Saturday, February 27, 2010
What can I say?
I’m a friendly person.
Security guards remember me, too. I guess not too many American ladies come through their offices too often.
In Poland, I have noticed that security guards usually come in 2 varieties, very young men and women probably at their first job and older men and women, probably at an after-retirement job to earn a bit more money for the monthly budget.
I am especially liked by this second variety. Anyhow, I enjoy the jokes such as “If I had had an English teacher like you…” There was one very friendly security guard who enjoyed kissing my hand, so much so that he had to be asked by management to stop. I remember that in one bank I had lessons with one gentleman 5 days a week for a year and then 3 days a week for another year. That’s a lot of lessons. It was early in the morning so I got to meet the night shift security guard at the end of his shift. I’m sure that he was very tired, but he always greeted me warmly. Imagine my pleasant surprise about 5 years later when I showed up to another company and found the same security guard at the front desk and he remembered me and he was happy to see me “Kogo ja tutaj widzę”, he said. It was nice.
I am always sure to “meldować się” (to register) with the security guards as I know this is very important in Polish office buildings. I also subject myself to whatever security precautions are necessary such as checking my bag on the way out or even checking my person as in one bus factory rife with theft. It was amusing to listen to the 2 young security guards arguing between themselves who was going to explain to me in English that I have to open not only my bag but also my jacket before I could leave. I let them sort it out for a while and then I opened my jacket and gave them a wink.
At the local television station, even registering with the security guard didn’t get me in sometimes. Apparently my ID card identified me as a man so they didn’t want to let me in or give me the keys, 3 keys in fact that I needed for one room, my classroom, because my classroom was third in a series of rooms within a room. I never understood why each of the rooms within a room had to be locked. Why not just lock the outside one? Anyhow, there was nothing more than a table and chairs in these rooms. What was there to steal?
There is also the variety of security guard who does not remember me at all…despite the fact that I have been coming to the same company, on the same day of the week, at the same time, driving the same car, and parking in the same spot for years. One such security guard, his face well-known to me after 3 years, ran out of the building to inform me that this parking spot was for employees only (I am lucky because I have good justification to park in employees only spots and in guest only spots). I said that I was an employee, but he responded that he did not remember me and asked in what sense I was an employee there. I said in the sense that I do work and once a month they pay for me it. He couldn’t argue with that and let me off the hook.
In one company my students were notoriously late, and my classroom was right next to the security guards’ “office”. They often asked me to explain different things to them in English usually involving room numbers and keys, signing in and out, etc. When they were really bored, they invited me to their room, and we checked how far the security cameras could see. We discovered we could recognize faces of people entering the sex shop down the street. We also checked out the cameras located outside the restrooms on each floor. We discovered that Irish men often do a bit of….adjusting….even after exiting the restroom. Polish men do not. Anyhow, I hope they all washed their hands. After that, I was always aware that no matter where I was in the building, a camera could be on me.
In one company, the big fish upstairs got a once a year amount of money that they could spend on “trainings” such as English lessons or other kinds of courses. Some people spent the money on Russian lessons, tennis lessons, MBA courses. My student spent his budget of money on English (yeah me!) and massages (nothing to do with me). His masseur often came for the massage to the office in the evening directly after our lesson. Once as I was packing up my stuff and the masseur was setting up his table, the security guard from downstairs popped his head in just to remind my student that there were cameras not only in the secretary’s area but also in his private office. It can be fun to spy, but sometimes you can see more than you bargained for.
I imagine security detail can sometimes be boring and you could look for any kind of entertainment. Once, I was the one providing that entertainment for a bank security guard. Somehow, I got myself locked in the bank after hours. Ok, not somehow, I know exactly how it happened. I had individual lessons in the bank headquarters back office. The lessons, one hour each, started at 4:00 pm and ended at 9:00 pm. Sometimes, one or two students couldn’t attend due to meetings, etc. so they rearranged the order of students, sent me an sms/text message that they’d be late, or canceled altogether. To enter or exit the back office before 5 pm, no security card was needed. After 5 pm was a different story. On this particular day, I had forgotten my mobile phone at home. Student number 1 (of 5) showed up, but Student 2 did not so I waited one hour alone, reading a book. Student 3 showed up but student 4 did not. I couldn’t leave because Student 5 could show up, so I tucked into my book. At 9:00, I decided it was safe to leave (sometimes my students arrived 5 minutes before the end of the lesson expecting me to be waiting so I didn’t leave earlier). I packed up my things and headed to the main door to the stairway. Locked, of course. I began looking for some stray office workers to let me out. No one. Some stray cleaning staff. No one.
What could I do? I contemplated opening the window in my classroom and shouting to someone to ask the security guard downstairs to let me out, but I didn’t want to look like an ass. The office was in the Market Square so a lot of people would hear me and I was pretty high up in the building. I’d have to shout pretty loud and in Polish.
I couldn’t call anyone because I didn’t have my phone. There was a phone in my classroom, but I didn’t know any numbers by heart. That’s what my cell was for. I figured that in about another hour when I didn’t come home, Misiu would come looking for me. At least I had my book. Unfortunately, like everything in Polish office buildings, the bathrooms were locked.
Ok, this is a bank. There are cameras everywhere. Somebody has to be watching me, I thought. I decided to dance in the hall in front of the cameras and wait. Nothing. I decided to dance in front of the cameras and down the hall as I checked each door, trying to find an open one. Nothing. I returned to my classroom and began rummaging around in the desk there. Eureka! A telephone book! I found the number for the main office and hoped it would ring the security desk downstairs. But how to call from this phone? The number doesn’t work. 0 and the number doesn’t work. 1 and the number doesn’t work and so on and so on. Finally, 9 and the number worked. “Bank blah, blah, blah. Słucham,” a very bored male voice answered. “Is this the office in Rynek,” I ask. “Yes,” he answered and as I started my explanation he said “I’m on my way up.” He knew who I was because he had been watching me on his monitor. I half expected him to compliment my dancing, but he just let me out with a smile in his eyes. At least he had been entertained. Glad to be of service.
