Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bang, Bang

America is a gun culture. That is without a doubt. If you live in a gun culture, you may not even notice it. When you leave it (and come back again), that’s when you feel its prominence.
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As a child it was perfectly normal that we had guns at home. My father has a large gun cabinet containing all sorts of guns, but the majority are hunting rifles including his prized (and completely useless) muzzle-loader. Maybe I should explain that my father is not a cult leader defending his compound from the authorities. It is all much less sinister than that. I’m from rural Pennsylvania where hunting is a very popular sport and practically everybody I know has a gun of some sort as well as a gun cabinet or even a gun safe at home. This particular gun cabinet of my father’s is as tasteful as a gun cabinet can be but has remained a point of contention in my parents’ marriage as it doesn’t exactly “go” with my mother’s decor. Anyhow, it just has always been there and it still is there. Oh, what an inheritance I will have. I pretty much ignored the cabinet and its contents growing up. My father tried to interest me in shooting several times throughout my childhood. I wasn’t into it, so he gave up.
I will mention here that the keys to the “gun” part of the gun cabinet are locked in the bottom part of the cabinet. The keys to the bottom part of the cabinet are locked in a safe along with the keys to the Harley. And the ammo…I have no idea where that is kept. If we wanted to shoot something just like that, well, good luck. It would take us a good half an hour to get ourselves set up. I know because one year around Thanksgiving my father thought it would be a good idea to try to shoot a turkey from the flock of turkeys that had wandered into our yard. By the time he unlocked everything and realized that he didn’t have any ammo, those poor birds were long gone. And if we wanted to shoot an intruder, well, we would have to break the glass of the cabinet and then beat the intruder with the butt of a rifle.
When I moved from home to start my teaching career, I still was not far from guns, just a different kind of gun use. The school where I worked had a metal detector. It wasn’t for detecting belt buckles.
At my class reunion, one of my classmate’s husbands tried desperately to convince us that it is much safer if everyone carries a gun. He, himself, had decided to leave his gun at home, well, because he was drinking and he thought it best. He was chagrined when we didn’t congratulate him on the wisdom of his decision. He was absolutely sure that the Batman movie theatre killer would not have shot, killed and injured so many people if everyone had had guns. My argument was that the Batman movie theatre killer would not have shot anyone if no one had a gun. He proceeded to explain to me the error of my logic…and the conversation went around and around and around. Then he added some false statistics concerning some “European” countries and when I told him that we live in this mysterious place called “Europe”, he changed his tune. Misiu stated quite rationally that it is hard to kill a whole cinema of people with only a knife, even a big one, and we left it at that.
We were in America on vacation for 6 weeks and we managed to not get shot, on purpose or by accident, so I consider that a success. We had a lot of time to do what we wanted so I read a lot of books and tried to watch some TV (it is difficult to do with all those commercials). Our local library supplied me with an excellent selection of John Irving’s. I started with “Last night in Twisted River” which couldn’t have been written without a gun culture. That book couldn’t be set in Poland.  Same goes for “The World According to Garp” and practically all the other books I read and the films I watched.
The news each evening was horrifying. The shootings. The people carrying guns. And as an aside, the fires…wood-framed homes catch on fire quite frequently. Who would’ve thought?
Sometimes I think what I would do if the Germans or the Russians attacked Poland. (I usually have such thoughts when I am in my village house with the kids at night and I think about the German family who had to move out of my house years ago and the Polish family who moved in. I get weird thoughts at night.) How would I defend my family? We don’t own a gun. We have 2 axes and a pretty wonky pitchfork, but that’s all. And then I think about the probability of this scenario -my family standing alone against foreign invasion. What if the freedom of Poland depended on me and my shooting ability? Poland would be in deep shyte, if that were the case.
The way we behave in these cultures is different. I don’t behave as if someone could shoot me here in Poland. There in the US, I do. But who am I to question the right to bear arms protected in the United States Constitution? I’m just one, small person who would prefer to not get shot.
A quote from a nytimes article
Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded, according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never returned. Whether they were dead on arrival or died later on in the hospital, 80 people’s normal day ended on a slab in the morgue, and there’s nothing any of us can do to get those people back.
And that is the human cost of our Second Amendment right. In my opinion, the cost is too high.
So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence — the lucky survivors — as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country’s blind embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it’s playing out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.
The nytimes article quoted above was written by Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse and the author of “Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spalone Suchary

