Thursday, December 31, 2009

What smells?

image Heck, if I know. I can’t smell a thing and it has been that way for over a week. I have bronchitis (diagnosed) and I think a sinus infection (undiagnosed). The result of which is that I have a killer cough and a completely congested nose. Well, as Lech Wałęsa once said - there are positive pluses and negative pluses (plusy dodatnie, plusy ujemne) to any situation ;)

A positive plus is that I don’t have to smell anything bad. Over the holiday, I spent a lot of time at Carrefour waiting in line at the check-out counter with some people of questionable hygiene and I smelled nothing. However, I did feel disturbed as I was sure that there must be an odor and that I was surely breathing it in but just not smelling it or “feeling” it as you would say in Polish. (In Polish, you say that you feel a smell/odor/fragrance not smell a smell as in English. Example: I smell smoke here. Czuję tu dym. )

Rosie is still in diapers, so you’d think it would be a real positive not to smell those poo-poo diapers but in fact that turned out to be a negative plus. I didn’t realize that as a mother, I relied so heavily on my sense ofimage smell for example for sniffing out poo-poos as soon as they are produced when they require less cleaning up. Luckily, Rosie has started talking and often informs me of the poo poo.

I also might have saved our washer if I had been able to smell a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, I overloaded the washer which caused the motor to go into overdrive, producing a horrible burning smell which I was completely unaware of as I brushed my teeth next to the breaking down machine. Ooops!

I realized that as I picked up Lizzie from Pre-school, I had to ask if the kids were done with dinner or not. Usually, I can just smell except on Pierogi Day when there is almost no smell at all. I guess that’d have to be a negative plus.

Another negative plus is that I cannot smell my kids. If you don’t have kids, please understand that I am not strange and that it will happen to you someday too. I cannot smell Lizzie’s freshly washed hair or Rosie’s neck which still smells like baby. I’m missing out on valuable smelling days ‘cause who know when those lovely smells will just turn into plain old kid stink.

The next issue could be a positive plus and a negative plus all wrapped into one. If you think back to the last time that you had a bad cold, you will remember that everything you ate tasted like, well, nothing. With all the delicious Christmas dishes prepared for the holiday, I couldn’t taste even one of them. If not for the difference in consistency, I wouldn’t have known if I was eating pierogi or fish. For some, that is a huge negative plus but for those on a diet, it is a double positive plus and could quite possibly be marketed to dieters as a weight loss solution over the holidays.

I am slowly getting my sense of smell back. Now what to do about my sense of humor and my sense of fashion?

Any ideas?

PS How is it that I am diagnosed with bronchitis and not diagnosed with a sinus infection? Well, let’s say that in Poland you had a car accident and ended up in the hospital with a broken leg and a broken arm. Well, you’re in luck. This is the “broken leg hospital” so we can fix you up real good. Oh, your broken arm? We don’t do arms here. Sorry about that. Of course, Iimage am exaggerating, but only a little. The doctor I visited at our local doctor’s office didn’t think it necessary to check my ears or nose because bronchitis is much more serious than a sinus infection in her opinion. They will never check your temperature or your blood pressure as I was informed “we don’t have the technical possibilities” (meaning we don’t have a thermometer or a blood pressure cuff) to which I complimented them on their kick-ass aquarium in the waiting room. Yes, I am one of those people. But I’m guessing you already knew that.

PS2 “What smells?” should be translated as “Co tak śmierdzi?” If you want to ask “Co tak pachnie?”, it should be “What imagesmells so good?” This is incredibly important if you are in a Polish speaking/English speaking marriage and one partner of the marriage has just cooked a delicious dinner and has a frying pan in one hand. Who knew that proper English could save your life?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas presents...You shouldn't have...

raggedy annWho doesn’t like to get a present? I mean everybody likes presents. I remember as a child receiving a doll with long, blonde hair that was taller than me that I absolutely loved. I remember a doll house which I also loved and played with for many years and a Raggedy Ann doll also life-size and beautifully handmade by my Great Aunt. I played with the Raggedy Ann doll sometimes all day but it freaked me out so much at night that we had to pack it away. But what fun is it to talk about those gifts which hit their mark? It is much more fun to talk about those gifts that hit a little (or a lot) off center.

I know how it feels to think that you have got somebody the perfect present only to find out that they hate it. One year, I got my sister a set of gourmet teas with all the accessories. It was not a pre-packaged set. I lovingly composed it myself, spending a lot of time in the tea shop smelling teas and choosing the chopinaccessories. I hauled it all the way from Poland and was so worried about it, I even carried it on the plane. My sister opened it Christmas morning and said, “Thank you,” to which my mother said, “You don’t even drink tea, do you?” She replied, “No,” and burst my bubble. Now, they get Polish alcohol and everybody is happy.

recip saw My father usually gets my mother one gift that she might like (or she might not) and another gift that is actually for him. A gift combination from my father could be jewelry (or perfume or kitchen equipment) PLUS a reciprocating saw. Unfortunately for my mother, that’s exactly what she got one year. My father also has a habit of buying my mother jewelry (one year diamond, another ruby, another emerald) and that same year buying the same jewelry for my sister and myself, but fake. He always says that it is the thought that counts and he didn’t think that we would notice the difference. Hardy har har. After about the 10th Christmas of fake jewelry, my sister informed our father that next Christmas she wanted something green. It took him awhile to figure it out. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll help you. Dollars are green.)