Security guards are the most important people in the office (well, next to the cleaning ladies) and the most important of all security guards would be the weekend security guard. To get into an office building on the weekends, you practically have to give blood. Who are you? Where are you going? For how long? And of course why? English lessons. Didn’t you hear my accent? No, why on Saturday? I forgot to mention that most of these questions are not required for any paperwork or any security protocol. They are only to satisfy the curiosity of a bored out of his mind security guard.
What do bored security guards do? From my experience, besides spying on people in the building, they also actually secure the building. I mean they walk around, checking that the doors are locked or what’s going on in the parking lot. There are also the guards who are supposed to stay put, to sit at their desk or in their budka and secure the building from a seated position. In my experience, they often read the newspaper, do crossword puzzles, listen to the radio and drink coffee.
So, one Saturday morning as I approached the security booth in one of the City’s office building, I practiced my speech in my head. Security guards don’t usually speak English (but sometimes they do!). Dzień dobry. Jestem Pani od angielskiego….. I approached the booth and rattled off my speech glancing at the clock and noticing that I was almost late for my lesson. From the booth, no response. I leaned down and said my speech a little louder and closer to the “window”. Nothing. I tapped and wrapped, at first lightly on the glass and then louder and louder with no response. I said firmly '’Proszę Pana” and then screamed at the top of my lungs “Proszęęęęęęęęęęę Panaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Nothing.
Oh shit! I ran as fast as I could to the 3rd floor, burst in the office door and ran to the kitchen where I could hear my student already making coffee for us. “R, R, Robert,” I barely got out his name as I was out of breath from my sprint up the stairs. “What?” he asked in shock. “Your security guard is dead!” I shouted. “Wait here,” he ordered looking all managerial and took off out the door and down the stairs. I waited nervously, wringing my hands and pacing back and forth in the kitchen thinking, “Shit, why do these things always happen to me?” Actually, nothing like that had ever happened to me and technically this was not even happening to me as I was not the dead one, just the poor, old, kind gentleman responsible for handing out the keys to English teachers on Saturday mornings.
After a few minutes, I heard the click of the door and saw my student slowly walking towards the kitchen. He was not in any hurry to reach me, but why should he be? It’s not like the security guard was going to get any more (or any less) dead if he hurried. He approached me, took a breath and I braced myself for confirmation of the bad news. He said with a sigh, “Chris, the security guard is not dead. He’s old, about 70 and wears a hearing aid. He’s not dead. He was asleep and didn’t hear you.”
I forgot to mention that the most common thing that bored security guards do is sleep.
Check out this post by Sebastian po polsku on the same topic. Thanks for the inspiration.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Lent (or as we used to call it - '”the countdown to Easter”) begins with Ash Wednesday, also an event I have not been present for since Catholic school. It’s not like it required any special exertion on my part back then. We had to go to mass everyday at 7:00 a.m. anyhow, so I was already there in the church. What was another trip down the aisle?
In my hometown parish, the priest always made a cross on our foreheads with his thumb, a big ashy cross. We had a big, dirty badge of honor to wear all day, proof of how pious we were (or how pious you were not, if you didn’t have one). Well, not all day, we were kids and after about 2 or 3 hours of school the cross migrated to other parts of our face, onto our hands and all over our school papers. In Poland, priests tend to make the cross more on top of the head or just sprinkle some ashes in your hair. How, I wonder, can you show off the fact that you’ve been to church with practically no evidence to show for it?
Later that day at school, we had to decide what we would give up for Lent. Of course, some of us tried to be funny and said that we were giving up homework or broccoli. Others were very ambitious declaring to give up television and chocolate and a favorite Barbie and video games. I usually gave up chocolate knowing that on Easter, the chocolate in my Easter basket would taste that much sweeter.
After we all had decided what to give up, our teacher made a list of our names on the side of the chalkboard. She went around the room and asked each one of us what we had decided for sure and then wrote our final decision, what we were giving up for Lent, on the board next to our name. Now everybody knew, and the spying could begin.
Little Johnny had given up sweets for Lent. There it was written on the chalkboard in black and white, but we saw him drinking chocolate milk at lunchtime. Chocolate milk surely must be considered a sweet. What should be done? Report it to the teacher, of course. And little Johnny was called to the front of the classroom. The interrogation could begin.
Teacher: What did you give up for Lent, Johnny?
Johnny: Sweets, ma’am.
T: And whose decision was it to give up sweets for Lent, Johnny?
J: It was mine, ma’am.
T: Do you have something you want to tell us, Johnny?
Of course, he didn’t want to tell us, but most kids usually broke under the pressure and confessed. If not, the interrogation got cranked up a notch.
T: Not eating sweets for Lent…that’s a difficult thing to do, isn’t it, Johnny?
J: Yes, ma’am. I really like sweets.
T: Yes, and Lent is so long and the sweets are so good. You must be a very brave boy, Johnny, to give up something you like so much Johnny.
Johnny is silent, not knowing where the teacher is leading. He senses a trap.
T: I’m sure Jesus would have liked to have the choice to give up sweets, but he didn’t, Johnny. Jesus gave up his life! His life for YOU, Johnny, and for all the rest of us and you cannot even give up sweets for a couple of weeks! His life, Johnny, his life!
No child could stand up to that argument and it usually ending with little Johnny crying, apologizing profusely, promising not to eat sweets, watch television or play video games ever again. Ah, the fond memories of Catholic school.
Giving up sweets is a small sacrifice compared to Jesus giving up of his life, but at least the motive is pure. I recently read an article about Japanese ladies who give up food in order to buy designer label goods. Giving up food to afford designer labels? How much did they eat?