I cannot tell jokes. Not even suchary*. I “burn” every joke even the lame ones. So I guess that makes my jokes spalone suchary, hee, hee burned toast.
C’mon, I do my best but I’m no Karol Strasburger.
I usually remember the punch lines though. However, I remember only the punch line and then proceed to burn the joke.
Do you know the jokes to these punch lines?
Wot morda (вот морда)
Zmuś się
Once and only once was I able to pull off a joke telling hat trick. It was at a party. I made up the joke myself. The butt of the joke was our supervisor. Everyone laughed. It was my first and last successful joke.
Here’s the joke told right before my one, perfect joke.
A lady goes to the doctor with a frog on her head. The doctor asks what’s wrong. The frog replies, “I’ve got something stuck to my ass.”
OK, total suchar. I know.
Here’s my joke.
Our supervisor goes to the doctor with a frog on his head. The doctor asks what’s wrong.
Long pause. The crowd leans in with anticipation. My perfect comedic timing is working its magic.
My workmates shout, “What did the frog say?!”
I don’t know, but our supervisor said, “I’m not paying”.
And I bask in the glory of the perfectly executed joke. (Our supervisor was a notorious cheapskate).
Ah, never to be repeated again.
*Suchary or sucharki are actually hard toast/biscuits, but in slang a suchar is a totally lame joke. Yeah, I’m down with the kids.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

As some of you know, the topic of religion and the role of religion in the public sphere is very close to my heart. Here’s my opinion in a nutshell. I feel that we shouldn’t press our religious or spiritual beliefs onto others. I believe that we should respect one another. I feel that many “believers” don’t realize that my lack of “belief” is in fact a “belief”. What I most strongly believe is that my right to not believe is just as valid as their right to believe. Whew, that’s a lot of “believing” in one paragraph.
Living in a quite religious country, I have learned when to keep my mouth shut (well, most of the time, well some of the time, ok, I’m getting better at it). I don’t talk about religion with people who seem to be sensitive about the issue. Just recently a new student, an IT guy in his early 30s, asked me if I was Catholic. I replied that I am not. Long story short, he’s going to pray for my salvation from eternal damnation…as is his right. He is an example of why many agnostics and atheists just keep their mouths shut and sometimes “turn the other cheek”. Not everyone is so kind and promises to pray for you when they find out that you don’t believe.* Why should I be embarrassed to say that I’m a non-believer? Hence, the billboard above which reassures me that I am not alone. (Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.)
The next billboard states, “I don’t kill. I don’t steal. I don’t believe.” This message really hit me hard and here is why. My mother-in-law has disowned me. It happened about 6 months ago. We haven’t seen each other or spoken since, neither has my husband or my children. I’ve been debating if I should, could, would write something about it or not. The crux of it is that we are not going to christen our children and my mother-in-law finally asked why. Long story short, my mother-in-law said some horrible things to me and then I began defending myself and explaining what a good person I am – how I am a good wife and mother, how I help out at school and in the community. And then I realized what I was doing. I was trying to explain to someone that I am a good human being. What for? Even now, here, I feel the need to explain to you that I live a full life, that my family is part of the community, that my children know a lot about world religions, that we are good people. I will never, ever explain myself like that again to anybody…not even at the pearly gates.
*I also don’t like the phrases such as non-believer. I believe in something, just not what they believe in. The use of non-believer suggests that what the “believers” believe in is the one, true way and we “non-believers” are bereft of any of our beliefs or spirituality or even morality for that matter. But alas, I cannot find another way to phrase it, so I will stick with believers and non-believers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sponge Bob or Violetta Villas?

