a little of a Dustin Hoffman thing going on (but taller) so I guess that makes me Tootsie. Believe me when I tell you that it is not pleasant for a woman to be called handsome. We all know what it is code for. Even with all of that, how is it that I am satisfied with my looks? Well, first of all my parents prepared me for my looks. Not exactly for my looks, but they were preparing me for the family nose, my father’s nose. I remember when my cousin got the nose. Everyone at the family reunion commented that she had been such a lovely girl but then her nose started to grow and voila- behold the family nose and a miserable teenaged girl. My parents were probably awaiting the day that my nose would start to grow so they started preparing imageme for it, the family nose, at an early age. They repeated on a regular basis that it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, but it’s what’s inside that really counts, blah, blah, blah. Ad nauseam. It took me all these years to figure out that it really is true. And I didn’t get the family nose after all. I have my own nose which has got a little bump on it from a well-placed elbow of my opponent on the soccer field (football pitch), but I can live with that.

I guess I am satisfied with my looks because I know that it could be worse. A few years ago, I saw a young woman maybe about 20 years old visiting the City with her parents. She was trying to hide behind a scarf wrapped around her head and face, but there was no hiding her disfigurement. I suppose she was afflicted with the Elephant Man’s disease. More importantly, she was enjoying her visit, talking with her parents and smiling. From that day on, I swore that I would never complain about my looks ever again. And I’ve almost lived up to that promise.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Baltic Sea and Iodine

If you make it to the Baltic Sea nowadays and you can find a square meter on which to park your blanket and your family, consider yourself lucky because the Baltic Sea is a real family summer vacation hot spot.

Why? image

Proximity? Well, it is in Poland, but considering the lack of highways and packed trains getting there in the summer, you may find it easier to hop a plane to Greece.

The beach? The sand is really quite nice and ideal for making sand castles and babki, but the water is pretty chilly and the beach is packed.

The weather? When the weather at the Baltic Sea is good, you can compare it to any “hot country”, but when it is bad, it is bad -rainy, grey, cold and windy.

The cost? That’s certainly not it because the prices along the Baltic in the summer season are just as high as in Greece or Turkey.

One year, we flew to Crete for a 2-week vacation. Actually, we were newlyweds so it was our honeymoon, a few months delayed. We stayed in a hotel on the beach and also rented a car and travelled around the island. We visited a lot of beautiful places, ate delicious food and enjoyed fabulous weather. We also took a boat trip to Santorini. I even went topless on the beach for the 1st time. We had a blast. Oh, the good old days. (We just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. My topless days are over.)

During the same 2 weeks, our friends went with their son to the Baltic. They drove more than 8 hours (we arrived by plane in about 3 hours). It was sunny the first week but rained the second. They had to find something indoors to entertain their son and themselves. They spent much more on food than we did, as well as spending a good lot of time inside at shopping centers and cinema multiplexes. After comparing notes, we realized the their trip cost double ours!

image So, what is it that draws people to the Baltic Sea? It’s the iodine, baby! Actually it’s the iodide. What’s iodide? Yeah, I didn’t know either. It’s the form of iodine carried by seawater.

I first became aware of it when I overheard some of my female students talking about the health benefits of iodide. They insist that their children go to the seaside for at least 2 weeks each year. Some parents even send the kids with grandparents or aunts or uncles if they cannot go together. Nothing less than a 2-week stay by the Baltic Sea is sufficient to iodize your kid for the school season. Iodide (jod) is said to boost the immune system and is best delivered to the body by breathing it in through the delicate spray of the sea. I have also read the eating root vegetables grown in a place high in iodide (such as soil near the sea) is said to be beneficial as well.

I have children now and my students, mostly the female ones, are astonished to find out that I do not guarantee my kids a stay at the Baltic each year. As I hear my kids coughing from the other room, I wonder if I have done them a disservice or if it is just a bunch of malarky.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Welcome to the Baltic Sea

When I mentioned to one of my university professors in the US that I was considering a trip to Poland and maybe even a swim in the Baltic Sea, he recoiled in horror. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t go to that contaminated country and for gawd’s sake don’t swim in the Baltic or eat any fish.” Inimage case you didn’t know, the Baltic Sea, according to my professor, is a secret Soviet dumping ground for nuclear waste, and Poland is so contaminated by Chernobyl that we all should be glowing in the dark.

As my new friend took me for my first trip to the sea, I had that advice in mind. It was really hot out, and I was wearing a sundress which was not a good idea as it drew attention to my horribly bruised legs. I was impressed by the beautiful, fine, pale brown sand on the beach. I was also impressed by the beautiful pale brown Polish women on the beach. We had only been on the beach 10 minutes, but I was already sweating. Children were frolicking in the water, so I took off my sandals and headed towards the water to dip my toes. Now it was my chance to recoil in horror as I discovered that the water in the Baltic Sea is freezing cold. I looked more closely at the children who were begging their mom’s for just 5 more minutes in the water, and I could see that their little lips were blue and their teeth were chattering.

