Saturday, April 30, 2011


I know that everyone is very interested in the royal wedding but over here in Poland we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Bigger than a royal wedding? Yes! The beatification of the late Pope John Paul the Second.

Top that!

Here’s an excellent article from the NY Times by Maureen Dowd entitled Hold the Halo outlining an argument against the “fast-tracked” sainthood.

W czwartek przeczytacie w I would like to recommend another article in Polish from Gazeta Wyborcza’s magazine Duży Format entitled Sekrety pokolenia JP2. The article consists of interviews of people from the “John Paul II Generation” as it is called. I was a bit surprised by the piety of some of the young people interviewed and at the same time the hypocrisy some of them reveal in their answers –but back to that in a moment.

I barely remember when John Paul II became pope, but I do remember it. I shed a tear when he died.I have mixed feelings about JP2, but I do admire him for 2 things. I admire him for his unwavering stance on the beliefs of the Catholic church - saying something to the effect that the beliefs of the Catholic church are not like a buffet table to pick or choose from - a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. I also listened intently to his opinion on physical suffering and our duty to endure it. As a person who suffered from an illness whose main symptom was pain, I identified with that opinion, admired his strength in his suffering and tried to take some strength for myself from it.

Some folks condemn the late Pope for the same unwavering stance that I admire especially regarding such issues as birth control, homosexuality, women’s rights in the church, etc. I do not regard myself as a member of the church any longer so those issues don’t bother me. My mixed feelings stem not from these issues but from the late Pope’s lack of definitive action regarding child abuse in the church.

In case you haven’t heard, the late Pope John Paul II is due to be sainted - this Sunday to be exact. That seems like a pretty hot topic for folks here in Poland (Pope John Paul II was Polish), but just try to discuss it with some of them. And I mean really discuss it…not just say how great it is. It’s quite a difficult feat.

OK, I don’t want to exaggerate, a few people will discuss it with you in a rational way – turning over such topics as is the sainthood deserved, why it is so fast (compared to previous granting of sainthood), what it means for Poland and for the church, etc. Some other people, suffering from the JP2 media- blitz overkill, don’t want to discuss it anymore. They’ve just had enough. And then there are those who are unable to discuss it at all. They can certainly talk about it, talk in circles actually, but discuss it, no. Every question (intended with a sincere desire to discuss and in no way to mock the church) is answered with some form of the same answer…that it is a wonderful and magical event for Poland (why only for Poland?), that our pope deserves it (with no concrete reasons why), that those who wish to discuss it are only jealous of the faith of others, and so on.

On the radio, I heard a bit of a cabaret that was, well, practically identical to the real conversations you can have with some people about the beatification. In the end of the cabaret, the man who had extolled the virtues of JP2 was asked if he could cite at least one quotation of Pope John Paul II. After thinking for a moment, he shouted proudly, “We used to go there for kremówki!” Pope John Paul II’s famous quote while visiting his hometown of Wadowice where he pointed out for all the bakery where he and his friends used to go for a cake called kremówka. It’s actually delicious and you can buy the package mix from Gellwe for authentic papal kremówka.

Here’s the original quote: A tam była cukiernia. Po maturze chodziliśmy na kremówki. Że myśmy to wszystko wytrzymali, te kremówki po maturze.

Now back to the DF article . Here’s a quick summary in English.

The first interview is of Marzena, age 25, mother and wife, whose husband is a religion teacher. She states that what she liked best about JP2 was his openness and his humanity citing the example that JP2 went to confession too. She admits that she doesn’t agree with all the beliefs of the church, but that she does not use contraceptives and even her husband the religion teacher laughs at her for this. She expresses surprise when she explains how many of her Catholic friends are unaware that the church forbids contraceptives. She also admits that she and her husband, though they tried not to, did engage in pre-marital sex. Regarding the end of the world, she is sure it will happen in her lifetime. She was considering a career in the police force, but as her husband disapproves she says that she will probably give up that idea.

The next is Justyna, aged 27, mother and wife. She is a bit fed up with all the media coverage of JP2 and also doesn’t like that some people already pray to the late Pope. She and her husband did not engage in pre-marital sex and had a “real wedding night”. Now they dream of creating a close family for their son. She does feel that in the family the man has the last word because in her opinion and in the writings of the Bible, the man has a greater responsibility to the family than the woman.