I also read an article which stated that the more children you have, the fewer teeth you have on average. What does that have to do with anything? Connection #1 - that gum bleeding and gum disease is often hastened during pregnancy sometimes causing even healthy teeth to fall out and Connection #2 - that parents with a tight budget forgo dental visits (especially moms) in order to provide something for their children. I have to cop to that one and add ditto for the doctor and the hairdresser.
I have also had students who forgo one meal everyday in order to spend money on English lessons. What can I say to that? Hmmmm…
Money well spent!
PS1 Lent in Polish is called Wielki Post –the Great Fast.
PS2 And it goes to show that there is clip art for every occasion.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
My medical exam to work as a teacher in the US looked a little bit different than the one to work in Poland – not better, not worse, just different.
First, I had to show up to a municipal building (if I remember correctly) on a Saturday with all necessary paperwork. I could not get the physical done by my own physician which was problematic as I did not live in Baltimore yet. Anyway, I showed up early in the morning with at least 150 other people who were to be employed by the city of Baltimore and proceeded to wait and wait and wait. What? You have to wait for stuff in America?!? Yes, you do. Did I burst your bubble? ;)
Finally, it was my turn to see the doctor. Maybe he was a good doctor or maybe not. It was hard to tell because the physical exam didn’t involve much physicality. The doctor didn’t really even look at me, let alone put his hands on me. I could have had leprosy for all he noticed. The doctor asked me to turn myself around a few times and I twirled accordingly as if we were 16 year old girls and he was checking out the prom dress I was trying on. Then he asked me to turn my back to him and he whispered, “Can you hear me?” to which I whispered back, “Yes, I can”. Believe me, the ability to hear whispering was not a skill most needed to work in the Baltimore City School District. The doctor scribbled and stamped something on my papers and instructed me to go for my urine test. I wandered around until I found the line for the urine test, the very long line. I found the last person in line and like everyone else in line I sat down on the floor. I guess we were in for a wait. All the better to produce some more urine, I supposed.
By groups of 6 the ladies were corralled into the bathroom by a large and gruff-looking lady who had two other large and gruff- looking ladies to help her. I couldn’t blame them for their gruffness. They were spending their Saturday processing urine samples. When it was finally my turn along with 5 other ladies, I noticed we were going to do this “drug test” style, in full view of witnesses to prevent any urine-tampering. This urine test, unlike the one in Poland, was not to check if we, candidates for employment, were healthy. It was to check if we were clean. As I am, was and always have been squeaky clean, I didn’t really mind. I mean I had already given a set of fingerprints, what was a little urine among friends?
We filled out our labels, stuck them to the containers we had been given and headed for our stalls. We were instructed to fill our containers at least to the halfway point and not to cap them until they had been checked. Checked for what, I didn’t ask. Doors opened, we did our business and waited. The head gruff lady held my urine up to the light, looked at me disappointingly, threw my urine back into the toilet bowl and declared, “That’s not enough.” I exclaimed, “Well, it’s not like I’ve got more!” To which she laughed and directed me to the nearest soda machine.
I bought a Coke or two and drank and drank and drank. I drank so much that I could no longer wait at the end of the line and begged someone from the first group to let me go ahead. Once inside the bathroom, I was grateful to receive my container and proud to hand it over, filled to the brim. The gruff-looking lady had a laugh saying it was the clearest urine she had ever seen and instructed me to put the cap on. Ahhh, it was done and I could go home. I had a long drive ahead of me, made even longer by all the potty pit stops on the way.
PS In the company where my mother works, all employees are subjected to random urine drug tests. All names of all employees are in the potential pool of people to be tested at all times. I mean passing a previous test does not exempt you from the random drawing for the next one. My mother, quite possibly the cleanest lady on the planet, wouldn’t even eat poppy seed cake at Christmas for fear it could show up in her urine.
What happens in my mother’s company if you fail the urine drug test? You get a blood drug test. And if you fail that? Easy, you are fired. So, what to do in my mother’s company if you are less than clean and you are called up randomly for a drug test? That’s easy, you quit before you get fired. My mother says that record “quitting” days are on Mondays after big weekend football game parties.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
When I came to Poland, he was living with his girlfriend, his parents stockpiling vodka for their future (yet unplanned) wedding, but by Easter he was with me and not with her...
...and it had nothing to do with me.
I mean, that he was with me, had everything to do with me, but that he was not with her had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her…
I know that now...
...and I think she does too.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
I learned that the school did not register me as an employee, so I had no right to go to the doctor or to get L4 (sick leave). Every “sick day” was deducted from my already meager pay.
I learned that a thermometer handed to you from the table by a doctor should go under your armpit and not in your mouth.
I learned treatment of a bladder infection po polsku is warm underwear and not antibiotics.
I learned that at the pharmacy all medicine (OTC and prescription) and anything else you want to buy is behind the counter and has to be given to you by the pharmacist.
I learned from a friend that vodka kills germs ;)
I learned that when you get a physical exam you should bring your urine with you.
Ok, that one requires a bit more explanation.
To work as a teacher (anywhere I guess, in the US and in Poland) you have to undergo a medical exam every so many years. My school figured out that I, too, should undergo the same tests after I had already been working there a couple of months. Knowing that it was not something I could manage myself, the principal (the one married to the student he got pregnant) asked Misiu to take me. Not the most obvious choice, but the female English teacher who had been responsible for me was on a 2 or 3 month sick leave. Misiu explained that he’d take me to the doctor for a blood test, a urine test and a chest x-ray. The chest x-ray was supposed to check for TB. I had brought my latest TB test results with me just in case (we need them to student-teach in the US), thus, getting myself out out of a quite unnecessary dose of radiation.