That brings us to my all time worst Christmas of Christmas gifts. Sometimes, it is not actually the gift which is bad but the combination of receiving it as a gift and from a particular giver. You know there are dad gifts, grandmother gifts, co-worker gifts and romantic partner gifts. We shouldn’t mix them. I mean it is great to get sexy underwear from your spouse, but not so cool to get it from your grandma. D’ya get my drift? One year my old boyfriend (all high school and all college) gave me for my birthday a combination snow brush/ice scraper. It was a kind of a dad gift not a romantic partner gift. Anyhow the ice scraper is very heavy duty and is basically awesome and I still have it. I threw it in the back of my car when I sent it to Poland and have not been able to find one here just like it since. Once after a morning snowstorm, I was quickly cleaning off my car and some interested taxi-drivers got out of their cars to check my scraper and inquire where I had bought it. I told them that I bought it the same place I got my car and my accent. Yeah, they didn’t get it either.

With that kind of birthday gift, whatever should I expect for Christmas? Well, the box was about the size of a shoe box but much, much heavier. I was hoping it was the old “brick in the box” trick and that I would find something small and shiny somewhere in there. However, when I shook it, it didn’t rattle at all. Hmmm, perplexing. I opened it slowly with all eyes on me, his mother assuring me that I would love it. That alone was a bad sign. I pulled back the paper and saw the box, but it could just be the box, right? That didn’t have to be my gift. Some people re-use boxes from other gifts, don’t they? Nope, it’s my gift. Well, that would explain why it was so small and so heavy. So as I pulled my brand, spanking new fire safe security chest out of its box, I smiled bravely as my boyfriend beamed and explained how I could store my valuables and protect them from fire. He also explained that it actually had a lot of room inside for storing documents, pictures and jewelry. Jewelry? Did I hear jewelry? I thought with the last glimmer of hope that this must be a gag gift and he’s leading me through the joke to get to the real gift inside the chest. I dug through the paper, found the key to the chest, opened it and found that yes, it was quite spacious inside especially because it was empty. Are any of you surprised that we are no longer together?

PS If you are wondering what a fire safe security chest looks like, here you are:security chest

PS2 Misiu says he doesn’t know why Raggedy Ann freaked me out. He kind of likes her.

raggedy ann costume

What are some of your most memorable gifts?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jemioła: Mistletoe

12222009(001)I think we all know the Christmas tradition of hanging a sprig of mistletoe and standing under it all puckered up waiting for a stray kiss to come your way. No? Just me? I loved this tradition when I was a child as we hung a sprig of plastic mistletoe in the doorway. Plastic mistletoe? I know. Kinda kills the romance.

This year we have a real sprig of mistletoe hanging at home. Well, outside our home ‘cause European mistletoe is poisonous. I taught Lizzie the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe and she decided that we have to do “party kisses” as she calls them. That means you kiss on the cheeks not once, not twice, but three times as is the tradition here in Poland. Lizzie was so pleased to explain to her father how it works and to kiss him three times.

Mistletoe grows as a kind of parasite in other trees. It takes nutrients from the tree but also produces green leaves that can get energy through photosynthesis. That’s as much as I learned from the web before I got bored ;) I remember when I first saw mistletoe growing in trees here in Poland. I had to ask somebody what it was because I had no idea.

Christmas 2009 012mistletoe in the trees behind my house

Before Christmas you can buy a sprig or two on practically any street corner from some older ladies who have collected it and tied it with a ribbon or if you are brave enough you can climb into a tree and grab some for yourself.

Christmas 2009 094same trees as above, better weather

Christmas 2009 096in an apple tree behind our barn

Christmas 2009 093trees in our village

Hope your holiday has been full of cheer and party kisses!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Dishes

If you think that 4 dishes of carp (which I don’t like) is enough fish for my mother-in-law on Christmas Eve, then you would be wrong. There’s also herring which I also don’t like. Misiu and the girls love it so I guess no DNA tests are necessary. The most popular herring dishes in our family are herrings in cream and marinated herrings with onions. Misiu also likes herrings with cream and dill and also with cream and mustard.

If cream is not enough fat for you, then I invite you to try vegetable salad made with mayo as the main ingredient. There are some vegetables too, potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, celery root, and parsley root. There are also hard-boiled eggs, pickles, salt and pepper and parsley. Everything has to be cooked and meticulously chopped into perfect cubes and then all mixed together with mayo. It is often served with bread and butter. It’s pretty good and fortunately appears again on Easter.

The Christmas Eve dinner starts with soup, that would be red beet root soup with little pierogi called uszka which means ears. They are stuffed with wild mushrooms and thank goodness my mother-in-law has already made them for us and they are in the freezer. Some families have mushroom soup or even fish soup. We also have regular sized pierogi stuffed with cabbage and wild mushrooms and once again my mother-in-law has saved the day because I cannot get the stuffing inside properly.

As I mentioned in the last post about carp, Christmas Eve supper is traditionally alcohol-free. The tradition is to serve compote made from dried plums or other fruits. And it counts as one of the 12 dishes.

We can’t forget about the desserts. My mother-in-law’s side of the family is from Lviv (this was Polish territory before the changing of borders after WW2) and my father-in-law is from the Szczebrzeszyn area (yes, someone actually comes from there), so we have a lot of nice regional desserts which are found in this part of Poland (the west) but originated in the east. They simply travelled here with the people when they were resettled after WW2. Poppy seed dishes are very important such as kutia. It is cooked wheat grains (but whole) mixed with poppy seeds, honey, nuts, raisins and other dried fruits and I love it! I also like makowiec which is a poppy seed roll. It is something between cake and bread. Some people also have kluski z makiem which is some kind of noodles with poppy seeds. My mother-in-law also makes cheesecake which she says is the only cake she makes that always turns out except the last time that she said that and then made it, it didn’t come out. And a gingerbread has been added to her repertoire this year along with Christmas cookies for the first time.