When I returned to my new friend he asked, “What do you think?” I replied, “There’s something seriously wrong with your ocean,” to which I got a geography lesson drawn in the sand explaining why in fact it is not an ocean and why it couldn’t possibly be anything but cold.

During the rest of my stay, I didn’t venture in the water again but I did eat some fish from the Baltic. My new friend also took me to meet his friends, to a disco, to a military museum with really light security which meant I could touch practically everything, and to his mom’s work in the local municipal government office where we looked through all the new passports (or ID’s, I don’t remember) which were waiting for the owners to come and pick them up. My new friend didn’t allow me to buy anything or pay for anything the whole time, and I now realize that this was an imposition on my part and for that, I am truly sorry.

I hope someday to go to his hometown on the Baltic again and visit his mother and thank her for her hospitality.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just found out I’m cool…

…or maybe just cold, brrrr.

It’s -17 ° Celsius right now (about 1°F). That’s cold. I had to go out and start up both cars. I pray that they will start up tomorrow. I ran across the article above by accident. If you haven’t got the time to read it, it is about people who live year round without heating in their homes, on purpose. I don’t have heating in my house, on purpose, well at least for now, if being broke qualifies as on purpose.

Christmas 2009 024our domeczek

It was recommended by our renovation contractor that we not install any central heating operated on heated water in the radiators since we were planning to use our house as a dacha. It was argued that it would be too much of a bother to drain the whole system after each visit in the winter or to keep it heated the whole time when we were not there. He also guaranteed that after draining the insulated water pipes we have now, we would never ever have a problem with frozen pipes. Are you laughing? Of course, he forgot to tell us about one (just one) U in the pipe where the water collects and could get frozen. It did and we fixed it with another contractor. We are heating our house this winter. Well, at least enough to keep 2 rooms and the bathroom warm and the water pipes from freezing. Oh, the family togetherness!

Christmas 2009 137 the barn

For the future, we are considering either to stick with the no-water plan and install a piec kaflowy (wood/coal burning tiled stove) or go all out with a regular heating system perhaps eko-groszek (pellets). The piec kaflowy has a rustic, romantic feel but requires more work to operate than a normal furnace such as the pellets one. We’ve already met with a zdun (stove fitter), but we still cannot decide. We will wallow in our indecision until next winter hits and we have to worry once again about our pipes.

Christmas 2009 186at Babcia’s

Keep warm!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Our 1st Wywiadówka

Today, I went to the 1st wywiadówka of Lizzie’s school career and the 1st in my mothering career. The turn-out was sad, only 2 parents made an appointment with the teacher out of the whole class, but so what, my appointment was great and it was all in Polish!

It reminded me of my 1st parent/teacher conference as a teacher in the US . I was all prepared, and I lined up some chimageairs outside of the room just in case some parents had to wait to speak to me, the all-important educator of their precious children. I had more than 120 students and was a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to meet with as many parents as I wanted to. Another teacher walking down the hall observing me and my chairs said, “You know no one is coming, right?” “What d’ya mean?” “No parents come to parent/teacher conferences in this school.” “Oh,” I said and went back into my classroom where I slumped down in my chair and waited and waited and waited. My first parent appeared and gave me his name which didn’t sound familiar. I couldn’t find that surname on my list. He then gave me his child’s name and we were rolling. I felt so teachery and after he left, I checked the hall for others waiting. No one was there. After more waiting, one of my students arrived with his grandfather who said that he now knew why his grandson was so interested in history. The poor boy was terribly embarrassed, but that’s what grandpa’s are for. After another hour of waiting, I decided to pack it in. 2 visits and not even of the problem students. 2 visits from 120 students.

Anyhow, back to Lizzie’s conference, Pre-school Parent/Teacher Conference, no less. I think it was her teacher’s 1st wywiadówka as well, so I went easy on her ;) I learned that Lizzie is a quiet and very well-behaved child, even too well-behaved. She likes to stick with her best friend and almost exclusively chooses cars and trucks to play with and always puts thimageem away when she’s done. She is an excellent painter and takes her art work quite seriously. All in all, she is developing well.

Together, we devised a plan to separate Lizzie a bit from her best friend in the class because those two girls are addicted to each other. They both need to learn to mingle with the other kids. In addition, to draw Lizzie out, I suggested giving her a role to play. She likes to hide a little behind a role and feels freer to be more outgoing when she is playing someone else. I asked her teacher to correct her Polish and to not worry about her English “r” in Polish words. When she says rowerek, it is so sweet. I also asked her to be aware that Lizzie is so in love with Pre-school that she wouldn’t tell the teachers if she got ill…probably until it was too late and words like vomit and carpet come into play.

I’m pleased with Lizzie’s Pre-school. I don’t really have anything to compare it with. I didn’t go to pre-school in America. The day is nicely structured. The children have a lot of free play, semi-structured play and structured play. Each day they focus on different areas of development. One day is music, another art, gymnastics, etc. Today was addition and subtraction. Each group has about 20-25 kids, but they are rarely all present. Each group also has 3 teachers (a morning teacher and an afternoon teacher with some overlap and an assistant for the whole day).

