Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Misiu by any other name…

…would be just as cuddly, wouldn't he? This is not going to be a post about my Misiu, but rather about the word misiu and other terms of endearment. If you are Polish, you already know that my husband’s given name can’t possibly be Misiu. If you are American, you might be surprised to find out that in Poland you cannot just name your child 09292009whatever you want. The name you choose has to be an actual name, not something you just made up, not a city, state or country, and definitely not anything embarrassing, offensive or vulgar. That’s why you’ll find 5 Agnieszka’s in one class and not any Misiu’s. Why? Because Misiu is not a name. It means teddy bear. It comes from the word bear- miś -and can also appear as misiaczek , the diminutive of miś, which means little bear.

Perhaps it is good that you cannot name your child whatever you want in Poland. This regulation means that no kids have to defend themselves from attacks of other kids about their stupid name. However, stupid is subjective and what is one person’s idea of a beautiful name can be another person’s idea of sheer stupidity. If you are Polish and your name is Esmeralda, then you know what I am talking about. (Leticia Calderon as Esmeralda, pictured below) I think givLeticia Calderon Esmeraldaing your Polish child an English name (or foreign name) is ok but then please go all the way and spell it in English not in Polish, for example- Brajan Nowak, Majkel Kowalski. I understand that the parents have chosen that spelling in order to ensure that it will be pronounced as they want. Brajan is the Polish phonetic spelling of Brian.

I have found that many Polish people make assumptions about children with foreign names (especially foreign names spelled po polsku) and those assumptions are usually negative. That’s one reason my kids have traditional Polish names. Lizzie and Rosie are just their nicknames. We thought long and hard about naming our children. We had a short list for both boys and girls and we tested them out on my parents and on my parents-in-law. We decided to choose traditional Polish names because now we live in Poland and also because in the US it is more acceptable to have an unusual name. We threw out names such as Katarzyna-too difficult to spell in the US, Agnieszka-extremely popular in Poland, a nice name in Polish but the English equivalent Agnes isn’t as nice in our opinion, Magda is quite universal, the same spelling in both languages but the English pronunciation is not as nice as the Polish pronunciation. We also decided against the name Daria, supposing that our daughter could have the unfortunate nickname of diarrhea her whole life. Obvious choices for boys were Adam or Robert which are the same in Polish and in English. We also liked Aleksander and Maksym. We thought a son could have a nice nickname of Alex or Max. We decided that names like Zdzisław or Zbigniew were definitely out as they are practically unpronounceable for typical English-speaking people. In the end, we didn’t have to choose from the boys short list.

I remember the first day of one of my university classes. Our professor asked us to go around the room, introduce ourselves and tell something interesting about ourselves. I was 18 years old and there wasn’t anything really interesting about me at that time and I don’t remember what I said. What I do remember is that one of my classmates introduction went like this: Hi. My name is Sunshine and yes, my parents are hippies. Sunshine is a really unusual name. I’ve met a Sunny or two over the years but only one Sunshine. However unusual the nam09292009(009)e was, the girl was quite ordinary and after a week or two I totally forgot that her name was unusual and called her Sunshine without a smile on my face. I heard that in Poland there is a man named Solidariusz (a combination of the name Dariusz and the word Solidarity) in honor of the Solidarity movement. I wonder how he feels about his unusual name. I’d similarly like to ask all those Anna’s and Agnieszka’s of Poland how they feel being the next Anna or the next Agnieszka in the group.

In America, my life as a teacher was a hard one. My students had names which originated only in the minds of their parents or on the pages of hot new baby name books. There were no Mary’s, no Robert’s, no John’s only Alexia, Alicia, Alisha, Aleesha, Lexi, LaToya, LaToyer, and so on. I really am all for freedom to name your child what you want and while these names were troublesome for me the teacher, they we actually no big deal. It’s not like the family I read about who named their poor little child Adolph Hilter and caused a big stink when the local bakery would not write Happy Birthday Hitler on the kid’s birthday cake. (Yes, ‘cause we are free like that in the great US of A.) And one more thing, why do all of those F-ed up people have to come from Pennsylvania?

Do I know how to digress or what? I wanted to write about terms of endearment and I ended up on a kid named Hitler. (not any relation to a boy named Sue – that’s for the Jonny Cash fans) What are some Polish terms of endearment? My personal favorite is misiu. I find that is more often used by women for their men and also for kids. If you want to get the attention of a lot of men, I recommend saying Miiisiiuuu (meeeeshoooo) in a crowded IKEA on a Saturday afternoon. I guarantee every guy within earshot will turn their attention to you. I had a male acquaintance from New Zealand who took great offense when one of his students called him misiu. He exclaimed, “What? I’m not fat!” There is the suggestion that when using the term misiu, the recipient should be a little misiowaty, I mean kind of soft and squishy and huggable like a teddy bear. My Misiu fits the bill but I would qualify him as a pół-misiu, a half teddy. He’s not as squishy as he could be.

I also like that you can easily make the diminutive even of people’s given names. The diminutive is sometimes longer than the original but sounds sweet and little. Anna changes to Ania or Anka. Katarzyna changes to Kaśka. Zbigniew changes to Zbyszek. Marek changes to Mareczek. Hitler changes to Hitlerek which is Rosie’s current nickname. She’s a real tyrant. Lizzie’s current nickname is monsterek, our version of potworek or little monster.

Here are some more popular terms of endearment:

kochanie –love, sweetheart

żabka – froggy

słoneczko – sunshine

kotek, kicia, kiciuś – kitten

myszka – little mouse

kwiatuszek – little flower

ślicznotka – my pretty

żoneczka – wifey

mężulek – little husband, hubby - This one will also get all the guys at IKEA to give you a look. They will give a sad look at your whipped husband as well.

So I have shared with you my nickname for my husband which is misiu. Are you wondering what his nickname for me is? He can’t make up his mind but his top 3 names for me are:

mordka/mordziak - little mug, not coffee mug but mug-shot mug

gruba - fatty, which I am not

stara - the old lady, which I definitely am not

Romantic, isn’t he?

What are your favorite terms of endearment?

Monday, September 28, 2009

How I learned I was fat

I was one of those kids blissfully unaware that someone could be considered fat or thin or that being either fat or thin had any meaning in life other than having to buy bigger or smaller clothes.

Until the day I was made aware.

Ok, let's face it, I was a big kid compared to the rest of my class at the Immaculate Conception Catholic School (yep, that’s the real name, try to explain to a bunch of 5-year-olds what it means). Not only was I the biggest kid in my class, I was also bigger than our classroom teacher and bigger than our principal Sister Sandra. Do you remember how tall you were and how much you weighed in elementary school? I do, thanks to the once-a-year height/weight check performed by our always tactful PE teacher Mrs T. In the 5th grade, I was 5 ft. 4 in. tall and weighed a slightly pudgy 116 lbs (162 cms, 53 kgs). In the 6th grade, I was 5 ft. 6 in. tall and weighed 110 lbs (167 cms, 50 kgs) and I haven't grown an inch taller since then. Hardly a fatty you say, but those times were different. Anyone over a hundred pounds was deemed suspicious. I remember exactly because it was commented by Mrs T. that I was on the road to obesity (she didn’t use the actual word obese, she used just plain old fat) as she could practically predict my miserable future based on those miserable height/weight figures and also on my inability to overhand serve in volleyball (or underhand serve for that matter). I brushed it off not really knowing what she was talking about, but I started to think.

I figured it was pretty much bull. I was an active kid. I played AYSO soccer, but later in gym class while wearing my beloved AYSO shirt, Mrs. T., always sympathetic to the fragile self-esteem of children, asked me who I got my shirt from. When I replied that it was mine she said in disbelief, “they’ll take anybody these days.” OK, I said that I played, not that I was any good. I started to think.