Misiu picked me up from PZU as planned (in case you are just joining us, I lived at PZU) and walked with me to the doctor’s. When we arrived, I saw that there was a long line of people waiting to talk to the lady in the window, the kind of window like in the post office where you have to bend down so the lady can hear you. I supposed she was the receptionist. Actually it was a lab, not a doctor’s office.
We went to the end of the line and waited. Finally, it was our turn and Misiu explained why we were there. Misiu turned to me and asked, “Where’s your urine?” How rude, I thought. Well, I don’t know where you keep your urine in Poland, but mine is in my bladder. “Uh, inside me. Why?” I answered. “You have to bring it with you,” Misiu explained. I explained that in my lab in the US, they give you a container so you can give a “fresh” sample, so to speak. After some explanation, the nurse handed me a container, “organized” me a container would be a better description, and directed me to the WC.
I fought my way past the disgruntled folks waiting in line until I found the WC. I got in there, locked the door, took my pants down and then looked at the container. It was a small glass jar with a cork top, the opening of which had the diameter of about 1/2 centimeter. It looked like it should hold magic potion not urine samples. I am a whole lot of talented, but even I didn’t attempt to fill it. I pulled up my pants and reported back to the nurse that my urine sample was a no-go. That’s when I noticed the other people waiting in line with their samples in little jars, jars like from jam or some other food product. There was even one ambitious young man who had filled a pretty big pickle jar. It was so big it didn’t fit through the opening in the receptionist’s window and she had to come out to retrieve it. The nurse advised me to buy some jam in a jar, empty it, clean and boil the jar and lid and deliver it full of urine, my urine, back to her.
After my blood test, Misiu and I walked to the store, bought some mustard, returned to PZU, emptied the mustard, and washed and boiled the jar. I did my business, labeled the jar and Misiu took it back to the lab for me which then I took as a small glimmer of affection for me, but was probably just his wanting to get away from me for the rest of the day.
PS We have urine sample containers now in Poland widely available at every pharmacy for about 1.50 PLN.
PS2 To “organize” something czyli organizować means to arrange something. In this case, it means to arrange something with a little difficulty.
Friday, February 19, 2010
My vampire books are officially ruined. It’s a shame really. They were soooo good. That is saying something coming from someone who has somehow avoided all vampire literature in the past and pretty much anything that can be classified as popular literature as well. Forgive me, it is not by choice, but due to limited access. I live in a foreign country in which the local bookshop apparently thinks English-speaking people read only John Grisham and Jeremy Clarkson books.
They were 4 beautifully new books. I read the first one, borrowed, as a total skeptic. Then, I patiently awaited the arrival of the next three books, ordered from Empik. I was excited to find that the books were in and then disappointed that the second book hadn’t arrived yet, just the third and fourth. Finally, they had all arrived. And now they are ruined.
I guess I should consider myself lucky that I made it all the way to the 4th book before the ruining took place. It’s not that anyone told me what happened before I had a chance to read them, although a few people have tried to spoil the surprise. It’s not that I couldn’t resist the temptation to find out what was coming next, and I read the last chapter for answers. Never! I enjoy the suspense. It’s not that I watched the first movie and was disappointed by the film version. The film was pretty good. No, it is none of that.
It is this, some knowledge that I now possess which has ruined the quite serious vision in my imagination of a vampire and werewolf world intertwined with the human world. It is this, that in the vampire hierarchy, in the royalty of vampires, that one of the most frightening of the vampire kind existing in my imagination as a horrifying, terrifying yet at the same time beautiful and intriguing creature will be portrayed in the film version by Tony Blair. Ok, not the real Tony Blair, but the actor who played Tony Blair in The Queen, who will forever be, in my mind, Tony Blair plus a little bit of David Frost from Nixon/Frost mixed in, but still, that doesn’t help. Baaaaaaah!!!!
To be fair to the actor Michael Sheen, I’m sure that he does a lovely job as a vampire in the film. That’s not the point. I’m not upset that he has been cast in the role of vampire in the film. I’m upset that the knowledge of his being cast in that role has now cemented the image of him as Tony Blair in my imagination as I am reading my books. I don’t see in my mind the actor Michael Sheen as the thrillingly frightening vampire. I see Michael Sheen as Tony Blair-ula, the Prime Minister vampire. And now that the image is there, I cannot get it out. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Rosie’s little voice and her sweet, little sentences are so cute. It’s sometimes very difficult to figure out what she’s trying to say. Before we try to decipher her code, we must first figure out what language she is using. That’s not so easy as she mixes her languages, her endings, her persons (you/me).
When we give her something, we usually say, “This is for you.”
When she gives us something, she usually says, “For you.”
When she doesn’t want something we have given her, she says, “Nie for you.” (“not for you” meaning in fact “not for me”)
Except when she says “for you” it comes out more like, um, well, “who you”.
That’s our vulgar little Rosie.
PS If you don’t know Polish, “who you” sounds like a pretty bad word in Polish :)
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I remember my 1st Valentine’s Day in Poland more than 10 years ago. I was surprised to find out that St. Valentine’s Day was new to Poland at that time especially considering that it is a saint’s day and Poland being Catholic and all. Of course, the modern Valentine’s day tradition doesn’t have much to do with saints or religion or anything like that. It has more to do with romance and commercialism, but so what? A little romance and commercialism never hurt anyone.
On my very first Valentine’s day in Poland, I noticed that a few students exchanged cards and some kids even asked what we do in America for Valentine’s Day. If I had thought about it beforehand, I could have made a Valentine’s Day lesson out of it, but I hadn’t. I was very pleased that I received a Valentine’s card from Misiu. Misiu had received quite a few cards, from students, the female kind. One girl was even so brave as to inscribe her card with the sentiment “Damn, I wish I was your lover”. Whatever happened to the innocent “Be mine”?
