Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dude, where’s my car?

Stereotypes exist for a reason. There is usually some note of truth to them.
For the record, I would like at this moment to state that I am American. I weigh 52 kilograms. I know that Europe is not a country.
While I don’t like the stereotype that Polish people are car thieves, it is the structure of the sentence I disagree with not the message behind it.
In Poland, it is likely that your car could be stolen, more likely than in some other countries (unless you drive an American car not at all useful for re-sale or the chop shop). The thief most likely will be Polish (or Ukranian, let’s spread our stereotypes around a little). If your whole car is not stolen, then it is likely that something sellable from your car will go missing such as your halogens, wing mirrors or hub-caps. So Polish people are not car thieves per se. I mean I know a lot of Polish people and I don’t think there is even one car thief among them, but it is likely that your car will be stolen or otherwise molested in Poland and the culprits are also likely to be from Poland.
I would like to avoid all criminal activity at home and abroad. For the record as an American I would much rather have my hubcaps stolen than get shot.
For the record, I would like to state at this moment that I have a German brother-in-law. He is a nice guy. He is hardworking, enjoys order and isn’t quite sure whose fault WW2 was. It could be Poland’s fault. He has a BMW x5.

During a trip to visit us in Poland, my b-i-l was a little bit worried about his BMW x5. I told him not to worry, that it’s just a stereotype that Polish people steal cars, especially German cars (Welcome to Poland. Your car is already here). He considered taking another of his vehicles but since they all start with BMW we told him it didn’t really make much of a difference.
And did they steal his car? His car parked in front of our building next to our car? His car parked directly in front of the booth of the night security guard of the bakery opposite us. Well, no they didn’t steal it, but that’s only because the thieves got their car-stealing thingamajig stuck in the starter and couldn’t get it out. My b-i-l said he wished that they had stolen it because he would get a new one the next day. This way they just fecked up the whole steering column and the starter and he was without a car for 3 days waiting for it to get fixed.
My neighbor had a car that I thought was theft-proof. Well not theft-proof, but I thought nobody would want it. She had a Fiat Seicento. Who’d want that? Apparently, the chop shop would.
A few months ago as I waited for my student to arrive for his morning lesson, I wondered to myself what was keeping him. For sure it was traffic, or he overslept, or his kids had a problem or they just had a late start. Nope, somebody stole his Sharon mini-van complete with the kids’ car seats.
A student of mine had his car stolen in Warsaw. The only problem was that he was still in the car at the time. My former boss’s next door neighbor’s car was stolen from their garage in the middle of the night. My boss, who was up with his new baby, thought it odd that they were going somewhere at 3 o’clock in the morning and that they had left the garage door open, but hey, it could happen. Beer run to Żabka? The thieves were frustrated to find out that they were not skilled enough to sell the car on the black market and the owner who was fully insured was not willing to pay ransom for the car.
Our cars are not especially interesting for car thieves. We lost our hubcaps from our previous car but American cars are a bad bet for car thieves. While we were on vacation, our neighbor took care of our place and our cars, not to mention her own cars and her parent’s car when they were on vacation. Well, one of these cars was stolen, but it wasn’t ours.
Ok, ok to be fair my parent’s car was stolen about 30 years ago. And that’s the end of the story because I don’t know anyone else in the States whose car was stolen.
How did I get on the topic of stolen cars? I was planning to write about a conversation I had with a former classmate that started, “Refresh, my memory. Where is Poland, again?”
I guess I will leave that for next time, so until then…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My parents are not pathological hoarders like on TV but…