Then one day I forgot my lunch at home. In the 1st grade, this was reason enough for total nuclear meltdown but in the 6th grade, I thought I'd just have to suck it up and wait until I got home. Unavoidable question from the lunch monitor, “Where's your lunch?” My honest answer, “I forgot it at home.” That couldn't possibly be the truth and an impromptu conference between the lunch monitor, our teacher and the principal ensued. A decision was made--to call my mother and explain that in a desire to lose weight I had been skipping lunch. Funny that not even one of them thought to offer me any lunch, but anyhow. My mother, thank goodness, had enough sense in her head to see my forgotten lunch in the fridge at home and to only tell me not to forget it and to carry some extra money with me to school in case that happened again.

That was the 6th grade, my last year in elementary school. I think kids nowadays would be really lucky to be unaware of things such as weight, sex, drugs till that age. Let’s fast forward to the summer after 7th grade at the church fair where I ran into our elementary school principal, “Hi, Chris. It's good to see you. Don't lose any more weight.”

PS. How did they explain the meaning of Immaculate Conception to the young pupils of the school? They ran a kind of Bill Clinton/gays in the military “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If we didn’t ask, they didn’t tell us. Usually our school was referred to as the Catholic school (there’s only one in the area) or simply IC. The kids from our class did finally ask in about the 3rd grade (apparently we were not very sophisticated or curious for that matter and we didn’t even have Google back then). Our teacher gave us a kind of general explanation of God giving the Virgin Mary the baby Jesus in a special and holy way and even explained to us that “virgin” meant “holy”. We agreed and immediately began using the word virgin as a synonym for holy as in the Virgin Jesus or the Virgin God. Our teacher never did explain to us exactly what it meant but she did tell us to stop using it when we referred to our principal as the Virgin Sister Sandra.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Maiden name or husband’s name?

Have you heard the old joke?

What is long and hard and you get it from your Polish husband on your wedding night? His surname!

Ha, ha, ha.

You cannot imagine how many times I have heard this stupid joke. I don’t even pretend to laugh anymore. My husband’s surname is not that long and not really that hard either, but I still decided to stick with my own name. Why? It is because I'm a strong, independent woman who doesn't want to be enslaved by the patriarchy of society by being forced to take my husband's name.

If you believe that then you don't really know me. I'm just simply lazy. I got married in Poland so by law I would have to take the feminine form of my husband's name and then go to court to request a name change to the masculine form. I wanted to have the masculine form that my husband has so that in our American ID's, we would have the same name. Then I would have to change all my Polish ID’s and all my American ID's. Get the picture? And did I mention that I'm lazy.

PS. Once while at the hospital after my 1st child was born, the nurses were calling for me by Mrs and my husband’s surname (because our children carry their father’s name). For a split second (ok, it was longer than that - I was kind of spacey after the birth), I looked around to check if my mother-in-law was there and wondered what they were calling her for.

Ladies, opinions???

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why are Americans so fat?

Once again, I was asked the question I have been asked so many times before. It’s not why I came to Poland although that question is high up there on the frequency ranking. Instead today it was why Americans are so fat. When I am in America, I do not feel responsible for the global reputation of the American people but now that I live abroad, I feel the need to explain the complexities of American problems. You may feel that this problem is not a complex one, that Americans are simply gluttonous and eat too much. While that is one part of the problem, there is a little more to it.

One of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic in the US is the fact that many American people eat very poorly. My father always says about Americans, “We eat good!” and he should know because after a quadruple bypass he still goes to Taco Bell. While eating quantities large enough to sustain not only ourselves but maybe even 2 or 3 people, for some is the epitome of “eating good” but for me (and probably some nutritionists) it represents eating poorly. Eating poorly in my book means eating too much food loaded with salt, sugar, fat and preservatives. The food is packed with calories but not necessarily with nutrition. Eating well would be eating fresh food, fruit and vegetables as well as keeping salt, sugar, fat and protein intake within an acceptable range. Maybe a better question than why Americans are so fat would be why Americans eat so poorly.

Why do Americans eat so poorly?

It is hard to say. As a society, we have all the information we need to make healthy choices. We are probably the best informed consumers in the world. We are taught good nutrition at school and every food product contains fully transparent information on the label. Why do we make such bad choices?

To start to understand the problem, I welcome you to my hometown grocery store, which is in fact not a grocery store but a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The grocery section takes up one corner of the store. It is found directly on your right after entering, getting your shopping cart, and being officially welcomed by the Walmart Welcomer. On Misiu’s first visit he was in awe of the cracker aisle. He is not a huge fan of crackers but just the fact that there is a whole aisle just for crackers impressed him. There is a small fresh produce section, a meat and cheese area, a bakery, a dairy section, an aisle with staples such as flour, sugar and cooking oil and all the rest of the aisles are dedicated to things to drink and snack on and processed foods. (In this store the paper and cleaning products and shampoo and things like that are located in another part of the store) Most of the shelf space is dedicated to processed food, in fact. More and more shelf space in Polish supermarkets is dedicated to processed foods as well (Gorący Kubek, Pomysł na..) but not on the same scale.

I knew that we were going to have a problem with food right from the yogurt on the airplane on the way from Poland to the US. Although we were traveling from here to there, our breakfast yogurt for some reason was from the US. Misiu took one bite, said “What is this garbage?” and put it on my tray apparently thinking that I am genetically programmed as an American to eat garbage (Misiu actually said shit not garbage but I am trying to clean up my act). The yogurt looked like any other yogurt but it was incredibly sweet and had kind of a fatty texture leaving a feeling of fat on the roof of my mouth (as if you’ve eaten a spoon of Crisco shortening). Probably if you ate it everyday you wouldn’t notice the sweetness. That is the one of the problems with the food industry in the US. Sweet things are sweeter. Salty things are saltier. Fatty things are fattier. And just about everything is processed. Ok, Ok, all that processed food does have an ingredient list on the label and also a nutritional information breakdown. Once again, I stress that American consumers have the most information probably of any food shoppers in the world. Theoretically, we should be able to quickly see that this product or that is basically shit and we shouldn’t eat it. However, the information is usually given by serving size which is often unrealistically small, like a jar of soup which I would eat myself contains 4 portions according to the label. So I am not consuming the amount of salt, sugar and fat in one portion as stated on the label but 4 times that much as I down the whole jar. So what, you say, just choose another product. That is another problem. All the products are the same.

Back to our Wal-Mart shopping. We headed past the bakery items until we found the produce section which was considerably small for a shop so large. Alone in the produce section, we started searching for apples. We found them in plastic and styrofoam packs of 4. I don’t remember the price, but I do remember that it made me look twice, not to mention that later when I ate those apples my lips swelled up (after washing) from whatever had been sprayed on them. But they sure did look perty!

Next on our list was orange juice. I’m not too particular but I wanted to buy a carton of orange juice that had only orange juice inside of it. The juice options were vast, with calcium or without, with vitamin D or without and even with extra pulp if we so desired. All we wanted was juice with no sugar added. I found a big carton labeled for kids which said NO SUGAR ADDED and was disturbed to find out that it contained saccharrin. We finally found one with just juice, only to realize the next day at the breakfast table that it was not exactly what we had been looking for. Misiu said that there was something wrong with the juice. I tasted it. It was a bit sweet but I thought maybe it was the kind of oranges they used. I sat down and studied the carton until I found “concentrated for sweetness” in teeny tiny writing after the asterisk next to the slogan “Naturally Sweet”. I got up walked to the water facet and added some water. Problem solved, but how many people would do that? Few, I imagine. I myself would probably stop doing it after awhile too and thus drink more sweetness than I had intended.