Now in Poland, Valentine’s Day is pretty much a standard like it is in America. People buy each other cards, chocolates, flowers and go out to the movies or the theater or to dinner. I remember the last Valentine’s Day that we went out, and I mean out-out, not Carrefour-out. We went to the movies to see a Polish romantic comedy. It was before our children were born and before I was even pregnant (pregnant women can have trouble sitting out a 2-hour movie without using the bathroom), so we could relax and do whatever we wanted.
We decided to go to an early matinee. On the up side, it meant we probably wouldn’t have to reserve our seats. (In Poland the seats in the movies are numbered like on an airplane, and you are able not only to buy your tickets in advance but also to reserve the exact seats that you want.) On the downside, it meant that we were surrounded by the teen couples who were too young to go out on “a date” later in the evening. The movie, Nigdy w życiu!, an adaptation of the popular book written by Katarzyna Grochola, was pleasant enough. I was happy that I could understand what was going on. I haven’t read the book (not that I haven’t tried, but it is too difficult for me), but the film follows a pretty predictable romantic comedy storyline. Ok, not as predicable as Lejdis (when I saw the first scene I knew pretty much what the last scene would be and wondered what papież was doing there anyhow), but still following the expected formula.
How romantic, sitting with my Misiu in a dark theater watching a romantic comedy on Valentine’s Day. As the storyline unfolded and the main love interests got closer and closer, I noticed a lot of teenage boys and girls snuggle up to one another. I snuggled up to my Misiu and as the kissing couple on the screen rolled from the sofa to the floor, my Misiu commented, “Fajna podłoga”. Yes, he did. He commented on how nice the floor was, loud enough that the couple in front of us gave a chuckle. To be fair, we were in the middle of choosing flooring for our house, but still. It was an aberration though because he really is a romantic guy. Really.
For this Valentine’s Day, we already made a card for our neighbor and put it in her mailbox.
Here’s our inspiration - I mean the place from where we shamelessly copied the idea.
Our girls received Winnie the Poo Valentine’s cards from the neighbor in our mailbox box, too. We are also taking French pastries to Pre-school tomorrow.
We made enough for ourselves, too.
If you think that is good, you should see what I have in store for my husband for later :)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I would like to thank Stardust for awarding my blog with the Kreativ Blogger Award. This award isn’t so much of an award in the traditional sense as it is a recognition that someone really likes your blog and believes in what you are doing. It is a kind of blogger “Good Job” pat on the back. And the award is so pretty.
I appreciate the award and the support.
I am a Lucky Duck.
Banana bread and carrot cake are two desserts I remember from my childhood in America. They are so good that I decided to make both of them yesterday. Clearly, we do not follow Lent. Don’t worry. I’ve kept up my pseudo-Catholic façade by frying up a big batch of cod- nice and stinky for the whole klatka to smell. C’mon, I had to prepare provisions for the weekend ‘cause my vampire books finally came in at Empik. Yeah!
Anyhow, back to the cake. I made them as a layer cake which prompted Lizzie to ask whose birthday it was. I sometimes make them in a loaf pan or as muffins as well, without any frosting. Both banana bread and carrot cake are kinds of quick bread. They are moister and heavier than regular cakes. You can add honey, raisins, dates, almost anything that you want.
Tort in Polish can be translated as simply torte or as layer cake (or layered cake). The act of cutting the cake into layers is to tort the cake. I am not adept at such things as torting cakes so instead I baked my cakes as 4 shallow cakes in round spring form pans. It is best to allow the cake time to set after frosting. The layers stay together better. This cake was sliced much too early thanks to my little ones hungry bellies and the layers are net yet stuck together very well.
If you’d like a taste of America, here are my recipes:
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups of grated carrots
1 grated apple
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (not vanilla oil) or replace some of the sugar with vanilla sugar.
1. Heat oven to 180° C. Butter baking pan(s) and lightly dust with flour. You can line the bottom with baking paper.
2. Mix all dry ingredients (except sugar) in a bowl (flour, soda, powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg)
3. With an electric mixer, mix sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla.
4. Combine the dry and wet mixtures and then add the carrots, apple and nuts and raisins (optional).
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 20 minutes for a shallow cake to up to 60 minutes for a loaf.
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar (can be white or brown or 1/2 each)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (not vanilla oil) – optional
1 tablespoon honey – optional
3 ripe bananas, mashed (a little more than a cup)
1. Heat oven to 180° C. Butter baking pan(s) and lightly dust with flour. You can line the bottom with baking paper.
2. Mix together dry ingredients except sugar (flour, soda, cinnamon, salt)
3. Beat together sugar, eggs and oil (and optional honey and vanilla)
4. Add bananas and nuts.
5. Mix the wet and dry mixtures together.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 20 minutes for a shallow cake to up to 60 minutes for a loaf.
2 packages of Philadelphia cream cheese or any other serek śmietankowy (one package in Poland is 125 grams)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (homemade) or 1/2 cup sugar including 1/2 package vanilla sugar
1/2 cup or more powdered sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
Beat all the ingredients together. If too thin, add more sugar. This frosting and the frosted cake will need to be refrigerated.
True to form, Lizzie after receiving her piece of cake and a fork switched to a spoon, scraped off all the frosting and left the cake.
I love vanilla and use it in practically everything I bake. Most of my cake recipes are from America and they call for vanilla extract. In Poland, recipes more often call for a vanilla flavoring which is in a concentrated oil. In addition, many of my Polish cake recipes call for vanilla sugar which you can buy or make.
Here’s how you can make vanilla extract and vanilla sugar yourself.
Vanilla extract is nothing more than vanilla and alcohol. Take one (or more) vanilla bean pods (about 7-10 zloty per bean pod), split it down the middle and place it in a bottle of vodka. Allow it to sit for a few weeks and shake the bottle every couple of days. Soon you will have dark brown, natural vanilla extract to use in your cake recipes. (The alcohol evaporates during the baking process.)