…that’s only because their house is enormous.
Years ago my parents home housed,
my parents (2 sztuki),
my grandmother (1 sztuka),
and my sister and myself (2 sztuki).
At one point we all had cars (5 sztuk) and TVs (5 sztuk).
I almost forgot about my father’s Harley (1 sztuka), not to mention various lawnmowers (2 sztuki, riding and pushing), a weedeater (1 sztuka), a four-wheeler (1 sztuka) and an industrial digger (1 sztuka).
That’s a lot of people and a lot of people’s stuff for one house and a double garage to hold. Somehow we and all our stuff fit in this house and we lived somewhat harmoniously for years and years. Luckily, we each had our own bedrooms and there were enough bathrooms that we rarely had to wait get in there before school or work.
Now the same home houses,
my parents (2 sztuki),
and their cars (2 sztuki), their TVs (5 sztuk), the Harley, the 2 lawnmowers, the weedeater and the chainsaw, the four-wheeler, the industrial digger, a garage full of power tools and various sundries, the bikes (3 sztuki), the kayaks (2 sztuki), the RV which has it’s own 2 TVs, and the boat.
I’m not writing all that to brag. Anyhow, what is there to brag about? It’s not my stuff. I’m not writing it to say “woe is me, my parents are drowning in consumer debt” because they are not (the RV and the boat they bought for us to use for our vacation and paid cash). I am writing this to say WHAT THE WHAT!?!
Who needs all that stuff?
We dragged our 2 suitcases (one large, one carry-on size) for 4 people into what used to be my room at my parent’s house. I settled the girls into what used to be my grandmother’s room. Knowing that we were in for a 6-week stay, we decided to unpack everything into the dressers or closets.
And so I began to unpack. But hey, guess what. All the dresser drawers were full. Next dresser, full and the dresser after that full. I tried my old closet, and yes we were full. I tried my grandmother’s old room which had been personally cleaned out by me after her death, Oh what did we find there? Full, full, full. The hall closet full. My sister’s old room full. The downstairs closet full, closet under the stairs full, full and some more full. With what you ask? The majority of the items were clothes. Clothes for all seasons in all colors in a 4-size range up and down from the owner’s current size. Many of the clothes also span 4 decades of style as well but that is neither here nor there. bedrooms,closets,females,hanging clothes,hanging clothing,households,people,persons,women
Next would have to be home items such as sheets, towels, blankets, pillows, curtains, etc. followed by dishes, trays, glassware and tupperware. After that would be shoes, books, guns (yes, I said guns) and decorations for every possible American holiday. Lastly, would be old appliances they forgot they had and bought another one (yes it is necessary to have a coffee maker in the main kitchen, in the den kitchen, in the garage and in the RV).
Why do American people have so much shit stuff? That’s a real question not an introduction to my eloquent and insightful analysis entitled “Americans and their shit, an expose”. Nope, I’m really asking. Why?
One of my American friends was amazed to hear that I only have  4 pairs of jeans (and that they all fit me) and less than 10 pairs of shoes. Another friend upon seeing a picture of my village kitchen with its free-standing cabinets asked the question,  “But where do you keep all your shit?” Here’s the key, the real kicker…I’m not better at organizing than the average American. I just don’t have any shit. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I just don’t. Maybe it is because I never knew how long I was going to stay in one place (as an adult) so I just avoided acquiring stuff. Maybe it is because I worked in a store during university and it cured me of any desire to shop. Maybe it is because I prefer practical things, things that have a purpose beyond pure esthetics. Maybe it is because I have a good grasp on the concept of essential and non-essential. Or maybe it is just because I am kind of poor. That’s a good explanation too.

My birthday

My birthday is coming up. Ok, it’s in 2 months, but at my age that is just around the corner.
The girls asked me what kind of birthday cake I’m going to have and they don’t mean the flavor. They already know what kind of cakes they want and their birthdays are in April. Lizzie wants a Disney Cars party and Rosie wants a Princess party – so basically a repeat of her last party.
What kind of cake do I want?
It was so much easier as a kid. I could easily come up with a theme that defined me and if not defined me, at least pleased me. What cake design could do all that for me as an adult? I’m stumped. I better get thinking because not only is the cake for me but I will be the one making it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Boys smell bad and other news