We cruised the whole store oohing and aahing over the huge packages of goodies calling out to us. We found an enormous package of chips called “The Weekender” or something like that. It contained 3 pounds of potato chips! 3 pounds!!! The largest pack of chips you can buy in Poland, chips “TV PAK” is 165 grams + a current promotion of an additional 30 grams gratis which isn’t even a half a pound. Anyhow, we finished our shopping and after getting home we started to do some analysis. Yes, ‘cause we are interesting like that. The final result of our analysis was that it is cheaper to buy garbage. Not only was the fresh food section of the market poorly stocked, it was also relatively expensive. Right now here in Poland in my Polish kitchen, I am staring at about 200 apples from one apple tree in my yard that I don’t know what to do with. I’ve pawned off as many as possible on my neighbors and the girls’ nanny, my in-laws and I’ve made an apple pie (and eaten an apple pie) everyday for the last week. Those apples were free (well sort of) but I wouldn’t have any problem finding or buying the same amount of apples here in Poland. Why does fresh produce cost so much in the US? I’m not talking about organic. I’m just talking about the difference between an apple and an apple pie from McDonald’s. I read an article somewhere that in some locations in the US there will be something like “fruit and vege” trucks operating like ice cream trucks to supply some areas with the fruit and vege they can’t find at the local store. Gawd, it is sad that is has come to that, but bravo to whomever thought of the travelling fruit and vege truck. The next problem is get people to buy it.

Back to my US hometown with only one grocery store. We do however have 2 McDonald’s, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, a Taco Bell, a Subway, an Arbie’s, a Wendy’s and probably more that I can’t remember. These restaurants if you can call them that are a fast hamburgerand cheap answer for the overworked American family that doesn’t have time to shop and cook and sit down together for a family dinner. Do Polish people work any less? Do they have more time to cook? Do they have more money to spend on fresh ingredients? I cannot see that Polish people work less or have more time to cook. In my experience, my friends here in Poland just organize their time a little differently. A lot of us with children find ourselves at 9pm or later in the kitchen preparing dinner for the next day. Maybe it is just a habit or social pressure to be a good homemaker,to live up to the Matka Polka ideal. Many Polish ladies (and myself) are struggling with that issue today. Polish people definitely don’t have more money (Gross monthly minimum wage in Poland is 1276 PLN which is about 450 USD) Apples are cheap but fast food isn’t. In Poland, it is still cheaper to make dinner yourself. Even if you paid yourself for the time it takes to make the dinner, it still comes out cheaper for most people. Having said that, homemade does not always equate healthy either. Exhibit A would be dinner at my in-laws. A typical dinner would be breaded chicken breasts fried in butter with salt or another flavoring aid added to the breading, potatoes swimming in butter and/or cream with a soup spoon of salt added to the pot and some kind of vegetable or salad. Last week it was fried cabbage containing a half a block of butter, bacon and another soup spoon of salt plus another of sugar. Once my mother-in-law called me while I was on the way to her place and asked me to pick up a kilogram of salt from the store. She was out of salt and couldn’t cook dinner. I brought her the salt and she said she was set for the next month. The next month! I bought a kilogram of salt 8 years ago and I still have most of it. Does salt go bad? Maybe I’ll throw it out and buy a new bag.

So the fast food/junk food is cheaper in the US and that’s why they eat so much, right? Well, not exactly. If it is cheap to eat a huge pile of food it stands to reason that it would be even cheaper to not eat it, so we cannot rely on that explanation alone. Also how many mega-rich reality TV stars have I seen stuffing their faces with food from the drive-thru. Sorry, but if I were a rich pop star or hotel fortune heiress there is no way I would eat that stuff. I don’t eat it now so I especially would not do it if I had money to eat the best of the best. I am now re-thinking my idea of it is cheap to eat a pile of food but even cheaper not to eat it. That is true that the pile of food costs x amount of dollars and not eating it costs nothing but is it half cheaper to eat only half? I remember my last visit in McDonald’s in America when I actually ordered something (my last-last visit was with some friends and I couldn’t order anything-the place was so filthy). I ordered a burger, small fries and small Coke. I was informed that it would be cheaper to order from the value menu which meant a Big Mac or 2 burgers, a huge fries and a bucket of Coke. I explained that I couldn’t eat all of that. The response, “So what it is cheaper. You can throw it away.” Thus, it wasn’t cheaper to eat half. It was cheaper to eat more. And that brings us to the problem of portion control in America.

Why do you eat and when do you stop?

I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am not hungry anymore, not when I am full no matter how much food is on my plate. I try not to eat when I am not hungry and I try not to stuff myself. Of course, I sometimes eat too much and I snack and I eat cake and cookies sometimes and even chips. I use the internal cue of my own hunger to start eating and the satisfaction of that hunger to stop eating. Many people use the external cue of portions to determine how much they eat. In Poland, you’d probably be ok with that but in the US portion sizes are much larger and more dense with calories (additional fat and sugar) resulting in a larger and denser YOU!

Back in the days before my kids, I even used to go out to restaurants, the real ones with menus and waiters and napkins. In Poland when I order dinner, I can eat the whole dinner and even a little bit more actually. The last time we ate in the US, we ordered appetizers and dinner. After the appetizers arrived, we cancelled our dinner order. We watched as the family next to us piled their plates high at the salad bar and then went back for more. They were behaving like gluttons and were totally unembarrassed. Being gluttonous is not embarrassing in America (all-you-can-eat buffets, need I say more) but in Poland it would make people talk. One American acquaintance of mine in Poland who is very overweight does her shopping in several different shops just so she can avoid the stares that she thinks are saying –Hey, is that all just for you? It all is just for her but she can’t stand the stares which she never thought about in the US. Her embarrassment isn’t enough to lose weight (she is happy with her weight) or to stop buying all that stuff. I, on the other hand, am lazy. In fact that is my diet plan. I am too lazy to go to the store and buy something. Heck, I am too lazy to go to the kitchen to get something to eat. Embarrassment also works on me. When I go out with my Polish girlfriends, I eat much less than when I go out in America with my American friends. One reason is the portion sizes but another is the size of my friends. No one wants to be the biggest in the group and then eat a lot on top of that, but if everyone is bigger (even a little) and eats more then I can join in. What is considered normal in Poland is often called skinny or even once I was called malnourished (Don’t they have food over there in Europe?) in the US. What is considered overweight in the US would draw comments in Poland.

When I was pregnant, I was neither too lazy nor too embarrassed to eat and gained about 12-15 kilograms (26-33 pounds) during each pregnancy. I remember my doctor telling me as I reached the 10 kg mark in about the 7 month of pregnancy that I should lay off the chocolate. He explained that gaining too much weight was bad for me and my baby and would make the birth more difficult. I informed him that my chocolate consumption was none of his business, but he did have a point. How many doctors in the US tell their pregnant patients to watch their weight? When I was shopping for maternity clothes, the shop assistant brought me a medium that I could not have fit into even if I had not been pregnant. I laughed and wondered out loud who could wear such sizes. She informed me that their biggest sellers were sizes small and extra small. I took my large and got the heck out of there.

What has been happening to the sizes in the US? If you look at the sizes in people’s closets, you just might think that the American population is shrinking not expanding. I personally have got GAP jeans in my wardrobe spanning a decade or more. The oldest and the “largest” pair is a size 6. There are a couple of 4’s, a lot of 2’s and even a 0. Soon they will be running into the negative numbers. I distinctly remember in high school buying a GAP size 8.