They have to feed the little buggers as well. They have breakfast, soup and dessert, and dinner and fruit. After years and years of American processed school lunch, I am impressed with the food my daughter receives at school (ok, minus the breakfast parówki). At about 8:30, the kids have cereal with milk or oatmeal/cream of wheat, a sandwich and a drink. Sometimes they even have inka which thrills Lizzie to no end because she says that she hadimage coffee at school. At about 11:00, they have hot soup and a dessert such as a cookie or fruit gelatin or pudding. At about 1:30, they have dinner which can be anything from pierogi (known happily by the kids as “Pierogi Day!!!!”), a piece of meat, potatoes, a vegetable, or crepes or pasta. Juice, water and compote are served to drink. They also get a fresh piece of fruit after dinner which they actually eat. They eat in the classroom and 2 ladies bring a trolley with food from the kitchen. Sometimes I’d like to get a plateful of dinner, too. It smells so good!

It’s a public school, but that doesn’t mean that it is free. The tuition, food, supplies, parent’s committee and some other payments add up to about 350 zloty a month. Is that cheap or expensive? It depends on your vantage point. The monthly gross minimum wage in Poland is about 1,300 zloty with the net minimum wage working out to be about 980 zloty a month. That means the cost of Pre-school is 36% of the after-tax minimum wage.

The next big event on the Pre-school agenda is a presentation for Grandparents because Thursday this week is Dzień Babci (Jan 21st) and Friday is Dzień Dziadka (Jan 22nd) (Grandmother’s Day and Grandfather’s Day). Our Babcia will be there. Lizzie has made a laurka (card) and has been practicing her poem for the show. She can’t wait!


Kocham was”

Kocham moją babcię, kocham mego dziadka.

Ale jak im o tym powiedzieć?

Może im zaspiewać, wtedy będą wiedzieć!

Na zakończenie:

Aby babcia i dziadek

w zdrowiu długo żyli

Aby uśmiech dla nas mieli

w każdej wolnej chwili

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Baltic Sea and a Good Night’s Rest

My new friend welcomed me, and I was already feeling better. He carried my bags as all Polish gentlemen insist on doing, and we were on our way to his mother’s house where a fantastic home-cooked meal was waiting. I must have looked a fright because his mother looked at me quite strangely, but what could I do? It wasn’t my fault that the train conductor wanted to rape me.

After a delicious dinner and my first taste of buckwheat, my new friend showed me around the town. Then we came back home and decided to turn in early probably for my benefit. And here’s where the fun begins…no, not that kind of fun. I should mention that when I am stressed or really tired, I walk in my sleep. A sleepwalker in Polish is called a lunatyk which cracks me up. Actually, it is kind of accurate because when somebody hears that I sleepwalk they tend to think that I am crazy. Needless to say, that after changing countries, travelling to the seaside and getting hit in the head, I was pretty well exhausted. I should also mention that one month before my trip to Poland, I had been hospitalized for food poisoning and still was pretty scrawny and prone to bruising. We all got ready for bed and I was sporting my new pj’s (top and shorts) bought in the US. All the better to see my badly bruised legs which had not been bruised from the attack, but rather by my dragging and pulling my little suitcase from the Poznań bus station to the Poznań train station. We all went to bed - my friend in one room, me in another and his mom in another.

I mentioned that I was stressed on the train about missing my stop or getting robbed. I was also afraid that I would fall asleep on the train, thus guaranteeing missing my stop AND getting robbed. So, that night, safe and sound in bed, I had a dream that I had fallen asleep on the train. I woke up on the train (I was absolutely sureimage it wa s the train) thinking that the train was stopped somewhere and that I was trapped. I went to the window and saw that the outside wasn’t passing by in a blur so that added to my conviction that we must be parked somewhere at the station. I went to the next “compartment” and turned on the light where I saw a male passenger sleeping. The next compartment contained a female passenger sleeping. Another compartment was a bathroom. And still yet another, I could not get open because it had a funny lock (a Gerda lock for those of you in the know). At that moment, I wondered why I had my pj’s on in the train and wandered back to bed. My friend’s mom looked at me so pitifully the next morning. She was grateful that I hadn’t been able to open the front door and get out onto the street. She was convinced that with the attack, the bruises and the sleepwalking, I had undergone a horrible trauma which was haunting me. A good Polish breakfast and a trip to the beach were sure set me right again.

PS Beware what you do or say when you are buying pj’s because it’s a small world. While standing in line to buy new pj’s in the US before coming to Poland, I decided to pull out another new purchase from my bag to kill some time. It was my new guide to Poland. After about 4 pages of my guide book, it was finally my turn to pay. I put the pj’s on the counter hardly looking at the sales lady until she asked meekly, “Are you going to Poland?” I replied, “Yes,” as I noticed the name Ewa on her name tag but still not registering the fact that she could be Polish. To make a long story short, it turned out that I’d be traveling to her home area. She gave me the name and address of her sister who owned, at the time, 2 shops in the center of the City and asked me to go there and tell her sister the funny coincidence of our meeting (now one shop is a Rossman and the other one is a club). I did go there and all the sister could say was, “amazing” over and over as she quickly dismissed me with a brush of her hand and I was escorted out of the shop. Oh well…

Saturday, January 16, 2010

You think your journey was bad po polsku

This is my first attempt ever to write something in Polish. I translated the post about my unfortunate train ride to the Baltic Sea as suggested. Translating it from English was the only way I could have done it. If I had to write it in Polish from scratch, it would probably go something like this- Pojechałam nad morze. Było do dupy. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t write some short spontaneous posts in Polish in the future as suggested by Ewa. Thanks for the encouragement!