As you can see it was time for me to start another bottle of extract. I usually use about one small shot glass of vanilla (vodka) extract per cake. That’s about 1 tablespoon. One bottle of vanilla vodka extract is enough for a lot of cakes. Well, at least it should be enough, unless you subscribe to the philosophy of Chris’s School of Baking which is “One for me. One for the cake.” Maybe that’s why I enjoy baking so much. Hiccup!
Vanilla sugar is pretty much the same - a vanilla bean pod or two split down the middle and closed in a jar of sugar. Wait a few weeks, shake from time to time, and there you have it. The vanilla bean pod is potent enough that you can even use it after removing the beans for another recipe.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Poradnik: How to eat a Polish doughnut
A Polish doughnut called pączek is what we would call in America a filled doughnut. It should be large and round, about the the size of your fist with a kind of domed top. The traditional filling should be rose jam, although you can get it with pudding, cream or adwokat. The doughnut should be glazed (glaze: lukier, glazed: lukrowane, z lukrem) and sometimes is drizzled with chocolate (z polewą) or dusted with powdered sugar. I don’t really like glazed doughnuts or rose jam for that matter, but I make an exception every year on FAT THURSDAY (Tłusty Czwartek). Fat Thursday is the last day to stuff yourself before the start of Lent and what better way to do it than with doughnuts.
My mother-in-law makes very good doughnuts without any glaze or sugar on top – just the way that we like them. When I say we, I mean my m-i-l and I. The kids love the glaze and if you leave your doughnut unattended, you will soon find that it has been de-glazed (odlukrowane) for you by some very precise little tongues. The same little glaze-covered faces will innocently declare, “to nie ja” when asked what happened to your doughnut. (it wasn’t me)
I have never dared to make doughnuts at home. Doughnuts are deep fried, and I don’t really know how to do it. The key is to cook them at the right temperature for the right length of time so that they are brown on the outside and cooked on the inside. Babcia Ewa used to make doughnuts for the church, and bless her heart, they were almost black on the outside and raw on the inside.
When you bite into a Polish pączek it should conform to your bite but then spring back to its original size and shape, sans your bite of course. Glaze will stick to your fingers and quite possibly your lips and chin. Some rose jam, best when not too sweet, may also drip out. On Fat Thursday, you have special dispensation to lick the glaze and jam off your fingers and smack your lips. You also have dispensation to eat like a glutton even boasting how many doughnuts you have consumed like a college boy bragging about how many chicks (laski) he has scored. TV reporters will do segments on the news about doughnuts and how many calories they have, but nobody really cares because they are so good and it’s only once a year.
Today at my first lesson, the secretary asked me, “Do you count calories?” I asked her if I looked like someone who counts calories which is in fact a trick question because however you answer, it can be construed as an insult. “Well,” she continued, “I don’t want to make a faux pas, but I’d like to bring you a doughnut.” I agreed with a big “thank you” and now I’d like to tell you the absolute best way to eat a doughnut. The absolute best way to eat a doughnut is on a plate with a cup of coffee delivered to you by a pretty lady while you are getting paid to eat it. Smacznego!
The inspiration for today’s post is this drawing by Andrzej Mleczko. I bought a copy of it and intend to hang it in the kitchen of my house. http://mleczko.interia.pl/
Polish Roll (Recipe)
1. We buy a big roll.
2. We inhale it as fucking fast as we can so nobody can take it from us.
PS I wanted to translate “adwokat”, but I couldn’t find the proper translation. It is a kind of egg cream alcohol and in doughnuts it is a pudding with that flavor. I thought that maybe I’d have better luck with “pączek z adwokatem” but instead Google translator gave me “bud with an attorney”. (pączek is also bud like flower bud and adwokat is also lawyer) Hee, hee.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Polish teachers’ lounge in my experience is a very relaxing place especially if you don’t speak Polish. I mean it becomes a relaxing place if you can get over the fact that everyone around you is speaking a language that you don’t understand and some vital information could be passed on, with you none the wiser. Vital information being that the bathroom on the ground floor is out of order and shouldn’t be used or perhaps that November 1st is a national holiday and there will be no classes that day. Purely hypothetical examples of course ;)
When you don’t understand a language you often get the feeling that people around you are arguing - that every raised voice, every gesture is a sign of rage waiting to explode. Except in the teachers’ lounge of my Polish school where you couldn’t get a rise out of anybody for any reason except maybe if the coffee had run out.
I usually never asked what the teachers were talking about. Not that I didn’t care, but usually as soon as they noticed that the conversation was being delivered to me in English, they just stopped talking. Not that the conversations were anything out of the ordinary. I guess they were just self-conscious. So everyday I sat in the teachers’ lounge preparing my lessons without anyone bothering me (teachers out there, be jealous!) with the soothing sound of the Polish language buzzing around me.
Until one particular day, I noticed that the teachers were involved in an especially heated discussion. After a few moments of observation, curiosity got the better of me, and I asked another English teacher what everyone was talking about.
“Sex,” she replied pretty matter-of-factly.
“Sex?” I asked, pretty darned surprised. I mean there’s a crucifix hanging in the lounge.
“Yes, sex,” she answered again.
What had I been missing all these days gone by when I didn’t understand what the teachers had been talking about. Had they been discussing hot taboo topics, - these ordinary looking high school teachers? Had I underestimated them or even “misunderestimated” them as George W. Bush so famously flubbed?
“Even the priest?” I inquired.
“Especially the priest!” she enthusiastically announced.
Mmmmm, the hot priest and a debate about sex. I wondered what side of the argument he was on. Pro-sex? Anti-sex? Wait a minute. What were they talking about exactly?
“About sex? The priest? Really?” I asked for the last time.
“Yes,” replied the exasperated English teacher. “It’s a very important topic for the Catholic church. You have sex in America, don’t you?” she asked.