I wanted to make kutia once in the US in my hometown but that kind of wheat grain could only be found at the animal feed store in 50 pound bags. I like it, but not that much!

Ok, so do we have 12 dishes? I think so.

  1. wafer

  2. soup

  3. little mushroom pierogi

  4. cabbage and mushroom pierogi

  5. compote

  6. carp

  7. herring

  8. vegetable salad

  9. bread (always counted by my m-i-l)

  10. butter (always counted by my m-i-l)

  11. kutia

  12. cakes

If your dinner is more modest, such as ours will be, we count individual ingredients such as cabbage, mushrooms, veggies from the salad to make up our 12 dishes.

PS Pierogi is the plural form in Polish. The singular is pierog.

PS2 Don’t forget to put a bit of straw under your tablecloth. The Christmas Eve wafer symbolizes the body of Christ while the straw symbolizes the birth of baby Jesus in the manger.

I hope to add some pictures to this post after Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Dishes: Carp

karp Misiu comes from the carp capital of Lower Silesia, so please keep what I am going to tell you next a secret because I may get run out of town….I hate carp. It’s not even the taste that I don’t like. It’s just that preparing a dish from carp is so much work and it is almost as much work to eat it, picking out all the tiny bones. No thanks. We’re having salmon.

My first ever Christmas in the Village (aka the carp capital) was carpless. That’s because no one invited me for Christmas, sniffle, sniffle. I think everyone else thought that I had already been invited somewhere so nobody invited me. Or that’s what I like to tell myself because in Poland it is a tradition to set an extra place at your table for a sad and lonely guest…like me.

My first Christmas with carp, let’s say carpful (as opposite to carpless) was at my parents-in-law’s. My parents-in-law don’t drive so whenever we come to the Village we offer to go to the center for a bigger than usual shopping. Two days before Christmas, my mother-in-law asked if I would take her by car to buy the Christmas carp. Of course I agreed, got my shoes and coat on, grabbed my keys and wondered to myself what my mother-in-law was bringing a bucket for. When we arrived to carp central there was a long line of cold people who all had buckets too. Then as we got closer and closer to the front of the line I found out why. You buy carp alive. The rest of the process from bucket to table you can figure out for yourself. I should mention the carp often has a pit stop between bucket and table in the family bathtub.

My nephew fishing for carp in a private pond


his catch which he threw back


These carp from Misiu’s hometown are not just your regular river carp. They live in a huge network of ponds dug in the middle ages, (see pictures below taken by me in better weather). This area is a nature preserve especially popular with cyclists and bird watchers. The fish are given feed but they also have the opportunity to feed themselves naturally in the ponds. Some time before selling, the carp are collected into tanks where they are sorted (only younger fish are sold) and then “rinsed” for lack of a better word. I mean the water in the tanks is continuously changed for fresh water up until the carp are sold. Carp from these ponds are considered ecological which is the big thing now but actually they have always been ecological. At the shops or stands selling carp from these ponds, you will see that a special certificate is on display verifying the origin of the carp.




One Christmas that we spent in America, my uncle asked Misiu what we eat in Poland on Christmas. When Misiu replied that we eat carp, my uncle became very sad for us that we eat such a poor thing for the best dinner of the year.

Actually, I should say the best supper of the year because the most important Christmas meal in Poland is on Christmas Eve not Christmas Day. The Christmas Eve Supper (Wigilia) should begin when you see the first star come out. This is a fasting supper which is pretty funny considering it should have 12 dishes. It is fasting in the sense that it is meatless and also without alcohol at least until after Midnight Mass called Pasterka when you can crack open a bottle of the hard stuff. I mean why not, the Christmas star brings your presents on Christmas Eve so you don’t have to get up early to see what Santa Claus has brought you.

After spotting the first star or in most cases pretending to have spotted the first star, the family collects around the table to share the Christmas wafer. It is like a communion wafer and you shouldwafer take your piece and go from one person to the next sharing Christmas wishes and then taking a piece of each other’s wafer. This tradition is really hard for me. Not because I am embarrassed to show my emotions, but because it is really difficult in Polish. Here’s a typical Christmas wish – “Życzę Ci Wesołych Świąt i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku”. That’s a mouthful for just saying “I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. I remember one year when I had been terribly ill, everyone wished me good health but only Babcia Ewa wished me the strength to fight my illness. I noticed that she had very specific wishes for each member of the family. I also caught her checking her wishes cheat sheet (ściąga) from her sweater pocket ;)

I found my own ściąga on the internet. Here are some of the shorter wishes that I found.

Aby wszystkie dni w roku były tak piękne
i szczęśliwe, jak ten jeden wigilijny wieczór.

That all the days of the year were so beautiful and happy as this one Christmas Eve.

Wesołych Świąt,
dużo uśmiechu,
miłości, radości,
szczęścia i wrażliwości.

Merry Christmas, lots of laughs, love, joy, happiness and sensitivity.

Wesołych i spokojnych Świąt
oraz sterty miłych prezentów pod choinką.

A merry and peaceful Christmas and a pile of nice presents under the tree.