After completing this translation, I proudly handed it to Misiu for correction and watched sadly at how many errors I had made. I am always complimented on my Polish when I speak which makes me think that the people I talk to are either mind readers, deaf or big fat liars. Actually, they are probably just really sweet and the same kind of people who will tell you that they like your new haircut, saying- “Your new haircut is faaannntastic! Mohawks are so universal.” (mohawk - po polsku irokez, you know, the other tribe)

For those of you who are not mind readers, I have included the corrected version. For comic relief, I have also included the original version written by me, all by myself in some language resembling Polish. Feel free to laugh at my Polish because this story, as you know, is a bit of a bummer.

By the way, I have left out the map of Poland. I figured if you can speak Polish, then you can figure out where the Baltic Sea is ;)

Wersja poprawiona

Wracając do moich pierwszych dni w Miasteczku. Podsumowanie: Byłam instalowana w moim pokoju czyli Archiwum w PZU, już poznałam Misia i niestety jego dziewczynę też i miałam całe dwa tygodnie do zabicia zanim zaczęła się szkoła. Co taka dziewczyna ma robić? Jechać nad morze Bałtyckie!

Koleżanka z czasów studiów była w Polsce kiedyś na wymianie studentów i wysłała moje dane kontaktowe jej najlepszemu koledze w Polsce. On mieszkał nad morzem i wierny polskiej gościnności zaprosił mnie do siebie na dwa tygodnie.

Wyruszyłam w podróż na którą składał się jeden krótki przejazd autobusem a potem następna dłuższa podróż do Poznania. W Poznaniu musiałam przesiąść się do pociągu i jechać dalej aż nad morze. Byłam bardzo dumna z siebie jak dotarłam do Poznania autobusem dopóki nie dotarło do mnie że nie miałam pojęcia gdzie znajdowało się PKP. Spytałam studentów którzy pokazali mi jak tam się dostać, chodzili ze mną, pomogli mi kupić bilet i jeszcze posadzili w pociągu. Wylewnie podziękowałam i potem ruszyłam w świat.

Naprawdę ten wyjazd był stresujący dla mnie. Martwiłam się o wszystko, że przegapię mój „przystanek” (nie zdawałam sobie sprawy że mój był ostatni na linii) albo że zostanę napadnięta. Zaczynałam podróż pociągiem w wagonie pełnym starszych ludzi. Czułam się jak dziecko które potrzebuje nazwisko i miasto przypięte na sweterku. Ci starsi ludzie powoli rozeszli się i w ich miejscu siadali malarze po pracy. Poczęstowali mnie wódką ale myślałam że lepiej odmówić.

Później też malarze rozeszli się. W końcu byłam sama i mogłam się zrelaksować. Konduktor już sprawdził bilety w moim wagonie a mój więcej niż raz. Zdziwiłam się kiedy po raz trzeci chciał sprawdzić mój bilet. Coś mówił po polsku a ja ani be ani me, nic nie rozumiałam. Szkoda, może można było uniknąć tego co się stało potem.

Konduktor z uśmiechem na twarzy zamykał drzwi do wagonu razem z firankami i jeszcze zamknął drzwi na klucz. Wyprostowałam się i protestowałam i wtedy ogromna łapa uderzyła mnie w głowę i twarz. Powiem wprost, dostałam w łeb. To było pierwszy raz w życiu jak dostałam w łeb przypadkowo albo celowo (i mam nadzieję ostatni). Byłam może nie nieprzytomna ale w kosmosie przez jakiś krótki czas. Jak wróciłam do siebie i ptaszki które latały około mojej głowy odleciały czułam jak konduktor złapał mnie między nogami i otworzył swój pasek. Wiedziałam, że muszę coś zrobić i uratować samą siebie od tego cokolwiek ten konduktor miał w planach. Jako studentka brałam udział w obowiązkowych zajęciach samoobrony dla kobiet i miałam ogromny psychiczny problem żeby krzyczeć i oddać komuś. Ta blokada zniknie kiedy atak jest na serio a nie instruktor noszący kostium z pianką. Kopałam go, uderzyłam go i jeszcze drapałam go. Szybko wstałam krzycząc głośno i uderzyłam w drzwi. Na szczęście byliśmy tylko 10 minut od ostatniego przystanku i pasażerowie już czekali na korytarzu. Pasażerowie też krzyczeli i w kilka sekund konduktor otworzył drzwi i uciekł trzymając pasek i spodnie z otwartym zamkiem w ręku. Pasażerowie spytali mnie czy nie jestem ranna i czy ktoś czeka na mnie. Nigdy nie byłam taka szczęśliwa jak zobaczyłam mojego nowego kolegę na peronie. Chyba pierwsza rzecz która powiedziałam mu było to że ten kraj jest popieprzony i że chciałam wrócić do domu jak najszybciej.