I never really thought about the fact that someone was overweight or not until I left the US. My first time abroad I got a feeling of something being different (other than the obvious different country, different language thing) but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was the lack of larger people on the streets. Poland, don’t feel left out, you still have more public drunkenness than in the US. I have started to think about it lately because more and more of my students go to the US on business or on vacation and I get asked about it more often. I thought I would try to write about it to get my thoughts in order so I can answer with some sense. I understand that some people are destined to be overweight. But 64% of the population in the US as overweight and 26% of those as obese is not some people. That’s getting closer and closer to all people. When I look back at my primary school photos there was one “fat kid” in the class (I know, kids are cruel because for a year or 2 that fat kid was me). I’m afraid of what the class pictures must look like now. But we cannot blame the kids. It is their parents that have taught them how to eat. When we were kids, my sister and I were allowed to split one small glass bottle of Coca-cola per week. I don’t know if it was because it was expensive or because it was a bottle of liquid sugar. Tap water in Poland is not really drinkable. I try to ignore the amount of money I spend on drinking water, but even if Coke was 10 times cheaper I wouldn’t switch over.

In America, many people stick to the illusion that their status of overweight is either temporary (I’m really a thin person) or genetic (I don’t eat anything). While I do believe that there are tendencies for some people to be larger than others, you cannot get to 400 pounds by not eating anything. After having my children, I returned more or less to my pre-pregnancy weight. I gave myself maximum a year to do it and I achieved my goal. The weight doesn’t look the same as it did before, but I’m satisfied. Some of my American friends refer constantly to their baby weight, that they can’t lose their baby weight. If your child can walk and talk, ride a bike and go to school, you cannot use the baby weight excuse anymore. It is just plain weight, drop the baby part. I won’t lie and say that I wanted to lose my baby weight just for me. I wanted to lose it because most of my friends in Poland who have had children are thinner after having a baby than they were before. Yep, that’s right, thinner.

If you are overweight that state may have snuck up on you over the years with a little extra potatoes here and a little too much pie there, but the fact that you are overweight shouldn’t be big news unless you are Misiu. I have many ways of monitoring my weight. First, I can weigh myself. Next, I can see how my clothes fit, or don’t fit to be more precise. I can look at myself or look in the mirror. Lastly, I could calculate my BMI. Misiu, on the other hand, is able to ignore the sensory intake of all the methods of monitoring his weight except the last one, the BMI. He recently returned home from work with the shocking information that he is overweight! “Really, how did you know?”, I asked. “I calculated my BMI!” he shouted.

Misiu does not consider himself politically correct and also is not exactly tactful. If you ask him why he has a little extra around the middle he will tell you exactly why. He eats more calories than he burns. He knows exactly how to lose weight too. He has to burn more calories than he eats. It is simple but not easy. One Christmas in America, we were invited to my cousin’s house for a family get-together. I couldn’t wait to go as my mother and I had been cooking all day, but she wouldn’t let us eat anything. “It’s for tomorrow,” she said. When we arrived at my cousin’s in the evening I said hello to everyone and then dived into the buffet table. My cousin (weighing in at my estimation 130 kilograms about 280 pounds) asked surprised if I eat like that everyday. I replied that I do and continued to stuff my face. Misiu on the other hand would not touch the beef that I was inhaling. “Chris,” he said, “ you shouldn’t be able to cut beef with a fork. What’s in that meat to make it like that?” Hmm, I hadn’t thought about that. My cousin started the topic that she wished she could eat like that and stay so slim but with her genetics (mine too, we are 1st cousins) it was impossible. I highly doubted that considering the fact that she had doubled her weight in just 10 years but I replied something like, “Yes everyone is different…” so on and so on. My cousin defends, “I have even tried not eating anything but even that doesn’t work.” Misiu, always the diplomat states, “You didn’t do it long enough. For sure if you didn’t eat anything for a month, you’d see results.” The evil eye was shot at him from around the room. He had broken the rules. He tried to break the illusion. I commented something like not eating anything isn’t healthy (because it isn’t) and that it can wreak havoc on your metabolism (because it can). My cousin agreed but Misiu stated that their is nothing wrong with being hungry from time to time. My cousin continued on with the conversation to which Misiu gave the true if not distasteful observation that there were no fat people at Oswięcim. Luckily, he said it in Polish and my cousin was not paying attention to him by that point. We are not very good guests. We come to your house, insult you and eat all your beef. (Oswięcim is the Polish name of the city where the German concentration camp Aushwitz was located)

Food in the US is also more and more a form of entertainment or recreation or even comfort as the phrase “comfort food” can attest to. Is there a similar phrase in Polish? Misiu calls food ads in the US food porn. Graphic images of ooey gooey cheese or chocolate but no images of people actually consuming the food. Is it shameful to eat? Most of the ads are for fast food chains or other processed foods full of preservatives and other additives that cheese pizza make the food taste so darn good. Some ads show what a good time can be had in connection to that food. Our food, if not part of a balanced breakfast, is at least part of a happy childhood. When I tell people that my children do not eat at McDonald’s they look at me as if I am denying my children something essential to life. A new McDonald’s is being built near our apartment in the City, so we have opened the dialogue with our children that some people like to eat there but we do not. Lizzie had one opportunity as a guest at her friend’s house to try some McD’s food. She didn’t like it (except for the juice box and toy) so we are using that fact to our advantage. One thing is that our McD’s is going to have a killer playground. Generally, the McD’s looks quite nice. The last McD’s I visited in the US was so filthy that I didn’t even want to sit down let alone eat something there. Misiu says that with a 64% rate of overweight folks in America, McD’s doesn’t have to be nice or clean anymore, they’ve done their job. When do we decide that it is ok to give our kids garbage to eat? When do we switch from the Gerber jars to the Happy Meal? Why are we so careful with our babies and breastfeed them and then give them juice boxes which make their tongues blue?

I don’t know where to fit this into the rest of the information but how must someone feel physically who eats the typical American diet. I imagine tired, sluggish, gray, fuzzy, bloated. Not to get too graphic but I suppose you’d have terrible gastric problems in addition to immunity issue, skin problems, yeast problems.

One thing I would never say to an overweight person is that you cannot possibly be hungry. I know that for me the more weight that I carry, the hungrier I get. The larger the portion I eat now, the hungrier I will be later. I saw a program on the Discovery channel that said that stored fat on our bodies in an attempt at self-preservation produces enzymes which spur on our appetites. Scary!

Of course, if you watch other channels and not just the Discovery channel you might think that everyone in America is tall and thin with perfect teeth and meticulously groomed eyebrows. Even in the background scenes you can see people riding their bikes, jogging, rollerblading. In my hometown, Misiu looked at me as if I were a crazy person when I explained to him that we had to drive from the gas station to Wal-Mart because there were no crosswalks. Forget about sidewalks. There was no way to cross the street at a busy intersection. And that’s another reason why Americans have weight issues. We don’t exercise as much as we should and are not embarrassed to drive from one end of the shopping center to the other. On TV, we would jog or rollerblade or ride our bikes from one end of the shopping center to the other wearing super white tennis shorts to match our super white smile. Maybe that’s what inspires all the questions from my students. Maybe it is the difference between what they see on TV, the TV America, and the real America that causes the confusion.