After that you pretty much dig in. My mother-in-law insists that you have at least a bite of all 12 dishes. That’s pretty difficult if you don’t like carp and she has prepared it 4 different wkarpfriedays each one constituting one of the 12 dishes. There is the mandatory fried carp, Greek carp in tomato sauce, marinated carp and last but not least the most horrid of all, carp in gelatin.

You could say that Christmas Eve is the most important part of the Christmas tradition in Poland and that most Christmas Eve’s in Poland look pretty much the same (wafer, supper, carols, mass). I think in the US we put more attention on Christmas Day and most Christmas morning’s in the US look pretty much the same too (early rise, presents, breakfast, later dinner). That’s why we’ve decided to have a Polish Christmas Eve (sans presents) and an American Christmas morning with the presents that Santa Claus has brought at night waiting for us under the tree. We have our own family now and we have to make Christmas our own. And by the way, that means a carpfree supper, wine with dinner and an early bedtime after watching Frosty the Snowman dubbed into Polish but with the songs still in English.

PS carpless: you’d like to have some carp but there isn’t any

carpful: 3 or more carp dishes on the table

carpfree: there isn’t any carp but it is by your own choice

More dishes to come, if only I can find the time!

Friday, December 18, 2009

One of those mothers

I’m turning into one of those mothers. You know the kind. The one that makes homemade soup, homemade Halloween costumes, homemade birthday cakes, homemade holiday decorations. That’s me. Who woulda thunk it?

Wrapped gift for a birthday party and the birthday girl opening it.



Salt dough decorations made at the request of Lizzie’s Pre-school teacher



The amazing things you can make with toilet paper rolls


Our door decorated with Lizzie Claus, Rosie the red-nosed Reindeer and a hand wreath


Please tell me I’m not the only one!

Dora the Explorer

We have received new Dora the Explorer books from the USA!


I am so excited and it is not because I am Dora’s number 1 fan. It is because Lizzie is Dora’s number 1 fan and we have only one Dora book. Say “Ahhh!” Dora Goes to the Doctor is Lizzie’s current fave and she is proud to know the proper name for all the instruments from her Fisher Price Doctor’s Kit (also sent by my mother from the USA). We no longer say “ear looker thingy” but “otoscope”. Are you impressed?

Our original Dora book


New Dora books for Christmas now hidden deep in the wardrobe


We’ve recently found Dora on TV here in Poland, on VH1 actually in the morning. (I suppose that Nickelodeon and VH1 are the same company) Originally, Dora speaks English and teaches some Spanish. In our version, Dora speaks Polish and teaches English.

We can’t get last Saturday’s song out of our heads.

Miezsu, mieszu, czekolada.

Mix your chocolate, czekolada.

We have our own version.

Brush-u, brush-u, brush your zęby.

Clean your teeth, ząbki, ząbki.

Happy exploring to any Dora fans out there!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coffee or Tea?

Molly, my sister, and I fell out,12172009

And what do you think it was all about?

She loved coffee and I loved tea,

And that was the reason we couldn’t agree.

-Mother Goose

That’s one of Lizzie’s favorite poems. She likes to repeat it over and over changing “Molly” for her own sister’s name, Rosie.

I’ve got tea and coffee on my mind as we spent a lot of time this past weekend in the supermarket in the coffee and tea aisle. Before I came to Poland, I drank tea only occasionally and coffee rarely. Now that I live in this European country (stop laughing and buy yourself a map, Poland is in Europe) I find that I not only drink a lot of tea and coffee, but I am more involved in the whole hot beverage drinking/serving ritual. First of all, all activities should be started with a cup of tea or coffee. You want to chat with your friends? Put on a pot of tea or coffee. Need to complete your tax forms? Pour yourself a nice cup of herbal tea. Natural disaster? It will all look much better after a cup of Earl Grey.

If you are a host/hostess in Poland you should offer your guests an array of beverage choices hot and cold and insist repeatedly and relentlessly until your guests surrender. Then you should serve the beverage in a cup that you only use for extra special guests which means it is hidden way, way back in your cupboard, perhaps in another room and is of course dirty requiring another step in your drink preparation ritual. After cleaning the cup and making the beverage, it should be carried to your guest on a tray and ceremoniously set in front of them with the guest spoon, guest sugar and guest creamer. Unless you come to my house, in which you will get a mug (of your choice) with our everyday sugar bowl and spoon ‘cause we haven’t got any others and a creamer if we can find it and a milk carton if we cannot. Trust me, it tastes just as good.

kawkaI remember my first Polish “coffee at work” coffee. It was in the Village high school in the teacher’s lounge. The lady I called “Mother of the School” (she was the head cleaning lady) rushed around the room in the morning making sure everyone had received either a cup of tea of coffee. She offered me some too, and I chose coffee which I received in a glass with a glass saucer. Tea was also served in a glass with a metal handle and base. That was strange. I drank some up before the bell rang and left my glass on the table as I left for my lessons. At the next break (Polish schools have a 10 minute break between lessons in which most teachers go to the lounge.), I noticed that everyone sat down at their previously abandoned glasses and the “Mother”teabase refilled the cups with hot water from the kettle. This was “Turkish” coffee with the coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup. I learned about those grounds the hard way. Bottoms up!