PS Jeżeli w Polsce zgubisz się i potrzebujesz pomocy, polecam spytać młodzież żeby ci pomóc tak jak ja zrobiłam w Poznaniu. Innym razem mój plan nie skutkował kiedy spytałam młodego przystojnego faceta na ulicy, (po angielsku) „Czy mówisz po angielsku?” i on na to „Tak, tylko. Jestem z Holandii” No, więc...

PS2 Oddać przysługę i pomóc jakiemuś zgubionemu biedakowi jak możesz. Kiedyś razem z Misiem pomogliśmy turystom w Mieście. Stali i szukali Rynku chociaż Rynek był tak blisko że był widoczny skąd staliśmy. Ich problemem była mapa Rynku, na której był tylko Rynek bez ulic prowadzących do rynku....i jeszcze to była mapa „pop-up”.


Wracając do mój pierwsze dni w Miasteczko. Podsumowanie: Byłam instalowana w moim pokoju czyli Archiwum w PZU, już poznałam Misiu i niestety jego dziewczyna też i miałam cała dwa tygodnie do zabijanie zanim szkoła zaczynała. Co taką dziewczynę ma robić? Jechać nad morzem Bałtycki!

Koleżanka z czasów studia była w Polsce kiedyś na wymiana studentów i wysłała jej najlepsze Polski kolega moje dane kontaktowe. On mieszkał nad morzem i wierny do gościnność Polski zapraszał mnie do siebie na dwa tygodnie.

Wyruszałam w podróż w którą składała z jedną krótką przyjazd autobusem i potem następna przyjazd dłuższą do Poznania. W Poznaniu musiałam przysiadać do pociągu i jechać dalej aż do morzu. Byłam bardzo dumną siebie jak dotarłam do Poznaniu autobusem do póki nie dotarło do mnie że nie miałam pojęcia gdzie znajdowało PKP. Spytałam jakieś studentów których pokazały mi jak tam dostać, chodzili ze mną, pomogli mi kupić bilet i jeszcze sadzili mi w pociągu. Wylewnie podziękowałam i potem ruszyłam w świat.

Naprawdę ten wyjazd był stresujący dla mnie. Martwiłam się o wszystko, że przegapia mój „przystanek” (nie dałam sobie sprawę ze mój był ostatni na linie) albo ze dostanie napadniętą. Zaczynałam podróż pociągiem w wagonie pełno starsze ludzi. Czułam jak dziecko który potrzebuje nazwisko i miasto napinany na sweterku. Te starsze ludzi powoli rozeszli i w ich miejscu siadali malarze po pracy. Poczęstowali mnie wódki ale myślałam lepiej odmówić.

Później też malarze rozeszli. W końcu byłam sama i mogłam zrelaksować. Konduktor już sprawdził bilety w moim wagonie i tak mój więcej niż raz. Zdziwiłam się kiedy po raz trzeci chciał mój bilet sprawdzić. Coś mówił po Polsku i ja ani be ani me, nic nie rozumiałam. Szkoda, może było unikać co się stało potem.

Konduktor z uśmiechem na twarzą zamykał drzwi do wagonie razem firankami i jeszcze zamykał drzwi na klucz. Wyprostowałam się i protestowałam i wtedy ogromna łapa uderzyła mnie w głowie i twarz. Powiem wprost, dostałam w łeb. To było pierwsze raz w życiu jak dostałam w łeb przypadkowo albo celowo (i mam nadzieje ostatni). Byłam może nie nieprzytomna ale w kosmosie przez jakiś krótki czas. Jak wróciłam do siebie i ptaszki który latali około mojej głowie odlatali czułam jak konduktor złapał mnie między nogami i otworzyło swój pasek. Wiedziałam że musze coś robić i uratować sama sobie od cokolwiek ten konduktor miał w planach. Jako studentka brałam udział w obowiązkowe zajęcie samo-obrona dla kobiet i miałam ogromny psychiczny problem żeby krzyczeć i oddać komuś. Ta blokada zniknie jak/kiedy atak jest na serio i nie instruktor znosiące kostium w pianką. Kopałam go, uderzyłam go i jeszcze drapałam go. Szybko wstałam krzycząc głośno i uderzyłam drzwi. Na szczęście byliśmy tylko 10 minut od ostatni przystanek i pasażerowie już czekali na korytarzu. Pasażerowie też krzyczeli i w kilka sekund konduktor otworzył drzwi i uciekł trzymając pasek i spodnie z otwarta zamek w ręka. Pasażerowie spytali mnie czy nie jestem ranna i czy ktoś czeka na mnie. Nigdy nie byłam taka szczęśliwa jak zobaczyłam moja nowa kolega na peronie. Chyba pierwsza rzecz który powiedziałam mu było ze ten kraj jest popieprzony i że chciałam wrócić do domu jak najszybciej.