Boys smell bad. And they don’t act the way you want them to. Some of them figure out how to behave by the time they are 16, or 18 or 21. Some of them never figure it out.
You might probably already know this information about boys but you’re probably not a teenaged girl.
This is information I did not possess as a teenager and I am sorry about that fact. It seems like such an obvious fact, but I was clueless. If someone, anyone had told me that teenaged boys were nothing like the ideal boy I had in my mind, my teenage life would have been much happier. Or at least I would have been a lot less disappointed. The key to happiness is lowered expectations, right? If only I could have realized that teenaged boys are what they are, maybe I would have better accepted that fact and been more satisfied in my teenage relationships. Maybe I would have been more satisfied with myself.
I teach a couple of teenaged girls. They know that teenaged boys smell bad and that they are not capable of  acting the way they want them to (yet). I told them that. And I told them to accept it and be happy with it. My job is done.
And now something for the boys. I teach some of them too.
Guess what boys? Teenaged girls like you, despite your funky smell. They can get over your immaturity (if you can get over their obsession with everything vampire). All you have to do is listen to them,  talk to them and act as normal as you possibly can. Oh, and share your nachos at the movie theater (my teenaged student, a boy, says that is the real key).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If you can read this, then…What would you do?

Here’s the thing. We bought our house 9 years ago. Before we bought it, no one had lived in it for 7 years. The man who had lived there before us was an alcoholic. He died there from drinking (he was relatively young) and was discovered by my nosey next-door neighbors, dead on the basement stairs.
When we came to view the house with the real estate agent, she had to get the keys from the nosey next door neighbors, Mr and Mrs S. These neighbors are in their 70’s and have children in their 50’s. They accompanied us uninvited on the tour of the house and land. They seemed genuinely pleased when we bought our house and said they were glad to have some life back in the place. They seemed a bit up in our business (accompanying all work crews uninvited), but we figured nosey neighbors were better than indifferent ones.
Mr and Mrs S. had been using our land and had been keeping their chickens in our chicken coop for years before we bought the place and were none too pleased to have to evacuate their chickens. I understood them because chickens stink and they didn’t want to mess up their lovely yard. But what’s mine is mine so…the chickens remained(???). I even joked that chickens in my yard were in danger of finding their way into my Sunday rosół. The chickens still remained. Eventually we had to tear down the chicken coop to facilitate the chickens’ exit. Mrs S. was happy to take all the wood from the tear-down, so no hard feelings, I guess.
Mrs S. and I have nothing in common, let’s face it, but we used to have nice chats over the fence. She’s very opinionated as older village ladies (of any nationality) can be, but my power to ignore her comments (pretending I didn’t understand) was always strong. C’mon we have to find a way to get along with our closest neighbors despite our differences. It just takes a bit of goodwill on both sides (or a lot of goodwill on one side). There was so much goodwill between us that we even have a door in the fence between our properties. We don’t use it. Ok we used it once, invited, and the neighbor’s dog promptly bit Misiu on the leg.
9 years ago, before we had done any work on our house and before the house was livable (in my opinion livable, somebody had lived there without water or electricity) Mrs S. asked if she could collect stinging nettle from our neglected garden for her chickens. We agreed then. Our house and garden are now maintained. There’s no stinging nettle, hence no need to enter our garden. Oh, except for the pears. The pears which hang over into our garden with the rotten pears I have to clean up each year. The good pears mysteriously disappear from the overhanging branches each and every year. Once we even met our neighbor and their children in our garden removing the pears. They gave us a tepid dzien dobry, did not speak to us, treated us as intruders, did not high tail it out of our garden and did not even offer us a pear.
So after a recent hubbub on our street in which we were told by the neighbor that we should go back to where ever it is we are from and that we have no right to an opinion because we have only owned our house for a year (we’ve owned it for 9 years and lived in it for the last 5), we were prepared for a pear fight this season. There’ll be no pear fight, of course, as the pears have been cleaned out in our absence.
So here’s the thing. I don’t care about the pears. But since then I have been made aware that this neighbor enters my garden on a regular basis. I have photos. The suspicious fartuch is clearly visible. I even have photos of Mrs S. standing in my yard, leaning on my fence, talking to another neighbor. The pictures are from many different days we know not only from the date but from the rotation of fartuchy. The person who took the pictures says that my neighbor does no harm and they cannot in fact figure out why she enters our garden in the first place. It is not to check that everything is ok. We have not spoken for months since we were so rudely treated by her and her children. (The rude incident while not initially involving us took place on our land and involved the police)
And now I am wondering how to address this issue. It would be difficult for me to lock all entrances to my garden. And the real issue is, I don’t just want to say, “Hey, I know you come to my garden when I am not here. Please stop.” because honestly, where is the fun in that? I thought about writing a sign and leaving in the yard that says, “Mrs, S, if you or your son or daughter can read this, then spier…” but I think that’s too aggressive especially considering her age. What should I do?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Girl Power