At this school I also had another encounter involving the “Mother” and tea. One Monday she came to me and said in her slowest and clearest Polish, “Mam dla Pani herbatę i mydło.” I looked at her with an astonished look on my face, so she ran to get someone to translate. I didn’t need any Polish to English translation but rather PRL remnants to Polish new reality translation. You see, “Mother” had tea and soap for me as part of my bonus for being a Polish public school teacher. I had been absent on the previous Friday when all the other teachers received theirs, some even received hand towels, and that is why on Monday I alone received my bonus. I looked into the bag and saw the cheapest tea available and pretty good soap. I immediately donated the tea to the teacher’s lounge for which I was hailed a hero and humanitarian. I nicked the soap off home.

Years later when I returned to Poland to work in the City, I experienced the more modern “coffee at work” coffee. Somehow I didn’t experience it in the US. Oh, that’s right, our school in Baltimore didn’t have a teacher’s lounge. Anyhow, I wanted to say that I had my first real, normal office job except my office was anything but normal. But we did have a coffee maker. There was a very big to-do every morning about the secretary bringing the boss his coffee. So much so, that it was in her contract. Unfortunately, nothing much else was in her contract so a lot didn’t get done. I remember once, our boss asked her to go across the street to the store to buy coffee milk and she looked at him and said with all seriousness, “In these shoes?” We also had a problem in our office that the sink in the kitchen was not hooked up to water (kind of Bareja style) so we had endless unwashed coffee cups. For that reason, I bought my own coffee mug with my name on it, well, not exactly my name. It said Kryśka but close enough. One early morning at work, I couldn’t find my mug anywhere. That was strange because every afternoon before returning home I carried my mug to the bathroom to wash it and then placed it on the shelf in the kitchen clean and shiny and ready for the next day. I scoured the kitchen but it was nowhere to be seen. Then I began the office to office inspection. I found my mug in the hands of my boss who had been too lazy to take a cup to the bathroom to wash it. I asked him, irately, “Is your name Kryśka?” He said with surprise, “No.” I answered, “Well, your mug says something different!” He turned the mug around to see the “Kryśka” and rose bud design of my mug. He promptly slurped what coffee was left at the bottom of the mug, handed it to me and said, “Here.” Mug stealing bastard!!!!

My boss was very proud of himself one day when he decided to make coffee for me. The office was pretty empty so early in the morning and as I sat at the conference table getting some marketing packages all laid out, my boss declared that he would make the coffee today. He acted as if he should get a medal or something. As I watched him in our kitchen without water, I thought less of Bareja and more Sąsiedzi as he bumbled around in there. In the end, he couldn’t find the coffee filters and proceeded to use toilet paper explaining proudly that this is what he used to do in college. That was the hardest cup of coffee I have ever had to drink. This same boss told me once about when his uncle came to Poland from America for a visit back in the PRL times. He and the other kids were amazed as their mother put a sugar bowl on the table (sugar was rationed) and the uncle put three whole spoonfuls in his coffee. Now that was a rebel!

These days, I work as a teacher in companies so I can only observe the workings of the office on a superficial level. I still see the cup of coffee, who makes it, who delivers it, and in what manner as representative of how the office works and who has the most respect or authority. In one company, a company which owned a chain of Polish gas stations, I loved to drink coffee and SDC10131 until they finished our contract their coffee was at the top of my City coffee ranking. They had a mega-industrial coffee maker right next to the conference room. One morning my student, the main accountant, made me a delicious coffee and then set in to complete a very difficult grammar task I had given her. She was concentrating with all her might when suddenly my cup broke into 3 pieces and coffee ran over the edge of the table. Brain power! In the same office there was a fantastic secretary. She was and is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She always delivered the coffee to the lesson on a tray. She was also fond of low-cut white blouses which caused everyone to pause as she lowered the tray to the table.

In another company, I got to know years later that I had been victim of the coffee called “Renata’s Revenge”. In that company they have everyday coffee, special good coffee for guests and special “special” coffee for difficult guests or contract negotiations. The coffee was named Renata’s Revenge after the secretary Ms. Renata. Unfortunately, when I negotiated the contract I had to make a quick exit after a strong but delicious cup of R.R. Now in that company, I will only drink coffee prepared for me by my students not by Ms. Renata. One of my students always asks, “Coffee? In a cup?'” That question cracks me up every time. It’s as if she is offering in a cup or….not in a cup, but perhaps in my hands. In fact, she wants to know if I want to have coffee in an elegant coffee cup with a saucer or if I want to have a mug but my version is funnier. Coffee straight from students is also no guarantee of quality as once I received the rinsing cycle water from the coffee machine with milk and sugar. Na zdrowie.

I can report that the hot new trend in company coffee is the three layered coffee macchiato style. They are really good but that is a lot of coffee and considering that I am offered (and almost always drink) a coffee in every lesson that makes for one wired English teacher by the end of the day.

So as I stood in the coffee and tea aisle, I ran through all my coffee stories in my mind and had a chuckle. We bought fruit tea and black tea and a huge jar of coffee for my mother-in-law for Christmas (that’s what she wanted). We didn’t buy any coffee for us because we had already been to a specialty shop to buy a little coffee for us and also as a gift for the girls’ nanny for Christmas. In another aisle, we bought ice tea and ice coffee as well after a lot begging from Lizzie. At home we also have “grain” coffee and INKA which Lizzie calls coffee for kids. I think we’re set.

Happy coffee drinking to all!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas shopping

I do not like shopping. I do not like shopping in the US. I do not like shopping in Poland. I do not like shopping for you. I do not like shopping for me. I do not like shopping for groceries and I especially do not like shopping for Christmas. If you can relate then you are probably a man or you have worked retail during the holiday season. If you have a shopaholic in your family and you’d like to cure them, then a holiday retail job will do the trick.