PS Jeżeli w Polsce zgubisz się i potrzebujesz pomocy, polecam spytać młodzież żeby ci pomóc tak jak ja zrobiłam w Poznaniu. Innym razem mój plan nie skutkowało kiedy spytałam młody przystojny facet na ulica, (po angielsku) „Czy mówisz po angielsku?” i on na to „Tak, tylko. Jestem z Holandii” No, więc...

PS2 Oddać przysługa i pomóc jakiś zgubiony biedak jak możesz. Kiedyś razem z Misiem pomogłyśmy turyści w Mieści. Stali i szukali Rynek chociaż Rynek był tak blisko że był widoczny skąd staliśmy. Ich problem była mapa Rynku na tym która było tylko Rynek bez ulicy prowadzący do rynku....i jeszcze było „pop-up”.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Trauma Czar

If you’d like to catch a glimpse into the life of an American trauma surgeon serving in Afghanistan, check out this blog

And if you have a spare CT scanner or the $3 million needed to buy one, please send it to him. He really needs it.

Thanks Trauma Czar for doing your part and more!

Happy Birthday Misiu!

It’s my Misiu’s birthday, a big round one. Some people might be affected by that nice round number, but not my Misiu. So what, he’s 40. He’s 40 with a smoking hot wife (hee, hee) and two of the most adorable children you will ever see. Without all that, he would just be 40.

At university I had a classmate, David, who was also about 40. I was 18 at the time, so I thought he was like ancient and didn’t even think about how hard it must have been for him to start his undergrad degree at that age. I mean I had an inkling because I had sat near him during the mathematics placement test. I had just taken Advanced Calculus 2 months earlier in high school, so I sailed through the test. I could see that he was struggling, but that’s to be expected for someone entering college at such an advanced age ;)

When asked by a professor why he had decided to get his degree at that age, someone from the class chuckled, “You’ll be a 40 year-old-college graduate.” David responded, “I’ll be 40 years old anyway and better to be a 40 year-old college graduate than not.” That was a pretty good explanation, don’t you think? He went on to explain that the final decision had come on the urging of his children all of who had finished university and were out of the house. Smart kids!

Misiu, życzymy Ci sto lat

Christmas 2009 240

Kochamy cię bardzo!

-Twoje dziewczyny

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

You think your journey was bad: An eventful train ride to the Baltic Sea

Returning to my arrival to the Village. Recap: I was installed in my Archives room at PZU, I had met Misiu and unfortunately his girlfriend and had more than 2 weeks to kill before school started. What’s a girl to do? Go to the Baltic Sea!

One of my university friends had been to Poland on a student exchange and had sent my contact information to her best Polish friend. He lived at the Baltic Sea and true to Polish hospitality invited me for 2 weeks.

I set out on my journey which involved one short bus ride and then another longer bus ride to Poznań pl-mapwhere I needed to change to the train and continue on to the sea. I was very proud that I made it to Poznań by bus, but realized that I did not know where the train station was. I asked some college students and not only did they show me the way, they also helped me buy a ticket and got me on the train. I thanked them profusely and then I was off!

I was really stressed on the train. I was worried that I wouldn’t get off at the right stop (I didn’t realize that my stop was the last) or that someone would rob me. I started my journey in a compartment full of older people. I felt as if I should have my name and destination pinned to my sweater like a child. The older people slowly departed and a group of painters returning from work got in. They offered me a shot of vodka, but I thought it best to decline.

Then the painters departed and I was finally alone and could relax. The conductor had been around a few times to check everyone’s tickets and since he had already checked mine more than once, I was surprised to see him again. He was saying something to me in Polish, but I didn’t understand anything. That’s a shame because maybe if I had, I could have avoided what came next.

The smiling conductor closed the door to the compartment along with the curtains and locked the door. I straightened up in my seat. I started to protest when a large hand struck me across the head and face. As I had never been hit in the head before, accidentally or on purpose, I was out for a moment. As the little birdies flying around my head dispersed, I could feel the conductor grabbing me between my legs and opening his belt. I knew that I had to react and save myself from whatever he was planning. I had taken some self-defense course required at university, and had always had a mental blockade to screaming and to hitting someone. The blockade goes out the window when you are being attacked for real, not by some self-defense instructor in a padded suit. I kicked, hit and scratched the conductor and jumped up and began screaming and banging on the door. Luckily for me, it was only about 10 minutes to the last stop and people had already began congregating in the corridor of the train. The other passengers began screaming back and in a matter of seconds the door was unlocked by the conductor and he was scurrying away clutching his opened zipper and belt in his hands. The other passengers asked me if I was ok and if someone was waiting for me. I was never so happy to see the smiling face of my new friend waiting for me and I think the first thing I told him was that this country is messed up and that I wanted to go home.

PS If you get lost in Poland and need help, I recommend asking some young people. It worked for me in Poznań. Another time it didn’t work out for me as I asked a young, handsome man, “Do you speak English?” to which he replied, “Yes, only. I’m Dutch.” Oh, well.