My favorite is next, Andrzej a 26-year-old hairdresser who suffers from a painful illness of the spine. His attitude to the church is to suffer with dignity and try to help others (I can’t argue with that). He believes that faith is a personal thing separate from priests, the church, prayer and whatnot. He feels that his homosexuality is not a sin and that he lives in a committed and normal relationship, and although he would like to have the option of filing taxes jointly with his partner he would never agree to homosexual couples adopting children. He feels that children should not be exposed to such unnaturalness as homosexuality. The local priest did visit their apartment and although the priest did not wish to bless their apartment, he did take the envelope (with a donation) quite easily. Andrzej’s biggest fear is that he will die alone.

Next comes Aleksandra, a 22-year-old biology student. In Aleksandra’s interview I learned a new word in Polish świętokradztwa which is sacrilege in English but sounds a whole lot better in Polish (“holy stealing”). As a kid she felt uncomfortable confessing all her sins and held back some, hence the sacrilege until the guilt finally caught up with her and she asked her religion teacher to give her confession to clear her conscience. Aleksandra has interesting views on in vitro, homosexuality, AIDS and condom use in Africa that can only be chalked up to ignorance. Aleksandra does feel close to JP2 and even with her family had an opportunity to meet the late Pope. She, however, cannot agree with the stance that JP2 was infallible and that some hold him in higher regard (or as high regard) as God. Now, her greatest achievement is to overcome her fear of confession and stand bravely in the confession line.

Waldek is 31 years old, single and lives with his parents and younger sister. His biggest issue with his faith seems to be sex and that apparently he likes to have a lot of it with many different women. Lucky for him, he heard on Radio Józef that if something such as sex or masturbation became an addiction they no longer qualify as sins, so he is not worried.

Michał is 28 years old, married with a child and smiling throughout the whole interview. He takes from the teachings of JP2 the model of dealing with your problems head on, not trying to get out of them. He also liked that the late Pope set the bar high for youth and encouraged young people to do better and be better. My favorite part is when he says that he has personal contact with JP2 not from guessing what JP2 thought but from reading his teachings.

Last but not least is Edyta, age 29, music and cat lover. Edyta has one failed marriage behind her. What that failed marriage and unsuccessful stay abroad have given her, she says, is a greater tolerance and a knowledge that all things don’t depend solely on us.

Enjoy the beatification. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

E.T. vs Czterej pancerni i pies

What says Easter more than a good re-showing of E.T.? Our kids are enjoying Easter Monday chilling out, playing play-dough and watching E.T.

Misiu who is watching too, admires the naiveté of the story – that a teen, a kid and a kindergartener can outsmart the government authorities and help E.T. get home. Why not? Didn’t Gajos, his crew and his dog Szarik (which I always thought was Szalik ‘cause he’s wearing a scarf) from the TV show Czterej pancerni i pies outsmart the whole German army AND the whole Russian army. That’s 4 tanks plus a dog and some token female character vs the Nazi’s and the Russians.

Totally believable, right?

Easter and The Resurrection

So, how do folks in Poland celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Here goes from beginning to end…

Most people start out with a good clean of the house especially windows as mentioned in previous posts. Next, comes shopping and decorating and then cooking. Some people go to church on Good Friday. Most people go to church on Saturday for a short service (taking place about every 30 minutes) in which the priest blesses your Easter basket. We did it one year and my basket was disappointingly under-decorated for the event. Here’s an example of a decorated basket for church. You can see why kids love this part.

Some people observe a fast for Friday and Saturday ending with Easter breakfast in which you share the blessed egg from the basket and give each other wishes (something like with the blessed wafer on Christmas Eve). Some folks go to the Resurrection Mass at 6 a.m. on Sunday and others go to ‘normal’ Easter mass later on. After that, the fast is off and most people really eat in earnest – sausages including white sausage, soup with white sausage and hard-boiled eggs, horse-radish sauce, meat, bread, cakes, chocolate bunnies ;) etc. The rest of Sunday is spent resting and visiting family and friends and if the weather permits going for a stroll.

Easter Monday begins as Śmigus-dyngus or lany poniedziałek. That’s where kids squirt parents with water or parents squirt kids with water and teens roam the street squirting or even pouring water on friends and passersby. Some say it is a spring ritual to wash away winter’s dirt. Others say it is a kind of popularity contest for the best girl in the village. I suppose that means the most popular girl will get splashed the most? Easter Monday is a national holiday in Poland and many folks go to church which with the teens and their buckets of water can be a risky proposition.

On Tuesday everything returns to normal (except for our waistlines).