We need to come up with 4 Halloween costumes….I know, Halloween is more than a month away, but when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, dawdling on your costumes does not pay off. And everybody knows that I LOVE HALLOWEEN!
If you didn’t know that, well,
So here comes the 4th annual “Bring Halloween to the Poles”.
The kids have a closet full of costumes already. They will figure something out, but what about us? What about the adults?
There are a few directions we could go…
First, we could go the obvious old-school route – clown, mummy, witch, pumpkin. Those costumes would be understood by all.
We could also go the famous-person route – Elvis, Violetta Villas, the Pope, Doda – except the kids won’t know who we are supposed to be. And I’m not so sure my neighbors would appreciate Las Vegas Villas with a sky-high blonde baroque wig in a princess gown dragging 9 pluszowy doggies behind her on a leash accompanied by the Pope, a Disney Princess and Spider-man.
Kostium ELVIS damski - S
Kostium AMY - M
Maybe this wig for Villas?
or this one?
nope, I think this one…
Peruka BARONOWA blond
And I couldn’t forget about Misiu…I wanna rock! ROCK!
Peruka ROCK '80
Another way to go would be some kid’s characters – Sponge Bob, the little Mermaid, some superhero. Everybody can dig those costumes.
We were also thinking of some professions – doctor, nurse, police officer, something like that. Misiu, however, cannot just be a doctor or a priest. His costume has to make some social commentary. His doctor costume must be accompanied by a fist full of money. His priest costume, now after the latest scandal, would have to include a can of whipped cream.
Traditionally, Misiu likes all costume ideas as long as we put the word sexy (or naughty or even slutty) in front of the name.
Kostium SEXY BAROK - M
Nurse? What a boring idea but Naughty Nurse? Not too bad.
Witch? How cliche, but Sexy Witch? I told Misiu that the kids wouldn’t even know what I was supposed to be. He said that was ok, the daddies would get it.
Happy Pre-Halloween!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What’s all the Hubbub? Skandal w salezjańskim gimnazjum

What do you see when you look at this picture?
Something good?
Something bad?
Something fun?
This is a picture from the initiation party for the newbies at one Catholic middle school in Lubin. Here we can see kocenia (from kot – cat) in which kids (here, girls, but boys also participated) are chosen to lick whipped cream from the knees of the school’s principal, who also happens to be a priest. There are plenty of pictures out there, but I chose one that has the faces blurred. Judgments aside, from the pictures I saw on the news and on the internet, the kids seem to be laughing and having a good time. 
The scandal erupted when some parents saw pictures such as these on the school’s webpage. The school has since removed them and has said that they do this every year, it has never been a problem before and that it was done in the spirit of good fun.
One of my students told me that they did the same at camp when he was about 10 years old. He and the other kids had to lick honey and dirt from the legs of one of the camp supervisors. He said it was a lot of fun and that we should keep in mind that it is often the kids who think up these initiation games, not the teachers.
Lick something off of an adult? Jeez, when I was in school we just made the newbies clean up the school cafeteria. I didn’t know that there was so much more fun to be had.
Personally, I think it is disgusting and inappropriate and I question the judgment of all adults present.
But that’s just me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rumor has it