The Christmas shopping frenzy starts from Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year. If you work retail in the USA that means the store has to be decorated by this day and the Christmas Muzak starts. You may even be asked (that should read told) to wear a cute (that should read totally asinine) elf or Santa hat. As an employee, you must be at work extra early and stay extra late. You must never forget to offer an additional product or two, ask if a gift receipt is needed, offer to wrap the gift and wish everyone a generic “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays”. By the time Christmas actually rolls around, your retail job will have slowly leeched out of all your Christmas cheer and have turned you into the biggest Grinch ever. On the bright side: Congratulations, you are cured of your shopaholism forever.

I don’t know if Poland has got something like Black Friday, but if it does, I think it was yesterday. I unfortunately visited the mall yesterday with Lizzie and Rosie in tow. I normally avoid the mall on the weekends as any weekend at the mall in Poland looks like Black Friday in the US, but I had to buy contact lenses and of course my kids wanted to come along. As we entered the mall, we all stopped dead in our tracks. There were kids everywhere. Some were decorating Christmas balls. Some were decorating gingerbread cookies. Others were playing in the play area I call the kid zoo. There was Christmas music and there were Christmas decorations. A Santa Claus and his helpers were passing out candy to all the boys and girls. My kids immediately took off for the “zoo”, ripping off their coats and hats and even their shoes as they went. Luckily, Misiu sat with them as I did my shopping weaving among the crowds to get to the contact lens booth and back. Then we had to convince the kids that it was time to go home.

It was so busy at the mall because December 6th is Santa Claus Day in Poland. We have a bit of a problem with that because we celebrate a more American Christmas and Santa Claus visits us on Christmas Eve when we’re sleeping. In the past, we were able to hide the fact that Santa comes to kids in Poland on December 6th from our own kids because they were so small. They are still small but now that Lizzie goes to Pre-school she knows about everything. Heck, they are having a Santa Claus party today at school. We devised a story that on Santa Claus Day you leave a letter to Santa under your pillow and Santa comes to take it and leaves you a chocolate. Then Santa selects something from your list and brings it on Christmas Eve. Genialny! Our plan was going well until we visited Babcia and Dziadek. As it turns out, Santa Claus visited Babcia and Dziadek and left a huge bag of sweets for each of my girls. My girls haven’t eaten anything except candy for two days.

Despite my dislike for shopping, my Christmas shopping is pretty much finished. Because of my job I am often near some mall with a few minutes to spare. Because of that, I was able to complete my Christmas shopping bit by bit keeping track of all the prices in the different stores and buying when the price was right. Yes, I am one of those moms. (Uwaga: frugal mother’s defensive rant) And I’ll have you know that I was able to get the fire station Lizzie so desperately wants for 200 PLN at Auchan while it was 230 PLN at Carrefour and 250 PLN at Tesco.

Another reason I am pretty much done with my shopping is because Lizzie is under the impression that you can get only one gift for Christmas. We have never told her that and she has always received more, but let’s not fix what ain’t broken. I will not spoil the Christmas surprise for you but each child will get a present from us (Santa), a present from Babcia and Dziadek, a present from Grandma and Grandpa, a stocking and 2 presents that they have to share12082009(001). Adults do not exchange gifts in my husband’s family but the girls wanted to get something for us and for their grandparents. The girls have got their father underpants. I have suggested socks for myself. Dziadek is getting an exercise ball for his hand (pictured here, that’s not an egg) that I bought today at the Senior Shop and I think Babcia is going to get her favorite coffee. The girls’ nanny will get an extra nice gift probably from Sephora.

Here’s what I would buy if I had more money or if I thought somebody might actually use it.

12082009The big thing here is a universal remote XXL (35 PLN). I would buy it for Dziadek (aka my father-in-law) but his problem is not the size of the buttons but just the sequence of buttons in turning on and off the TV. Mind you, he will not tell you that he needs help. He will just sit in front of the black TV screen and inform you that boxing starts in 5 minutes. The other smaller things here are cell phones. They have huge easy to see and press buttons and on the back of the black one there is an SOS button that calls successively 3 selected numbers. It costs 275 PLN.


Whenever or if-ever we finish our house, I am totally buying this beanbag chair (300 PLN). Lizzie fell in love with it and said it would be a good idea to buy it and to also buy her a soccer uniform like the guys on TV.

PS If Santa Claus comes to the children of Poland on December 6th, then what happens on Christmas Eve? In Poland on Christmas Eve, there is a very nice Christmas Eve supper. In my husband’s family, they sent the children to the window after supper to look for the Christmas star. When they came back, their presents had mysteriously appeared. In some families, the star brings the gift, in others baby Jesus brings the gift and in some Santa brings the gifts again.

PS 2 What are gift receipts? This a receipt (paragon) from the shop for a purchase with all the information you need to return the gift but without the price. You can include it with the gift you are giving and if the person doesn’t like it or it doesn’t fit, they can take it back to the shop. To all of you Polish shoppers who can almost never successfully return anything to a shop (sorry, store policy), you should know that returning stuff is like a national past-time in America…something like mushroom picking in Poland ;)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Religion lessons update

Let’s review the Pre-school Religion lesson situation:

Informed by Headmistress that we need to sign up our child for Religion. Not signing up means the child will not attend. We did not sign Lizzie up as we do not want her to attend.