PS2 Return the favor and help someone out who looks lost. Once I helped some tourists in the City. They were lost and couldn’t find the Market Square which was visible from where we were standing. Their problem was that they had a map that only included the Market Square, not the surrounding streets, and it was a pop-up map no less.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


image It started snowing Friday afternoon a few hours before I had to pick up Lizzie from Pre-school, and it has been snowing ever since which really stinks because the Jeep is still at the mechanic and the “little” car is, well, little and completely snowed in. Apartment dwellers don’t have snow shovels, and I’m not hoofing it to the mall again today to buy one.

Yes, I went on foot and sled to the mall yesterday. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Yesterday morning I trekked to my Saturday morning lessons on foot which I usually do, but it was really hard not so much because of the snow but because of the thick layer of ice under the snow. After work, I decided to go to the local shops instead of the supermarket. That is one cool thing in Poland. The corner shop still exists. Unfortunately, everyone else in my neighborhood decided to do the same, and I was 8th in line at the butcher and 5th in line at the corner market. I was only 2nd in line at the bakery, but it was behind a Babcia which counts double if not triple. She was convinced my loaf of wiejski krojony was better than the one she got so we switched. It was not until I got home, got my slippers on and had a hot cup of tea in my hands that I realized we were almost out of diapers.

Nie chcę ale muszę, as Wałęsa famously said. Diapers are a necessity, so all four of us got wrapped up for the trek to the mall. Misiu fell down on the ice about 45 seconds into our walk. Rosie lasted only half-way on the sled and when things got a little bumpy demanded that Daddyimage carry her. That left me to pull the sled with Lizzie and Maciek (her doll, I’ll explain another time). I was already sore from the trip to and from Pre-school the day before, but we managed to get to the mall in one piece. I dumped the family off at Empik (book store) and went on to Carrefour to buy diapers and only diapers. As Polish people say, it was Saigon in Carrefour but I got my pack of Pampers Piątki and waited in the 10 items or less line as the 16th “person”. I count whole families as one “person” in line as you would count a 6-pack of beer as one item. Unfortunately for the people in front of me, they did not notice that it was the 10 items or less line. How could they have when they (we) joined the line 16 people back. Instead of explaining their predicament, they chose another method of justification which I like to call the “i co” method. It goes like this, Yeah I have a whole cart of shopping and this is the 10 item or less check-out. And what? It is actually quite an effective method. Feel free to try it out.

After paying my 52.99 for a pack of 58 diapers, I returned to Empik to drag my family to the shoe store whichimage thank goodness has a small sofa and big screen of bajki (cartoons). We had to buy Lizzie a pair of sneakers to replace her school slippers. Yes, after only 2 months of school, her slippers are completely destroyed. Then, it was time to hoof it back home, Rosie in Daddy’s arms and Lizzie, a pack of diapers, a new pair of shoes and my bag all on the sled. It was going pretty well until at one sharp turn I lost the whole load including Lizzie, but a very nice gentleman helped us straighten up and get on our way again.

Christmas 2009 225We finally got home, got changed, made hot tea and realized it was really dark at home for 3:00 pm -as Misiu says ciemno jak w dupie. That’s what happens during a snowstorm when you live on the top floor and have only skylights and no “normal” windows. Today, it is a little less dark or a little more light if you wish as we tried to push some snow off the windows. We also scooped some snow into our old baby bath for the kids to play with. At least the bath it getting used as is my exercise stepper which doubles as a bench. Ok, we can say it “singles” as a bench because I never use it for stepping.

Christmas 2009 221 Christmas 2009 224

Hmmm, maybe I’ll go to work tomorrow by bus, unless I can find a volunteer to pull me on the sled. Any takers?

Friday, January 8, 2010


With one car in use by Misiu and the other one at the mechanic, I empowered this morning another mode of transportation, our sanki. Sanki means sled, well actually it means sleds but it is referring to one sled only - you know like trousers or leggings.

Christmas 2009 117Last year we totally missed out on the sanki thing because right after the first snow the stores were cleared out of sleds. This year, we received a second hand sled from our accountant. It is better than any sled I have seen in the shops. It is very solidly made and has got a back support which is important for us with 2 kids.

Lizzie loves to go on the sled. She loves being pulled around the neighborhood and sliding down hills. Rosie on the other hand hates the sled and I have no idea why. Knowing that Rosie hates the sled, I still decided to take Lizzie to Pre-school (with Rosie tagging along) on the sled. The Pre-school is about 3-4 blocks away and due to lax snow removal you can sled practically all the way there.

Christmas 2009 184

Christmas 2009 119 These pictures are not from today. They are from Babcia’s house where we made a kulig or parada of sleds as Lizzie calls it.

The morning started like this. We all got dressed and outside about 7:30 am. Packed the girls on the sled, Lizzie in the back, Rosie in the front with Lizzie’s bear (she calls him Dziś Miś) in the middle. Rosie is screaming. We set off for school. Rosie is crying and screaming for me to take her off. I do and we continue on with Lizzie and her bear on the sled and Mommy and Rosie on foot. Rosie decides she needs to be carried and as it is almost 8:00 now and we are not anywhere close to the school, I oblige, but I cannot then pull Lizzie on the sled. So that leaves Mommy carrying all 10+ kilograms of Rosie and Lizzie pulling Dziś Miś on the sled. We finally get to school after what seems like an eternity and as it was 8:20 it really was a long time for such a short walk.