My last student who came back from a business trip in the US couldn’t wait to ask me something. Here it comes I thought and I started to answer the question before he even asked. “No, Chris,” he said, “we don’t want to know that. We want to know why you sell mini-skirts in a size XXXL?” Well, why the heck not? That’s one good thing about America, the freedom to buy a mini-skirt in size XXXL. If you think you can work that mini-skirt, then work it girl!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fell asleep at 28…

Sometimes I feel like I fell asleep at 28 and woke up at 35. Some of the last things I remember about my old life: my parents came to visit us, we went on vacation to Turkey (my last appearance topless in public that didn’t involve a doctor or breastfeeding), we started to look for an apartment to buy and we went to the doctor to make sure everything was ok with us so that we could start trying to get pregnant. Then I got sick. Incorrect diagnoses and shot-in-the dark treatments lasted almost 2 years. After a proper diagnosis, real treatment lasted another two. Then I had to be weaned from the meds and totally detox myself at the very end of treatment. After receiving a clean bill of health from my doctor(s), we started trying again. It didn’t quite work the first time so after one failed pregnancy, we tried again. It worked and 9 months later we had a Lizzie. When Lizzie was one year old, we were pregnant with Rosie. In the meantime, we bought that apartment and also a housek (house + domek = housek). We haven’t been on vacation anywhere and my parents have not visited again. And here I am, 35 years old and I can’t remember how I got here or who I am.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It was a gray August day

It seems like a lifetime ago, that gray August day I arrived in Poland for the first time. The whole long plane ride from New York or was it Newark, I can’t even remember now, I kept thinking What am I doing? This is crazy. I looked over for reassurance at the three other American folks I met at the airport but they looked as unsure as I did. The plane was also pretty under-booked. This doesn’t bode well, I thought, nobody wants to go there, so why am I going there? I was really tired from the two domestic flights it took me to get to NY. No one in my family would drive me to the airport :( Fortunately, I had two seats to myself to spread out, but I was still uncomfortable. A reason for my discomfort may have been my shoes, cowboy boots! Yes, I was wearing cowboy boots, but not the fashion kind, the real ride- on-a-horse kind. I must have looked like such an arse, a totally conspicuous American out and about in the world.

After about 9 or so hours, we reached our 1st destination, Warsaw, and collected in our new survival group - 2 sisters destined for the City (Curly and Red), me destined for a small town and the Man of our group destined for a town about half-way between the City girls and me. We began searching for the domestic terminal. We looked all around the ground floor of the airport and couldn’t find it. We packed all of us and our luggage for one year into the elevator and went upstairs hoping it was up there, but it wasn’t. We packed ourselves and our stuff all back inside the elevator and went down to the information desk. Unfortunately, no one working on that shift could speak English and we were not adept enough at foreign language charades to get our message across. Finally Red wanted to have a cigarette. I stepped outside with her. We both leaned our backs against the building in silence but surely thinking the same thought - what are we doing here? I turned to look at her and say something when I saw it - DOMESTIC TERMINAL. I forgot what I was going to say and cheered triumphantly that we had found it, accidentally but who’s counting? To get from the main airport to the domestic terminal (which is all located in the same building) you had to go outside and come back in another door. Triumphant I was, but I felt a little like Mr. Bean.

Our next challenge was to get on the right plane. The domestic terminal had one waiting room which all flights boarded from. At that time, they did not give you a boarding pass and there was no sign to indicate which flight was boarding. The only way of knowing that your flight was boarding was to listen to the loud-speaker announcement. Imagine the Charlie Brown teacher wah, wah, wah-wah-wah waaaah but now in Polish. We couldn’t understand anything. We devised a plan. Most people had their tickets out. We decided to split up and sidle up to different passengers until we found one going to the same place we were going. When the Man finally found somebody, he gave the thumbs up and we diligently watched that passenger’s every move until we were safely on the plane. You may think that this is very funny or even sad but a teacher from the same program who was headed to Wrocław (which used to be Breslau) got off the train in Breclav in the Czech Republic and almost didn’t make it for the first day of school.

With all that activity, I had almost not even noticed that it was cold, gray and raining in the middle of August. On the short flight, I stared out the window wondering if the weather was always like that, what my town would be like, if I would make any friends, if I would do a good job teaching English at high school, if I would be able to learn Polish, where I would live, if I could survive on a teacher’s salary, etc. I also wondered why I had not thought about any of that prior to coming to Poland. There is such a thing as selective memory. Is there selective worrying? The plane landed, and we anxiously collected our carry-on bags. We got off the plane to the still cold and gray day and found that we were on the tarmac with, as far as I could tell, no airport in sight. We (I mean the whole plane of passengers) stood around unsure of what to do when the flight attendant shouted something at us from the door of the plane and pointed in the direction of 2 buildings which I will call barracks to be polite. There was a bigger one and a smaller one. We headed off in the direction of the bigger one which we figured had to be the airport. That caused the flight attendant to start screaming again pointing to the smaller building. (She probably wasn’t actually screaming but when you don’t understand a language you get the impression that everyone is screaming or fighting.) We headed in that direction and it was quite a way away.

We finally made it and each of us found our contact teachers right away because then there was no barrier between arrival/baggage claim and the waiting room. An English/German teacher and her husband were waiting for me. After some time, our baggage arrived but there was no carousel so it was a free for all of people tearing the bags off of the trailers. I got my things as did my new friends and we departed as if we had known each other for years and we may never see each other again. We gave heartfelt promises that we would find each other again somehow. Sounds dramatic but give me a break. I was really tired and I was wearing cowboy boots. We packed into the car and I began the journey to my new life for the next year.

I had no idea what to expect.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parenting Tips

As mother of 2 small children, I have learned some things about myself and about parenting in these past couple of years. Surprising, since I feel that I am actually losing brain capacity due to sleep deprivation. (Rosie could work for the CIA.) I suppose that the parental learning process never ends and that is kind of scary. When will I figure it all out? As I mentioned at the top, I have learned some things not everything. Here are some of the things I have learned. These tips are not comprehensive and are not in any particular order and will stop as soon a I have to take dinner out of the oven.

#1 Take the plastic off of the cheese before giving it to the child.09042009(001) (640x480)

#2 Playdough is a major food group for 1-year- olds. Don’t turn your back (to write your blog, for example) on a 1-year-old armed with a handful of the stuff. It will soon become a mouthful.

09082009 (640x480) (2)

#3 Children cannot be allowed to bark orders at parents.

Misiu has taught Lizzie to ask for something in this manner, “Something to drink, please. Daddy, I love you”. “Cartoon at work (she means Cartoon Network), please. Daddy, I love you”. Sometimes she is so excited she forgets to add what she is asking for and comes out with a quick “Please, Daddy, I love you” which is also a nice, if not sneaky, way to get your kid to tell you that they love you a few times each day.

#4 Teach children to respect breakable items that are on low shelves

…but put the valuable ones (sentimental or otherwise) somewhere out of reach. We had a glass candy dish from 09082009(001) (640x480)the 1926 World’s Fair in Berlin. It was left in our house when we bought it and most likely was originally left there by the German family that was removed from this part of then Germany, now Poland after WW2. It survived the new Polish family which had 6 children only to be smashed to pieces by my Rosie. Here’s the bottom part that is left.

#5 Teach your child a foreign language from birth.

If you have such a possibility, it is a fantastic thing to do for your child. Believe me, I know. I teach English to adults and every last one wishes they had started to learn earlier.

I never imagined that I would have bi-lingual children. Me, a rural Pennsylvanian girl whose closest encounter with foreigners was meeting Amish kids at the market ;) But alas, it has happened and practically without any effort.

While pregnant with Lizzie, I read up on all the latest information I could find about bringing up bi-lingual children. Most authors recommended that each parent speak to the child in their own native language. That’s how we began, with me speaking English only which makes sense because my Polish isn’t very good and Misiu speaking Polish only although his English is excellent. We were prepared to wait a long time for Lizzie’s first words. That’s what most of the literature suggested but around her 1st birthday she started speaking and she started in English. It was no surprise because she spent most of her time with me.