Informed later by Headmistress that we need to write a declaration that we do not want our daughter to attend despite the fact that we did not sign her up. We caved and wrote the declaration for the Headmistress and additionally reminded the classroom teachers that Lizzie is not to attend.

At parent/teacher meeting, parents requested any information about the identity and qualifications of the Religion teacher and her curriculum for the year. We also had requested the same earlier from the Headmistress. The Headmistress, unfortunately, does not possess such information so she is unable to give it to the parents.

Requested by the classroom teacher that we write another declaration for the classroom teachers. I did not cave and informed them that one written declaration and one verbal declaration and the fact that I did not sign my daughter up for Religion lessons is sufficient.

Yesterday, requested to write a declaration for the Religion teacher that we do not wish Lizzie to attend Religion lessons. As I do not know the Religion teacher from Adam, I refused and strongly indicated that they are not to ask me again or I am going to lose it which would be very uncomfortable for everyone involved.

Seriously, yesterday when they asked me again to write another declaration, I got a very strange sinking feeling in my chest and stomach. I have never felt it before, but I think it was oppression, ok maybe not full out oppression. I don’t want to exaggerate so let’s call it oppression extra-light but it is still troublesome nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving decorations for KIDS

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US tomorrow or Turkey Day as some people call it. It’s usually a pretty melancholy day for me as I am here (Poland) and my family is there (the US). But I have a new family now, my husband and my children and since our introduction of Halloween to Poland (ok, starting from our klatka only) was so successful, we’ve decided to push ahead with our Thanksgiving celebration. We’ve invited some friends with kids the same age as ours because we want to share this meaningful holiday with them and also because we don’t want to clean so diligently and people with small kids are less critical of your housekeeping skills. They also agreed to cook a few dishes.

To get the Thanksgiving mood flowing in our home, we decided to make some decorations.

A turkey family


You know that you are jealous and that you want to make them so I’ll tell you how.

Here’s all the stuff you’ll need-


Turkey pumpkin


You’ll need:

a pumpkin and a squash

paper – crepe, construction, self-sticking


a stapler

some skewer sticks

a tolerance for mess

Start by cleaning your pumpkin and squash. Using a skewer stick, connect the squash “head” to the pumpkin “body”. Tie a red crepe paper scarf around the neck to hide the connection and make the wattle. Cut out eyes and a beak from self-sticking paper, stick them to the “face” and your head is complete.


Next make the tail feathers. Create a fan of crepe paper in various colors and tie or staple off. Stick the tail feathers to the pumpkin using a skewer and some tape to secure.

Next, make the wings by cutting out your children’s handprints in various colors of construction paper. Glue or staple together and tape to your turkey and you’re finished.


Gobble, gobble.

Toilet paper roll turkeys


For one turkey, you’ll need:

2 toilet paper rolls or a paper towel roll

crepe paper

construction paper

lightweight piece of cardboard



an even bigger tolerance for mess as there is glue involved

To make the body, you’ll need one TP roll and a half of another one. Wrap the rolls with brown crepe paper and secure with tape. Tuck the excess on each end into the roll. Glue the head onto the body. Create a face out of construction paper and glue a crepe paper wattle under the beak.

Make a tail feather fan out of crepe paper (or a colorful napkin). Crease in the middle and bring the ends to meet and staple to secure. Glue the body onto the fan.


For the feet, glue a piece of construction paper onto a lightweight piece of cardboard. Trace your child’s hand and cut out. Glue the body onto the feet and you are all done.


Re-glue the face on repeatedly as Rosie likes to peel it off.

Gobble, gobble.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I’ve never been over-sensitive to discrimination. I’m not one of those people to boo-hoo into my pillow at night because somebody has slighted me. I’m a big girl, I’ve got thick skin and even if something seemed to be unfair, I’ve always been able to shrug it off. Actually, I’ve only ever felt discriminated against a couple of times in my life.

The first time was at university. In a class where I had a 98% average, I was given back my exam by the professor with no comment. It was another A. What was there really to say anyhow? I was not expecting a pat on the back. C’mon it wasn’t kindergarten and my fellow college students were not so fond of the classmates with good grades.

I myself was very fond of good grades and collected a lot of them. For me, the university tuition was very expensive despite my attending a state university. I wanted to learn as much as I could for every dollar I had to spend especially because I earned those dollars measuring old men for suit trousers in a men’s clothing shop. (Inseam measurements were the worst, but the men seemed to enjoy the experience.) My classmates, it seemed, felt quite the opposite – about the knowledge-per-dollar thing, not the inseam-measuring thing. Many of them wanted to see how little they could learn for their money (or their parent’s money) and still graduate.

Anyhow my classmate Jeff, seated beside me, got his exam back. It was a C+ or a C-. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember the big red C. Just the sight of it turned my stomach. Jeff’s results did get a comment out of our professor, “Good job, Jeff. You really pulled it out this time.” Pulled it out of where? I thought. Your ear? Your ass? I didn’t comment, but the professor must have read my mind because she looked at me and said, “Don’t be so smug. We can’t all be naturally smart.” That infuriated me because in fact I’m no genius. I’m just a hard worker whose hard work had just been negated by her professor, another female nonetheless. At the end of the class, the professor invited Jeff (who had not opened his mouth once in the whole 90 minutes) to consider graduate school because our profession needed men like him. Apparently, it already had enough women like me.

ducks discrimination There was one other incident at university which just came to mind. I had forgotten about it I think because I did not feel threatened personally or academically in any way. I just didn’t feel discriminated against for some reason although I should have. I selected my university courses trying to balance what courses I needed to take, what courses I wanted to take, and what courses were offered during hours not conflicting with my job at the men’s shop. I rarely listened to other students’ recommendations or warnings about specific professors because through experience I had found them to be wildly exaggerated or just downright untrue. So when starting a new semester, I entered the classroom fresh with no opinion of the professor formed before entering. That’s how I got a big surprise with one professor new to me.