Our girls absolutely love our village house (so do we). Who wouldn’t love to have a big room full of toys and books all to themselves and a huge garden to run around in. However, I think what they like most of all is their playmate from across the street Kuba and his younger cousin Kacper.
It really is a great love affair. The kids greet each other heartily when we arrive and are sad to say good-bye when we leave. In the morning they wave to each other from their respective kitchen windows and rush through breakfast so they can get their play day started. Kuba has been so impatient lately that he comes a-knockin’ on our door as early as 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
I like to listen to their little games and their little conversations. I was laughing when Kuba inquired where our TV was. After seeing our TV, he exclaimed, “That little box? Why’s it off?” (Apparently in his 5 short years on the planet, he has only seen flat screens) After I made the kids homemade chocolate chip cookies, Kuba informed me that his father can eat a whole placek all by himself and that you can buy cookies at the store.
This weekend was no different. Kuba presented himself early both Saturday and Sunday mornings with Kacper in tow. On Sunday after clearing out the poziomki patch of any wild strawberries, we made the kids some sandwiches and this was the conversation that followed:
The Original Version
Kacper (kolega Lizzie):  Wy nawet nie wiecie jak mam na imię.
Misiu:  Znamy cię. Jesteś Kacper. Znamy też twoję mamę – Sylwię.
Kuba (drugi kolega Lizzy – kuzyn Kacpra):  A jego tata ma na imię Piotr.
Kacper: Mój tata jest w więzieniu. On był bardzo niegrzeczny.
Lizzie: No i dobrze. Był niegrzeczny – to powinien iść do więzienia.
The Translation
Lizzie’s friend Kacper: You don’t know my name.
Misiu: We know you. You’re Kacper. We also know your mom – Sylvia.
Kuba (Lizzie’s friend): And his dad’s name is Peter.
Kacper: My daddy is in prison. He was very naughty.
Lizzie: Well. He was naughty, so he should be in prison now.
And with some podwórkowa sprawiedliwość , the kids began to play cops and robbers, chasing Kacper around the yard, 3 against 1 (we can’t forget about Rosie), until they caught him and put him in jail. Oh, what fun they had.
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Szkolny sklepik

Where I went to school, we didn’t have such a thing as the szkolny sklepik. Not that we didn’t like to eat. We did, but we were only permitted to eat in the cafeteria during our allotted lunch time or after school, off school premises. In our cafeteria, we could buy the standard school lunch on offer and supplement with a supply of chips, cakes, cookies and sweetened juices and milks. No, no, we didn’t have canned sodas, no way, but we did have canned lemonade which contained the same if not more sugar than the average cola.

I ate it all. I ate the greasy, gooey school pizza cut in big, thick rectangles. I ate the toasted cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. I ate the tacos, the nachos, the spaghetti, the mashed potatoes – oh and the tater tots, I almost forgot about the tater tots. More often I packed a lunch and supplemented it with junk food from the ale carte menu. I packed a whopping PB&J sandwich, an apple and then bought a chocolate milk and a small bag of chips. I sometimes packed a ham and cheese sandwich, a banana and then bought a regular milk and a candy bar. The good old days before I learned about things like carbs and transfats and cellulite- before I had a consciousness that food is fuel for my body.

I was super skinny in high school and some of my nicknames reflected it - “hollow leg” , “skeleton, “Q-tip” all of these nicknames simply a teen-aged girl’s dream.
I recently read an article about the relationship between obesity and what schools sell in their cafeterias, school shops and vending machines. The article states that schools with stricter rules about junk food make an impact in curbing childhood obesity.
Strict regulations concerning junk food in school is one tiny factor (even the article admits) in childhood obesity - a drop in the bucket really,  but as stated in the article, why not give it a try?
But if the laws have even a tiny effect, "what are the downsides of improving the food environment for children today?" asked Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital. "You can't get much worse than it already is."
Our Lizzie is a first grader. Her class missed their first English lesson today because the teacher forgot to send them to class from świetlica. We packed her lunch this week because September snuck up on the school district and the school cafeterias are not in operation until next Monday.
Lizzie got her locker key today with instructions to make a lot of copies – kids lose things. Her locker is located in a pretty busy place for the “new” kids, right next to the szkolny sklepik.

The szkolny sklepik is a popular place packed full of sugary, chocolaty goodness. The line to buy something sweet was down the hall and around the corner. There must have been 40 kids waiting to buy something (that might also have something to do with the fact that the cafeteria was closed).
What I didn’t see was a single fat kid.
What I did see was a bike rack without a single free place.
I saw kids walking (sometimes running) home from school.
No school-wide, city-wide, regional or state-wide sports program…but somehow today I didn’t see a single fat kid.
But that was just today. Sometimes, I see some “American-style” kids walking home from school with orange, Cheeto-ed fingertips chugging a Coca-cola. Be careful Poland. You can’t say we didn’t warn ya.
PS You couldn’t pay me to eat a typical school lunch in America now. But a Polish school lunch…some days makes my mouth water. And what does school lunch look like in Poland…

Obiad w szkole