We have 2 children now and we have changed our tactics a little bit. Misiu speaks to the girls more in English as we see that they lack contact with the language. I never ignore the girls when they use Polish but I encourage them to speak English more. Lizzie mixes the two languages, but usually consciously for fun. At the beginning, she learned that there are 2 languages in a very concrete way. If you ask Nanny for chocolate, you get nothing. If you ask Nanny for czekolada, you get chocolate. She also knows that she can ask Mommy for either czekolada or chocolate and she will get…nothing. Through trial and error, she started to distinguish the words that got her what she wanted in different situations. I think also the brain sorts out the different language sounds and patterns easily at this age. Sometimes when Lizzie doesn’t know a word in one language, she asks us. Lizzie understands that some people know Polish, some English and some both. Recently, she was surprised to find out that I don’t know German. She thought her parents know all languages. Rosie’s understanding of both languages is very good so far but she’s not a big talker yet. She’s doing what Lizzie did, choosing the word which she is more familiar with or the one that is easier to say. Babcia or Baba is easier to say than Grandma (and it doesn’t help that Grandma is on another continent and has never met her grandchildren, sniff, sniff).

Some language hits:

Tatuś + Daddy = Daduś

żelek (singular) żelki (plural) gummy bears or other gummy treats = in Lizzie speak żelk and żelks

I will never sprząt all the mess. sprzątać=to clean

I want to syp out the toy box. sypać=pour out

raspberries are witaminki :0) that was taught by the girls’ nanny. so cute.

I need a break because my nogs hurt. nogi = legs

Moja mama mówi English. My mother speaks English.

Idziemy na soccer place. We are going to the soccer place.

I kop-ed a dziureczka in the sandbox. dig and hole

The cake is piek-ed. pieczone = baked

We can magic the car, I think but it will not uda. (succeed) My hands are not magically.

More to come!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone

I like to read the newspaper everyday, actually several if I can find the time, in Polish and in English. Spending a lot of time with two little kids, I need to keep in touch with the outside world for my own sanity. In Polish, I usually pick up Gazeta Wyborcza because it provides general news, and I like Thursday’s supplement Duży Format and Saturday’s magazine Wysokie Obcasy. You could say that I am regular reader. That said, I have never grabbed my copy, looked at the headline and thought oh my, I have to read that, until today (which was actually last week) with this headline: “Już nie kochamy Ameryki” (“We don’t love America anymore”). Why not, I ask, why not?

The article has data from a research study to back up the claims that, in fact, it is true (sniff, sniff).

The article:,75248,7018159,Juz_nie_kochamy_Ameryki.html

The research institution:

The German Marshall Fund of the United States

President Barak Obama is said to be more popular than former president George W. Bush was, but considering that W. was hugely unpopular that is not saying much, and the general fall in support of the US which started during the George W. era remains in effect today. I think that maybe the fact that Poland and Polish soldiers have supported the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and have died there while Polish citizens still need a visa to visit the US may also have something to do with our weakened relations. Misiu says that being treated as a second class citizen/poor relation is getting a bit irritating. According to this article, military participation in Iraq and Afghanistan has also increased pacifist views among Poles. What, WW1 and WW2 weren’t enough? The article also suggests that the difficult negotiations between Poland and the US concerning the US’s request to build an anti-missile defense system on Polish land may have contributed to the worsening relations and that generally Poles (I almost wrote we!) are losing faith in both the US and in NATO.

I am American and I have a healthy patriotic attitude. I am not fanatical, but I am proud. I remember as a school girl praying to God (it was Catholic school) to give our thanks that we had not been born French or German or Spanish. Seriously.We thought that it must be just plain awful not to be American. After saying the daily Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, at my school we added the phrases “God Bless America and keep it safe”. That is a nice sentiment but it was a kind of “screw you” to the rest of the world, just keep us safe. Ok it was the cold war time, and I think our teachers were a bit revved up. We also had to do a lot drills at school like the fire drill (close all the windows before exiting the classroom), severe storm drill (under your desk and hug your knees), and nuclear war drill (under your desk and hug your knees…they forgot to add, kiss your arse good-bye). My husband who was a Polish school boy at the same time felt proud to be Polish, but he was aware that there was something wrong with the system, that they weren’t free. His small protest was to listen to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. They didn’t have fire drills or severe storm drill or even nuclear war drills. After the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor meltdown, Misiu and all the kids of Poland were given Potassium iodide liquid to drink to protect their thyroids from the radiation and hopefully prevent thyroid cancer. Let’s pray that it worked.

If Poland has fallen out of love with America, that means that at one time Poland must have actually been in love with America, but why? Just because we think we are the best doesn’t mean that everyone else has to. Maybe it is because just about every Polish person has got a family member or members in America. According to wikipedia, there are about 10 million people in the US that identify themselves as Polish American, one of them being my father whose grandparents (my great-grandparents) came through Ellis Island in the early 20th century. Misiu says that it can be because America symbolized a true, free democracy when his country was not free. Maybe it was also the role of Ronald Reagan and his talks with Pope John Paul II (who was Polish) in helping to bring down communism in Poland. It can also be the idea of the American dream that through hard work you can achieve success because during PRL the best success was to be had by being clever not necessarily by working hard. Maybe it was because $20 was a whole months salary and when your wujek (uncle) from America sent you a ten-er you were a gość, a real somebody and you could go to Pewex (shop selling western goods paid for in western currency only) and buy yourself some jeans.

It can also be the soap opera view of America that we broadcast all over the world. Dynasty and other American soap operas were a window into an American life that for most American people did not exist. (Do you mud-wrestle your romantic rival in designer duds with humongous shoulder pads? You do? Oops, my mistake.) Polish soap operas also depict America as the promise land. A common plot thread is that you go to America for 6 months and come back mega rich and successful. Ok other plots have been that you go to America and get killed (quite possible) or that you go to America, get tricked into working in the porn industry and come back gay (difficult to blame that on America) and then later go to America a second time and become rich and successful and not gay anymore (hey, it could happen). Now I know why everyone is so disappointed to find out that my family’s life in America is less than soap-opera like. For example, my mother in her early 60’s has only 6 vacation days this year and my father at the height of his career had 2-weeks which means 10 days. They don't take exotic vacations around the world. They don't even come to Poland. My parents don’t know how we live, what are home looks like. They have never met our children, their grandchildren, because it is pretty difficult to do it in 6 days. The worst part is that they think that having basically no down-time is normal. You can gather that I disagree, but I’ll save that for another post.

I have felt the Polish love of America first hand. When I was teaching at high school in a small town, one nice young man from the town hunted me down to make me his own. It didn’t matter to him if I liked him or he liked me or that we could not communicate. The most important thing was that he had to have an American girlfriend. I declined even though he was cute and had a car. Come on, that was something back in the day. Misiu was only cute.

I felt the love, well, kind of, in the local government office when I was applying to renew my stay in Poland. I asked if my application would be accepted for sure. The reply, “You are American. Of course, it will be accepted. It’s not like you are Bulgarian and you came here to work at the bazaar.” If you are Bulgarian, I apologize on her behalf. At least she didn’t say brothel.