What a personal question! It’s not like, hey, you have pierogi in America, don’t you. It was sex. A timeless universal. I replied slowly, “Well, yes, of course we have sex in America.”
The English teacher continued, “You have those Amish or something, right?”
Huh? Amish? What?
My red-faced answer, “Yes, yes, we have sects and we have Amish too, but I’m not sure they actually qualify as a sect.”
And then as so many times before, I was saved from further discussion by the ringing of the class bell.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I have an American neighbor. Actually, he is Polish, but he lived in America for more than 20 years before he and his wife came back to Poland to retire. By looks alone, it is difficult to distinguish them from any other Polish retired couple... unless you look deeper…
I noticed them first by their American car. Not that the sight of an American car on our street is anything unusual as I am the owner of 2 American cars. I guess I wanted to see who was treading on my territory. Then I noticed their unmistakably American Christmas decorations visible from the street. As my investigation deepened, I noticed that their clothes were not exactly Polish. They are more similar to those my parents wear which is a bit different than the Polish retired folks style (think marchewki jeans and white sneakers, not that there is anything wrong with that). Finally, I knew something was up when I saw that the man picks up his dog’s poo, every time, without fail, even when no one is looking (Well, when he thinks no one is looking- I’m very discreet). They had to be American. Further observation was warranted.
For investigatory purposes, I was glad to have run into the whole family in the corner shop when their son was visiting. The shop is very small so I easily overheard their conversation. Their son asked, “Czy oni mają good pastries?” “Tak, kochanie,” his mom reassured him, “Oni mają.” Oni? Chyba my a nie oni. I got riled up for a moment thinking that they were questioning Polish pastries asking if “they” have good pastries wondering why obviously Polish people would say “they” and not “we”. Then I chilled out from conspiracy theory mode and figured they were probably talking about the shop as “they” not the whole darn country.
I had to talk it over with the flower shop owner who is no longer the flower shop owner as she has leased out her shop space to another establishment -but that is neither here nor there. She and her husband also lived for about 20 years in the US and during that time built a house here in Poland and bought their shop. But that was back when one dollar was 4+ zloty not the 2.9 zloty it is now. The flower shop owner and her husband with their unique blend of Polish and Long Island accents confirmed my suspicions that the new neighbors were in fact Polish-American. Investigation over.
The flower shop owners agreed that they themselves had come back just in time to cash in on their stay in the US. Many people who are doing it now are finding it more difficult financially than they originally expected. In addition to finding the move more costly than expected, some of the people coming back can be surprised by the Poland that they find now. Still many people in Poland are poor and cannot make ends meet but more and more “normal” people are coming into their own and can afford nice cars and homes and summer vacations in exotic locations without having to work abroad.
If I were one of those Polish people who went abroad to make a better life for myself and my family, I might be a little resentful of Poland’s success. The whole justification for my sacrifice abroad is that it couldn’t be achieved at home, right? I mean I’d be happy for my country and its people but still a little pissed off that I am not returning the rich “American” to the poor Poland. You can be happy and pissed off at the same time, can’t you?
Of course, I know some people who made the move fully aware of the changes which have occurred in Poland. I also know some Polish people aware of the changes have decided to stay in the US indefinitely or to stay in the US longer to save up more money. I also know some American people who live in Poland who act like it is deep PRL here, but that is another story.
I met up with our neighbor the other day at the corner shop. He entered with his Vote Obama winter hat on and inquired as to the price of Black Smirnoff. When he heard the price he said, “No way! Idę do Żabki.” Ahh, the free market at work.
PS About the dog poo - If you are Polish living in Poland and you pick up after your dog, please forgive my generalization, but you know it is true. To be fair, I decided to count how many individual poos I encountered on my way from the parking area to the company where I taught today. The rules- too be counted the poo had to be in my line of sight at a distance no more that 3 meters away. I counted 32 individual poos…and 2 empty bottles of Wiśniowka. Not bad.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
My girls are sick with “the start of pneumonia” as the doctor described it. Luckily, we caught it early. It’s Lizzie’s first antibiotics - not bad for an almost 4 year old. Poor Rosie hasn’t been so lucky. That’s the fate of the younger sister who catches everything from her older sister. Heck, she caught her first cold from Lizzie when she was only a week old. At least I finally got to use my NoseFrida nasal aspirator.
The doctor prescribed granulated antibiotics twice a day for the next 5 days along with all kinds of syrups. Why can’t our antibiotics come in a syrup? My girls love to take syrups. It started after one very convincing episode of Miś Uszatek where he ate too many wisienki and had a stomachache. They love syrups, so much so, that I had to buy some vitamin syrup just to humor them. Whoever thought granulated antibiotics were a good idea was seriously misguided. We can’t get Rosie to down them. Not that she doesn’t try, but the granules do not dissolve, and she chokes on them, poor thing.
The girls have already been ill for about a week and it looks like it’ll be still another week. We’ve totally got cabin fever. What’s a mom to do? And my vampire books have not come in at Empik yet, grrrrrr.
Luckily, I fit in a visit with my friend and her little son last Friday before illness struck our home. Well, actually on the day illness struck - we had to go and pick up Lizzie from Pre-school because she got sick. As usual, my friend looked great, her son looked adorable and her apartment looked impeccably clean. We had a nice chat and I tried to remember what it was like to go out into the world and talk with people. You know, to just talk with them because you like them, and they are interesting, and it’s not your job to listen carefully for any grammar mistakes. Not that I do not have interesting students that I would not talk with otherwise, but it is a completely different mindset to have a freely flowing conversation with a friend than to have a “conversation” lesson with a student.