Thankfully, Lizzie was on her way to her classroom with Pani Ela and Rosie and I were on our way back home on the sled. Except that Rosie wasn’t havin’ it. She screamed and cried but I managed to get her part of the way home on the sled until she had a fit. Her fit was so loud and dramatic that one older gentleman first beeped his car horn at us (as if that would help) and then stopped the car and got out to look at us (I’m totally serious). I had to carry Rosie in one hand and drag the empty sled home in the other and then carry Rosie up to the top floor of our apartment building. No amount of promising to watch Bolek i Lolek na Dzikim Zachodzie would appease her (Bolek & Lolek in the Wild West is the current top DVD in our house). I, by the way, was exhausted and covered in sweat. I’m sweating right now just thinking of the return trip to bring Lizzie back home.

Let’s look on the bright side. It could have been worse. It was neither snowing nor raining. No one pooed or vomited on the way there or back. We were on time. And I got some well needed exercise. Next time, I’m taking the stroller.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010 everyone!image

And what is a New Year’s Eve celebration without fireworks? I can say thanks to all my neighbors for treating us to a spectacular fireworks display last night lasting about 25 minutes. As the clock struck midnight and the fireworks began, Rosie woke up frightened by the noise. We went to the bedroom, lay in our bed together with her and watched the bursts of color through the skylight window. Lizzie, true to form, didn’t stir even a bit. She’s a deep, deep sleeper.

image We could even see the fireworks from Rynek/Market Square not because we are so close, but because we are so far away. We used to live very close to the Market Square, and we spent New Year’s Eve in Rynek. My first New Year’s Eve in the Market Square, I saw a girl get a firework caught in the hood of her jacket and catch on fire. She got it off quickly, thank goodness, and her friends stomped it out.

The fireworks that caught the girl’s jacket on fire were not from the City’s official display, but they were from a partier’s private stash. That’s because fireworks are legal in Poland. Well, they are legal on certain holidays at least and you can buy12302009 them in the supermarket or at other stands set up especially at this time of year.

What’s the big deal? Well, for me, a Pennsylvania girl, it is a big deal because fireworks are illegal in the state of PA. The 2 biggest “firework” holidays in the US are New Year’s Eve and Indepimageendence Day (the 4th of July) and if you want to celebrate in PA you’ll have to make due with sparklers or caps. Not exactly the kind of celebration that you had in mind? Well, you can turn to the black market, but remember that if you don’t get caught buying or transporting the fireworks, you are bound to get caught when you set them off. You don’t think so? Really? Well, just ask my father.

My father is one of eight children and he is a fun-loving kind of a guy. He also loves to do whatever his children and now grandchildren want. He is big on family get-togethers and one 4th of July he planned a huge BBQ at our house which is situated on a mountain deep in the forest. He bought the fireworks from his brother who operated a small local grocery and had some image connections in the underground firework distribution network. My uncle was once fined for selling fireworks at his shop and his inventory was confiscated. So, at dusk on a dry July evening, my father and his brothers started setting off fireworks. My sister, my cousins and I were enthralled and amazed. It was the best thing we had ever seen until one burst of color and sound caught the top of a tree on fire. And then another and another. The trees were pretty tall and our water pressure pretty low as we lived on a mountain so there was no chance for us to extinguish the fire ourselves. My father called the fire department and a fire truck, siren and all, raced to our house. We thought that this was better than the actual fireworks. The firefighters put out the fire and gave my father a real talking to. We were waiting for the fire chief to write out a ticket for my father, but when the fire chief saw my mother’s face he said that my father had punishment enough waiting for him and gave him only a warning.

And that’s the problem with fireworks in the hands of private citizens. I should mention that my father has a lot of guns too which are totally legal in PA. Oh, the trouble you can get into with a gun. Anyhow, I know that everything in the US is regulated with ridiculous warning labels on every product and that maybe we are killjoys, but I’m waiting this January 1st morning to see on the news how many kids blew their fingers off or worse last night with the fireworks. Add alcohol to the mix and disaster is sure to happen.

And it is not just kids. At Christmas 2 years ago when we were shopping for a Christmas tree, a father and son were throwing fire crackers off their balcony at us. Lizzie was 2 years old and as the fire crimage ackers burst right next to her, she screamed in fear and we looked all around to see where they were coming from. We were shocked to see it was an adult and shocked even more as he prepared the next set and threw them down on us. Stupidity knows no bounds.

But stupidity, alcohol, and fireworks aren’t all bad. Last year January 1st morning, I found 50 złoty in the snoimagew outside our apartment building. It was probably lost when someone was taking out matches from their pocket to light fireworks. Someone told me that it was an extremely good omen and set the tone for 2009 suggesting I would have a rich year. Unfortunately, as far as money goes, they couldn’t have been more wrong, but I feel blessed nonetheless.

I wish you a happy 2010 full of blessings more than you can count!