I also experienced it at the American Embassy of all places. After fighting my way in (One person waiting in line grabbed me and asked what right I had to go ahead of the line. I flashed my passport and said, “This gives me the right!” I know, it was stupid but I couldn’t resist.), I was surprised to find everyone speaking Russian to me. When the third person in the American Embassy started speaking Russian to me, I almost shouted, “Do I look Russian to you?” whatever it means to look Russian. Then I noticed a distinct lack of Polish or American people for that matter (in the waiting area). The American Embassy in Warsaw must have served part of Ukraine as well then. While waiting in line at the kasa (cashier) to pay for my husband’s immigrant visa, I observed the treatment of the Ukrainian people ahead of me. Shouts from the lady at the kasa, “Please do not ask me! Can’t you read? Kasa does not give information! Can’t you read? Only one at a time! Can’t you read? Stay behind the yellow line!” And then it was my turn. I was afraid. I stayed behind the yellow line. I approached the window alone and I didn’t ask for any information. What did I get? This, “Oh hello. Welcome to the American Embassy in Poland. Is this your first time in Poland, sunshine? (Yes, she really said sunshine. The other people were not Polish either but she didn’t ask them about their visit.) Are you adopting?” I answered, “Something like that. It’s for my husband.” The cashier replied, “Oh ho ho (fake laugh) here you are. Please take this card to window XYZ at 3:00 (this was the information asked for by the people before me) and have a nice day.” Come on, she had to say it - it was the American Embassy…which by the way has American toilet paper in the bathroom. That’s when I realized that that kind of love is just as arbitrary as hate. It is meaningless.

The American Consul official that we met with at the Embassy treated everyone politely and fairly. I did find it odd that she could speak neither Polish nor Russian and Misiu was perturbed by a neon-flashing error in English, her own language. I didn’t care about any of that. I was just waiting for her to stamp our papers which would allow my husband to become a US resident. I was especially worried because the Embassy had been sitting on our application for 2 years. That’s how we came to stay in Poland. We didn’t have a choice. When the official realized that the fault had been on the side of the Embassy, she immediately stamped everything and said to me with a beaming smile, “Now you can go to America!” There was no doubt that she was feeling the love for her country. I answered that I could always go to America because I am American but of course she meant that Misiu and I could finally go together. Next came the hard part. “What should we do if we don’t want to go?” I asked. Her face couldn’t hide her surprise and I’m sure that somewhere in her Embassy rented apartment she had a calendar with the days until she returned to America numbered in red. “Well, you kind of have to. The visa documents must be presented in person by the two of you,” she explained. So we did go to America a month or two later and then came back to Poland where we had jobs and a mortgage and everybody loved us (Did I go too far with that part?).

I also felt the love or maybe it was the sympathy on September 11th. I’ve never had so many phone calls in my life expressing concern and sympathy and asking if I am alright. Physically, I was alright. I was at my parents-in-law’s in a small town in Poland. I was probably the safest American girl on the planet that day. It was another story for my Polish brother-in-law and his son, my nephew (it’s weird to call him that ‘cause we are the same age) who were stranded in Manhattan and couldn’t figure out how to get home above ground. They usually hopped on the subway. (That’s why I like trams. I can see where I am going.) When the phone lines were finally opened, we tried to set them off (separately) in the right direction home among the crowd of people. Can you believe that they were able to find each other in that crowd of hundreds of thousands of people? If physically alright, mentally, I was not alright. While glued to the TV fighting off waves of nausea, I expected to see the next attack on London, then Paris, then Berlin. When I realized that it was an attack just on America, I was in greater disbelief. You see, despite my university education and travels, I was still very naive. Somewhere deep inside me, I believed that not only Poland loved America, but that everyone loved America. So now that Poland doesn’t love us anymore, who have we got left?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Lottery

I need to win the lottery and I’ve even bought a ticket. Maybe we’ll win. Somebody’s got to. If my posts take a sharp turn in the direction of exotic vacation destinations or how to wallpaper a room in 200 złoty bank notes, then you’ll know that we’ve won.

I mentioned before that I like to ask my students what they would do with a million dollars. It’s not just my sick curiosity. It is a good way to practice the 2nd conditional. Travel around the world is the answer given by most. Actually it goes like this, “If I had a million dollars, I would travel around the world.” moneyI make my students answer using the complete structure. If I had a million dollars, I too would like to travel around the world, but that is something which requires a bit of planning. I started to think about what I would do immediately, today, if somebody handed me a million dollars. Misiu has reminded me that a million dollars isn’t what it used to be, but I need a nice sum to use as an example and come on, someone handing me 10 million dollars is just plain ridiculous.

The first thing I would do is buy new socks Actually, I think I would buy 365 pairs of new socks. I’m serious. I have a real sock crisis going on. I have only 3 socks (not 3 pairs) that do not have a current or recently mended hole in them. That’s a pretty serious problem because usually when you visit someone in Poland you take off your shoes at the door. I have to strategically plan my sock-wearing to make sure I have a hole-free pair for public viewing.

Next, I would hit the kids book section at empik (it’s a large book store chain also with music, films and games) and the toy store where I would buy Lizzie the bike we keep visiting that she wants.

For Misiu, I would buy an entire new wardrobe. I mean I would like a new wardrobe for myself too, but that would require more time and some serious help of a stylist ‘cause I don’t have any fashion sense at all. Have you heard about my socks? For Misiu, clothes are something you need to keep yourself from being naked. He hates shopping for himself and the last time he bought anything was when we were in the US about 5 years ago. In case you are wondering how long it takes to wear out your clothes, it is about the 5 year mark. Misiu has holes on holes and is starting to look like a scarecrow excluding one very nice Gap jacket that he just started to wear last season after discovering it in the back of the wardrobe with the price tag from America still on it. “I thought it was yours,” he said. Yes, ‘cause everyone knows at the Gap I wear XXL.

Next, I would buy Misiu a monocle. I imagine that every rich guy has one. Then I would drop him off at Biedronka (OK, we don’t live in an exclusive neighborhood, so he could just walk there…or to Żabka. We’ve got 3 of them.) where he could inspect the ingredients list and prices of their grocery items and ask loudly, “Excuse me, please. How much does this block of lard cost? I absolutely must have it.”

I also got to wondering what it feels like for people who have that level of wealth or success? Now that I have children, I think about wealth in a different way. I used to think that it would be cool to travel somewhere or to buy something. Now I think how fantastic it would be to secure my children financially, to afford a top-notch education for them and, of course, to spoil them a little bit. It would be great if my wealth were a direct result of my hard work and achievement. Having said that, if someone handed me a million, I’d take it for sure. I’d also like to show my parents that I can take care of myself and my family because I know that they worry about us, and I’d like to put them at ease. Not that I’m all deep like that. I’d also like to show off a bit to some people from my past who were less than supportive of me. Do wealthy people once they are wealthy lose that desire to rub it in? I have to find a chylinskawealthy person and ask them. It’s like when Agnieszka Chylinska, Polish rock vocalist, accepting her Fryderyk music award at the beginning of her career gave a big “fuck off” to the teachers who said she would never make it in the music industry, but in later years when receiving an award said “nie będzie żadnych fucków” ("there won’t be any 'fucks'") in her acceptance speech. Did she lose the desire to rub it in? I will have to ask her because we run in the same circles. I wish.

I would also like to have a Pretty Woman moment. You know, being snubbed in an exclusive shop for looking too poor to shop there and then coming back to show off your shopping. There’s a simple explanation as to why that has never happened to me. I am too poor to shop in exclusive shops. Once I was told by the shoppretty woman assistant at Coccodrillo (It’s a kids clothing store and not considered exclusive.) that I couldn’t come in with my shopping cart. It was one of those car ones and I had Lizzie in the “car” part and Rosie in the shopping cart seat part and a lot of shopping in the cart part. I explained that my shopping cart is not any bigger than our baby carriage that we usually come shopping with and that I can’t very well park my family outside. “Sorry, store policy,” she explains. “But it is a weekday morning, the shop is large and there are not any other shoppers in sight,” I reply. Unfazed, she answers, “ No. Store policy.” If I had had the time and more importantly the money, I would have spent a bundle at Reserved Kids and come back shaking my bags saying “Big mistake. Huge.” just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman sans the big hat and Richard Gere. (Notice my use of the 3rd conditional above.)