Here are my girls. Lizzie is in the boy’s swimming trunks and cap with camo flip flops. And that’s cool. There’s Rosie by her side in her usual pink-on-pink attire with her gold princess flip flops and Dora sunglasses. And that’s cool too.
Here we are getting ready for a spin around central Pennsylvania.
Rosie is quite content to check out the beautiful views as a passenger.
Lizzie cannot imagine sitting in the back with all the passengers (all 4 of us). She’s a very happy co-pilot. That smile remained on her face for hours.
Lizzie’s next plan is to become a race car driver. She's going to have a lot on her plate as she also intends to pursue a career as a firefighter/police officer/knight/cowboy/spider-man/pilot. That’s a lot of slashes.
Rosie wasn’t too interested. She plans to pursue a career of bossing people around, getting her own way and coloring the world pink.
My girls are their own people. They have their own interests and their own opinions. I think they can do anything and I think they are cool.
The girls heard a lot of opinions about them from my friends and family in the US. That’s only normal. They were meeting each other for the first time. (The girls had their opinions, too.) Lizzie especially got an earful from my father about how little girls should dress and apparently an “Angry Birds” t-shirt, paired with camo shorts and soccer socks, black sneakers and a baseball cap is how little girls should not dress. Luckily, Lizzie didn’t take it to heart even when Grandpa bought Rosie 5 pairs of very “little girl” shoes. By the end of the trip, Grandpa got to know Lizzie. He forgot about what’s best for little girls and got to know what’s best for Lizzie…and then he bought her a cool baseball cap and taught her and Rosie how to play baseball.
The girls watched a bit of TV in the States. They watched their absolute favorite Dinosaur Train (Dino Pociąg) in English. It was hard to get used to the characters in English. We’re so used to the Polish version (On a side note – our girls will not watch Scooby-Doo in Polish. They watched it the first time in English and then rejected the Polish version.) We also watched some cartoons that were completely new to the girls, but not any less annoying to the parents ;) There was one cartoon that repeated a similar theme (or it was the same episode and we didn’t notice) - the “Girls Can Do Anything” theme. There was one very long and complicated episode in which the little girl character discovered that “girls can be scientists”. Rosie and Lizzie didn’t get it.
While flying, our fantastic pilot who has raised a few girls of his own told Lizzie that she was doing an excellent job as co-pilot and that girls make excellent pilots. Lizzie didn’t get it.
Does it make sense to try to build up the self-esteem of girls by telling them that “girls can do anything, be anything”? I mean, I tell my girls that they can do anything, be anything but I just leave out the “girl” part. Does addressing girls separately let girls know about the many paths open to them or does it just let them in on the little secret that girls often cannot do some things or be some things, for whatever reasons. My girls really didn’t know what all the hubbub was about having never heard a comment such as that before. That either means that it is so obvious in Poland that girls can do and be anything that nobody ever talks about it or, quite the contrary, it is so obvious that they in fact cannot do and be anything so it still is not necessary to talk about. Which is it?
I tend to think it is the former (so obvious that girls can do anything so it is unnecessary to comment on it) than the latter (so obvious that girls are incapable of many achievements that it is unnecessary to comment on it). Having said that, the matka Polka stereotype for adult women still runs strong in Poland in the minds of many men and women, regardless of education, income and family circumstances. Heck, it would be nice to live the dream, uh, I mean the stereotype – to have a wife waiting for me at home with my lovely children, lovely house and lovely dinner all for me…Oh right, I’m supposed to do that, to be that, not to have that.  I mean, we have lovely children and a lovely home and there’s sometimes a lovely meal waiting. Sometimes the lovely meal is waiting for Misiu and sometimes it is waiting for me. I don’t fulfill the ideal but I’m American. Place all the blame on me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We are hungry for knedliki and since tomorrow is a national holiday, I am thinking road trip.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Disclaimer: This is not about my husband ;)
It turns out it is true. Your middle-aged husband suddenly starts working out after a decade or two of vegging out on the coach. Your husband, father of your children, suddenly gets a new, fresh, dare I say young, haircut with new clothes (underwear included) to match. Your middle-aged husband suddenly has a lot of work in the evenings – much more than before – and is needed urgently on the weekend all over the country sometimes in cities where you didn’t even know that he had clients. Your middle-aged husband is walking around with a huge smile plastered on his face – something you haven’t seen for years.
How do I know that it is true? Because the middle-aged husband(not MY husband) told me so. He spilled the beans to me after I noticed all of the above. The most noticeable of the changes was the smile.
What a strange English lesson this conversation has made – simply TMI – too much information.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse Now