As you can see some people spend their holiday practicing their religion, honoring their traditions and spending time with family and friends. As my sister-in-law who works in odwyk (drug & alcohol re-hab) can tell you, some other people, however, spend their Easter in quite a different way. Just check the drunk-driving statistics for this weekend. More than 1000 drunk drivers were caught by the police. No comment.

Our Easter was (and still is) totally cool. We did the shopping Wednesday and cleaned Friday sans windows. We decorated the house and eggs on Saturday and cooked all our delicious dishes. On Sunday the girls received a few Easter gifts and then we visited family and went to the playground. Now, on Monday we are relaxing at home. It was a nice holiday.

A few pictures…

pickled eggs and ćwikła

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Easter cake for the kids

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wooden eggs

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real egg – blown out

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real eggs – hard-boiled and decorated by a friend

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our eggs

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Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Preparations

My mother called me yesterday. She wanted to ask if we received the Easter package that she sent. We got it, in record time, less than a week. I planned to hide the box until Easter, but since the kids were home when it was delivered, there was no chance of that happening. The box was full of fantastic things-swimming suits, clothes, books in English and a lot of Spiderman (Lizzie) and Dora (Rosie) things. Thanks Mom!

My mother also wanted to remind me that it is time to do my pickled eggs if I want them to be good by Sunday. I am one step ahead of her because I’ve already bought all the ingredients. I guess tonight after work, I’ll be spending some quality time in the kitchen instead of vegged out in front of the TV watching “The Biggest Loser” which I, in fact, count as my exercise time ;)

My mother’s pickled egg recipe can be found here.

I know it may be cliché (here in Poland anyway), but I really feel the pressure to clean my windows before Easter. I mean, not enough to actually clean them, but just enough to say loudly for all to hear that our windows are due for a cleanin’, sigh. Then another sigh, louder than the first. Then a third sigh and wait to see if it has had any effect. Nope, the windows are still dirty. Remember, I don’t bow down to the pressures of Polish society ;)

More on Easter window cleaning here. Gawd, that clip art really does look like me, all smile and teeth.

Happy Easter Preparations!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Lizzie

Lizzie is 5 years old. I can’t believe it. It seems like just yesterday that we were bringing her home from the hospital and she’s already 5.

Her party was a big success. She invited her “ekipa” (crew) from pre-school consisting of all boys and one girl (her besty). The party was super-hero themed with Spiderman decorations and a Batman cake (that I made myself…fishing for compliments…).

Batman Birthday Cake

I wore a Super Mom t-shirt, well, because I AM a super mom. Lizzie’s besty’s parents even wore masks and capes. What an entrance they made.

There were a lot balloons, games, play dough, mess and tears from the guests when they had to go home. I guess that’s the sign of a good party. One kid threw a badminton racket out the window. Crazy…and that was without Piccolo (“champagne” for kids which we hate). Luckily, it got stuck on the roof and we were able to get it back in. Those pre-schoolers really know how to party.

Now, if I can just make it through Easter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Rosie

April is a month of birthdays for us. Last week was Rosie’s 3rd birthday. This week is my father-in-law’s 70th and next week is Lizzie’s 5th. With a niece’s and nephew’s birthday this month, that adds up to a lot of cake ;)

Rosie’s party went off without a hitch. Well, maybe one small hitch…she didn’t understand that the presents were for her. After the guests had gone, she asked why they hadn’t taken the toys with them. Sweet.

I am proud of the cake I made. It’s a ladybug, in case you are not sure. There are 3 layers of chocolate inside. Pycha!

Ladybug cake Biedronka

Lizzie’s English group at Pre-school (yes, we send her to English lessons, it’s only 20 złoty a month) also celebrated some birthdays and the kids learned to sing “Happy Birthday”. Lizzie, however, had one small problem with “Happy Birthday” and quickly informed her teacher.

She said, “Teacher, it isn’t Misiu-day. It’s Birthday.”

Do you get it? I didn’t at first.

For those of you who don’t get it…

In Polish there isn’t the “th” sound like in the word “birth”. For people who have trouble with this sound, they replace it with “f” or “t” or sometimes “s” as one of my students famous for his “sank you”. In this case, Lizzie’s teacher replaces “th” with “s” making birthday into birsday which sounds like bearsday. Bear is misiu in Polish, hence my daughter’s conclusion that the teacher was talking about Misiu-day.

If you have an April birthday, Happy Misiu-day to you!