All joking aside, this is what I would really do. First, I would pay off all my debts and then check if I had any money left ;) If I had some left, I would arrange to install central heating in my house. I know, dream big. After that, I would book flights to America so that I could visit my family and introduce them to my children. (Before that I would have to get my children some US passports, but that part just takes all the fun out of my plan.) Next, I would get pregnant. I absolutely would and would continue to do so until the money or my womb gave way, whichever came first. If I were rich, I just might turn into the next reality TV mom with tons of kids and super pouty lips. Who could resist a huge bi-lingual family with a monocle-wearing Dad and a new-pair-of-socks-every-day-wearing Mom? Don’t laugh. You know that you’d tune in.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Autumn is coming!

How do I know? A few reasons…

We had to wear jackets in our yard for the first time since Spring. Luckily, we were prepared.

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We could only hunt out a handful of wild strawberries in our strawberry patch instead of the usual weekly bowlful. I recommend a wild strawberry patch for anyone with children. It’s is so much fun to see them happily stuffing their faces with juicy little berries.

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Our crazy wild rose bush behind the barn has fruit on it. This rose bush is taller than most trees and has managed to foil all my attempts at taming it.

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Our red apples have ripened (the yellow ones ripened last month) and it is cool enough to use the oven for apple pie without overheating the house.

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Lastly, we took our annual Autumn trip to the city of Bolesławiec to buy some Polish pottery.

Every year in Autumn, we go to the city of Bolesławiec in South-West Poland and stock up on our Polish pottery. Why is it that we go every Autumn? It is for a simple reason. The city has a very nice festival celebrating ceramics-making every year in August and every year we miss it and then say that we should go soon. Soon means September and Autumn.

I fell in love with this pottery the first time I came to Poland and saw it in a department store all stacked up making a beautiful display. Knowing how I am, I walked around the display in a huge arc not wanting to risk bumping into the dishes and having them crash down like in the old Mr. Whipple-Charmin toilet paper commercials. Later, after marrying and moving back to Poland I decided to start my own collection.

I have visited almost all the pottery shops in Bolesławiec but I have to say I am partial to the Factory Store on Kościuszki 11. That’s where I tend to buy the most and they are open on Sundays too. It is also very popular with German tourists (they were full up this time with a bus on the way to Wrocław) and also with Americans from the military base in Germany. Hey, if I could get the military shipping rate which I suppose is free, I would stock up, too. Sometimes those Americans can get a little rowdy in there so we prefer to speak Polish then and listen to the staff gossip about them after they’ve gone. Once, I tried to reach around an American shopper to take one small cup from the shelf. I was curtly ordered to drop it as she used her body to guard the shelf from further invasion. She was planning to buy everything and I mean everything from the shelves. “Sorry, but it’s my pattern,” she explained practically chewing my hand off.

Image010 (640x480)inside the shop - all the German tourists are standing in line to pay

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my girls who did not break anything, thank goodness

Check out their webpage in Polish, German or English. It is really interesting.

We purposely do not buy everything we need so that we have a reason to come back. We also use the tableware everyday so something always gets broken and that gives us another reason to go back. (I am not into having good dishes and everyday dishes. Whatever I have, I use and suffer the consequences.) Also purposely, we mix the patterns. We could never decide what to buy, so we just started buying a little of this and a little of that. I like the effect.

Here’s what I bought.

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Here’s what Lizzie bought ;)

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a closer look

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new things with an old purchase, my favorite coffee mug

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This pottery sucks the heat right out of your coffee and soon you are left with a warm cup and lukewarm coffee. Pre-heat your cup with hot water then pour it out and add your hot coffee.

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Another part of our annual Autumn pilgrimage to Bolesławiec is going to the restaurant Opałkowa Chata.

It’s a quaint family restaurant with traditional dishes. The dishes are very colorfully described in Polish in the menu, so much so that I have to check the much simpler English translation to figure out what to order.

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The kids of course didn’t want to eat anything after they discovered there is a playground around back but I managed to stuff some pierogi into them. They were good and tired for the car ride home.09062009(007) (640x480)

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What are your Autumn traditions?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Get the lead out!

Renovating an old farm house is something that sounds like fun when someone else describes it. Usually that someone else has an eye for style and deep pockets. We have neither.

Our house renovation is a never-ending story. We started from the roof, changing the original cement roof tiles circa 1935 to blachodachówka – brown sheet metal which mimics the look of tiles. Some people think that this is a blasphemy and if you are a renovation purist, you will not like my home. I have antique next to IKEA and I don’t give a shyte. When we did the roof, we also needed to replace and rebuild the top meter and a half of the chimney. The workers also cleaned 09052009(020) (640x480)out the chimney. Our next door neighbors got back an iron frying pan and a set of grocery weights that they had lost about 15 years before. They were in our chimney. Don’t ask. We also have a przybudówka (a porch addition) that needs to be torn down and rebuilt. For now, I’ve just decorated it (like lipstick on a pig) with a wind chime that my mother gave me. It is just like the ones my mother has at home so every time it chimes I think of her and home (sniff, sniff). We decided to install wooden windows but now I think plastic might have been a better idea. After that, we did rozpierducha totalna ;) (complete gutting) and removed all the plaster on the walls and removed the floor/ceiling exposing the beams. We put wooden planks upstairs and built an open space room, a bedroom, a bathroom and an open attic/loft. Downstairs, we put tiles in all rooms. The tiles are dirt colored which is quite handy with 2 kids. Each room has 2 doors so you can go around our downstairs in a 09052009(012) (640x480)circle from room to room. We have all the original doors except the bathroom door (here on the left) which we had made because there was not a bathroom before. We still have the original stairs and we are debating to keep them or change them. I wanted finished concrete stairs, kind of industrial looking but not one single ekipa (work crew) will make them for us. “09052009(013) (640x480)People don’t make stairs like that. You’ll never sell your house.” I hate that kind of unsolicited advice. It was the same thing when we wanted to put the bathroom upstairs next to the bedroom. Everyone advised us to make a przybudówka downstairs. You can make one up to 20 square meters without a building permit if you are adding a bathroom (the first one) to your house. Our neighbor politely inquired if it wasn’t going to be burdensome traipsing upstairs and tracking in mud when I am working in the field in my Wellington boots. I wanted to ask when have I ever been known to work in the fields but instead I replied that in that case I would do my business behind the barn or take off my Wellies first.

Our house renovation is at a standstill. We are at the stage of just thinking about what to do next, not in any “designer’s” kind of a way, more in a “we’ve run out of money but when we get some what are we going to do next” kind of a way. We have to do something about our old doors. I really like that we have old doors. They make a nice contrast against the fresh walls and exposed beams.

09052009(001) (640x480)kitchen door09052009 (640x480)living room door

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living room door (other side)

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playroom door

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playroom door frame after sanding

The one problem is that paint is in very bad condition. I even like that look but in some places it is peeling off. My plan was either to scrape off the worst places and paint a clear sealant over it or to sand down everything and then wax them. As I scoured the internet looking for info about paint removal, I noticed a lot of warnings about lead in old paint. I had some students in the US who were affected by lead poisoning as children so I really started to get scared. I found some information that lead paint was banned in Europe for home use in 1930 and my house was built in 1935 but that is no guarantee. I didn’t want to sand the doors and door frames down making potentially toxic dust. I also didn’t want to scrape off the paint and put it in the regular garbage. I began searching for a laboratory who could test the paint chips. Thanks to the recommendation of some fellow English teachers on the Gazeta Wyborcza forum, I was able to contact a laboratory to test the paint for 146 złoty. If you are one of those teachers, thank you again. We are waiting for the results.

pictures from upstairs

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