In addition to admiring my friend, her son and her clean apartment, I also admired her book shelves. Well, not so much the shelves (which are nice and take up the expanse of one wall) but the books on them. She and her husband have an impressive collection of books on a huge array of topics. I envy them that. If you check out our book shelves (well, shelf), you’ll find “The Doll” by Prus, Dostoevky’s “The Idiot”, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” next to Playboy’s “Big, Little Book of Party Jokes”, “Microcosm” by Norman Davies, “Siomga” by Sofija Andruchowycz, “The Complete Book of Herbs”, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, three IKEA 2010 catalogs and about 200 teaching English books. The girls have their own books in their bedroom. I’d like to add some cook books to my sad, little collection and maybe something about gardening. I can put them next to my “Knitting and Crocheting for Beginners” which is getting quite lonely as nobody ever picks it up.
What’s on your book shelf?
Friday, February 5, 2010
The second day of school was my first day to have actual classes with students, and I was pretty excited. This was a college prep high school which included 4 grades numbered 1 – 4. The younger students were 14-15 years old and the oldest were 18-19. I was 22.
I arrived to school at 7:30 a.m. as practically the first teacher there. Classes started at 8:00. I received my schedule from the teacher I later named Plan Man. I was happy to see that I had Fridays off as a courtesy to me as a foreign teacher who might want to travel on the weekend. I had a full-time Polish teacher’s schedule of about 20 hours (full-time is 18-24 teaching hours). I had every group from all grades once a week and the seniors twice a week. Unfortunately, I also had a Polish teacher’s salary. My salary for the whole year plus the 13th salary bonus still did not cover the cost of my plane ticket to get to Poland. Oh well.
That morning, I learned that I would not have a permanent classroom. I would have a different classroom for practically every lesson, requiring me to return to the head cleaning lady aka “mother of the school” to show her my schedule and get a key. Sometimes the key had gone missing and I couldn’t have a lesson. Other times, we opened the door to the room to discover there were no desks or no chairs or both.
I got my key and began searching the enormous old German school building for my classroom. I entered, prepared myself and waited for the students to arrive. As it turns out, teachers often congregate in the staff lounge until the bell rings at 8:00, so they thought that I was absent and sent someone to check if I was there. The students filed in. It was the 1st grade of high school before the most recent reforms so that would translate to American 9th grade. The students stood at their desks, wished me a “Good morning” in unison and continued to stand even as I sat myself down. I stood up and told them that they may be seated indicating with my hands. My hands were going to get a real work-out this school year.
I had written on the white board (which had “fuck” written in permanent marker in the bottom corner) :
What is your name?
My name is …
I am ….. years old.
I told them my name and how old I was and proceeded to ask each and every student the same questions, one by one.
What is your name? My name is Łukasz.
How old are you? I am 14 years old.
What is your name? My name is Agnieszka.
How old are you? I am 14 years old.
What is your name? My name is Agnieszka. (It’s a popular name)
How old are you? I am 15 years old.
And so on and so on for about 30 students. I walked around the room and pointed to students at random asking them their names and ages and tried to run through everybody’s name aloud as a new name/face was added to the list. It was really difficult as all these foreign names were completely new to me and this was just the first names. When I couldn’t remember somebody’s name I asked again, What is your name? and got back My name is… Pretty simply, you’d think.
It was all running smoothly until I got to the last girl. She was agitated and bright red throughout the whole lesson. Maybe that’s why I saved her for last. I asked her, “What’s your name?” Her response was nothing but a big smile and nervous laughter. I asked her again adding that my name was Chris. Nothing. Ok, third times a charm so I dared ask again to which I got a scream of “Nie wiem” as she burst into tears. Then the bell rang literally one second later. I think we both appreciated being saved by the bell.
The class cleared out, and I took my things and the key and locked up. I went to the teacher’s lounge kind of shell shocked and wondering how I was going to do this for one whole year.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
My first trip to the Baltic Sea had come to an end. I left the Baltic a little sad but also excited to get the school year underway. This would be my first school year as a real teacher. My new friend put me on the train (with a bagged lunch packed by his mother) which would deliver me to the City at about 5 o’clock in the morning. After that, I’d have a short bus ride to take me back to my new home in the Village. I had arranged the return trip before even leaving for the sea because I wanted to be absolutely sure to get back with a day or two to spare before school started. Note to travelers: Don’t sit next to a sleeping person (I mean passed-out drunk person) at the train or bus station. You are likely to get splashed by urine as they pee their pants. I’m just sayin’.
Even though the return trip was planned before leaving, I had given Misiu (my new work colleague) my new friend’s number just in case. Misiu and I cannot remember now, but I think we arranged that I call him when I got to the sea, but since he already had my return schedule, I didn’t call him before coming back. Imagine my surprise (and secret thrill) to see Misiu waiting for me at the bus station in the Village. I was just a little disappointed to find out that he lived with his girlfriend practically right next to the station, but only a little disappointed. Misiu helped me with my bags, helped me do some shopping and reminded me to come to school the first day.
As I mentioned somewhere before, I got a big shock in the staff lounge aka “the teachers’ room” at school the first day when I discovered the guy I was drooling over was in fact the hot priest. The next surprise was that I was incredibly overdressed. I was wearing a smart skirt, a blouse and a fitted blazer with high-heeled shoes. Some teachers were even wearing jeans. I quickly adapted.
The day started out with a teacher gathering in the lounge and then a more formal start in the auditorium. After that, all the students went home and the teachers returned to the lounge for some meetings. Misiu was supposed to be translating for me, but he was simply telling me about each teacher one by one around the room. That’s the nice biology teacher and that one’s a bitch. That guy’s the principal. A few years ago, he was secretly dating a student, got her pregnant and now she’s his wife. You know, the kind of vital information every teacher needs to start the year out right. After that, we were excused for the day and Misiu invited me for a beer. No one seemed to care about my questions like: What’s the English language curriculum? Where’s my classroom? What books will we be using? What classes will I have? I quickly adapted.