I sat down in a class that at first seemed normal. Then I noticed everyone was looking at me. My zipper was up. My blouse was buttoned. Nothing on my face. No toilet paper on my shoe. I checked my schedule and the number on the door. Everything seemed to jive, but then I noticed that I was the only woman in the class. Strange, but not impossible, I thought. Then the professor arrived and he began looking at me as well and then he started to speak to everyone in the room except to me. I will spare you the details but the gist of it was that women were of lower intellect (his wife, as he said, a prime example) and should not be allowed to operate motor vehicles let alone attend university. And then all was silent and everyone was looking at me. All I could do was laugh. And I did. But not a nice, sweet giggle but a deep belly laugh. I felt like on TV. All eyes were on me. After my brave laugh, I responded meekly (I don’t know why meekly after such a laugh), “You must be very sad.” My professor shouted, “Speak up! We can’t hear you!” I shouted from the back corner of the classroom, the seat closest to the door, “You must be very sad!” (in similar fashion the recent Obama “You lie!” shout) My professor responded, “Hmmm" and started our first lecture. The rest of the semester, women were never spared unkind and unfair remarks to which I either ignored or gave a chuckle. Really, only a sad person could behave as he did. Unlike other women who had taken his courses, I didn’t argue with him. I felt it was not my job to reform an asshole. Unlike other women who had taken his courses, I remained untouched personally by his remarks. I mean, he never commented on my intellect just all women as a group and those comments never even made a dent in my strong self-worth. No, that’s incorrect. niagarafallsOnce he read 2 lines out of my exam essay for the class and said that their was a light at the end of womankind’s tunnel. I did not take his comm ent as a compliment because honestly, who cares what an asshole thinks about you. As it turned out, I think my assessment of him as sad was a correct one because a few years later he committed suicide by jumping in the Niagara Falls - ‘cause you gotta go out like a man.

The second time in my life I felt discriminated against was when I was applying for a job. I was very proud to be the only one of my classmates in education to have a job interview while still studying. I just knew that I would have a job locked in before graduation and all my loser classmates would still be flipping burgers or sponging off their parents for the next school year. As I sat in the school secretary’s office proudly awaiting my first real job interview, my bubble got burst by another teacher who had come to greet the principal before the school day got started. “Mornin’, mornin’ ,” he said to the principal followed by a firm handshake. “Have you hired the new wrestling coach yet?” he inquired. Eyeing me, the principal laughed and said, “We’ve got our first candidate right here. Come this way, little lady.” I was applywrestlinging for the job of 11th grade US History teacher and all that was missing was a nice slap on the ass. I didn’t get the job, but I was interviewed 3 times and taught a lesson to be critiqued. Maybe the wrestling coach thing had nothing to do with it. I mean a woman could be a wrestling coach too, but I sure did feel like shyte and I felt discriminated against really for the first time in my life because a professor thinking that you are naturally smart or another professor thinking that you are naturally an imbecile is meaningless when you are facing the possibility of measuring men’s inseams for the rest of your life.

In Poland, I haven’t really had any similar situations. Maybe in my first job in the City in an American company, our boss made some comments that could constitute creating a hostile work environment for women. In one case, he said that a candidate for a secretarial position definitely wouldn’t win any Miss Poland contest and then proceeded to hire a woman who looked like she stepped out of a porn film. Later, he made a distasteful Monica Lewinsky/cigar joke to the new secretary. This boss was Polish/American and he wanted to be more American that Americans, so I told him that he couldn’t say those things in the home office in the US. He agreed, and I had peace and quiet for a long time after that.

Most recently, I’ve come to feel discriminated against in my daughter’s Pre-school of all places. You may have read about the Religion lessons at Pre-school which are in fact catechism lessons. I don’t want my daughter to attend. Here’s the kicker- I was brought up Catholic. I attended private Catholic school. I attended mass 6 days a week for my whole primary school education. I still don’t want my daughter to attend “Religia” at Pre-school. Religion lessons, in my opinion, are for private school or on the church grounds. I’m guess I’m just picky like that.

Parents were informed that kids would only go to Religion if we signed them up. I didn’t sign my daughter up. Next we were asked by the Headmistress to write a declaration that we DO NOT want our daughter to attend Religion lessons. We wrote it. Yesterday, we were asked by the classroom teacher to write another declaration that we do not want our daughter to attend. C’mon, I’m not one of those overprotective parents who complains about every slight of their child, but this is too much. We did not sign Lizzie up. I informed the classroom teacher verbally that I do not want Lizzie to attend. Misiu wrote a declaration for the Headmistress. That has to be sufficient. Why are they complicating our lives? Is it all because we don’t want to attend Religion? To single us out? Is it conscious or subconscious on their part? Is it just Polish school bureaucracy run wild? I don’t really care. I feel that they are strongly encroaching on our rights and on our privacy and I have to defend myself and my child. I inquired if the same procedure is going to be in place for English lessons. They answered that of course not, you must sign your child up for English lessons, not declare that you don’t want your child to attend. Interesting.