The zombie apocalypse is upon us.
Here’s proof:
This is my hometown. It’s a small town as you can see. There’s no market square like in Poland but rather a main street with businesses, stores and restaurants. There’s also a university in my hometown not far from the main street. As we walked down the street, we did not encounter a single, living, breathing person. There were cars around. The stores all said “open” on their doors, but we were alone on the streets.
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My hometown and the general area has a lot of outdoor facilities for family fun. We  hit every playground in the area at least 5 times and all state park facilities within a 2-hour drive radius. What’s nice is that every place has free and generally clean bathroom facilities. State parks with camping sites also have shower facilities and all parks and playgrounds had drinking fountains which our children found absolutely fascinating.
What we did not find at the parks and playgrounds were other people. At one visit to a state park, we were the only visitors. There were more park employees at the park than guests.
As I was reading the sign (because there’s a sign on everything in America) checking how much it costs to camp for the night, Lizzie asked me how much we paid for the park. For the park? She thought that since the park was completely empty we must have rented it just for us for the day.
I’m not really complaining. I mean, who would complain about having a park all to themselves? If you’ve ever been to Łeba in August, you’re probably absolutely drooling at the thought of a beach all to yourself. I get it.
Sometimes we really felt that we had rented some places just for us. At the beginning the girls were excited with the fact that we were alone at many places but after awhile, they just got bored. How often can you go on the swings with mom? It’s just not as fun as with other kids.
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I know it isn’t like that in other places, right? I don’t suppose you can find an empty park in NYC?? But here in Poland, you can’t find an empty park in the city or in the country. Too few parks in Poland? Too many in the US? People enjoy the outdoors more in Poland? That can’t be right. So, it must be the zombie apocalypse.
Watch your back!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Globetrotting Macieks

Here we are at the start of our trip- Lizzie, Rosie,  Maciek and Maciek. Well, new Maciek and old Maciek to be exact. The Maciek’s go with us everywhere. There’s not a place Maciek and Maciek haven’t been…and here they are on their way to the USA!
Old Maciek was purchased ages ago from an ecological fair in the city. I was pregnant with Lizzie at the time. I didn’t know much about babies at that point, but I did know that babies ooze various kinds of goo and a washable doll made from fleece seemed like a good idea. I looked over all the dolls and finally chose the red-headed one. As the seller noticed my pregnant belly, he congratulated me and wished me anything but a red-headed baby. I thought that was an extremely odd thing to say but didn’t think much more of it at the time.
I found out later that it is considered bad luck to have a red-headed child. It’s just an old-wives’-tale that red-heads are not to be trusted. Sorry carrot tops.
So, the little red-headed doll became Lizzie’s. When Lizzie was about 2, she named her doll Maciek. Maciek is obviously a girl doll, but I am not one to judge. About the same time Rosie came along and not too long after that I found the same seller at another ecological fair. I choose a blond doll for Rosie and brought it home to surprise her. We all got a surprise when Lizzie deemed the new doll “new Maciek” and thrust the other doll (deemed “old Maciek” by default) into Rosie’s hands. Lizzie was happy. Rosie was happy. And that’s how we got our old and new Macieks (or Maćkis, if you prefer).
The girls did really well on the flights. The first short flight served as a warm-up for the next longer flight to the US. Luckily for us, the girls watched a movie, ate something, went to the toilet and then fell asleep…on top of us, but we managed somehow. We were worried about a 5-hour lay-over at the start of our trip, but thanks to the indoor playground (and old Maciek), the time went by smoothly.
More about our trip and more pictures are on the way. Thanks for waiting.