Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Konfitura, Baby!

I have made konfitura. Myself. From berry bush to jar, all from scratch.
I’m expecting a call from the President at any moment.
This is not a very elegantly presented or photographed dish, but homemade waffles with homemade blackberry preserves is the best.
Konfitura can be translated simply as jam or as I prefer, preserves. My original plan was to make jeżynówka or nalweka from jeżyny. Nalewka is homemade liquor. If you’ve ever had it, especially berry or cherry liquor, I’m sure you’d agree that it is delicious. It’s so deceptively delicious that I have seen people who don’t usually drink, quickly get falling-down drunk. OK, that was me, but I am sure it has happened to other people as well. I checked the nalewka recipes and saw that I’d have to wait a month or 2 or 3 to consume said nalewka. There is also a process of filtering that looks like a lot of work for a person who rarely drinks alcohol. So it seems that delicious nalewka is reserved for the patient which I am definitely not. (Notice the unhealthy pale color of my waffle. Waiting for it to brown up was just taking too long and I had already started to eat all the preserves straight from the jar.) In the end, I opted for a recipe which allows me to eat berries now.
We pick blackberries in a secret and undisclosed location near our house in the village. Judging by the quantity and quality of berries we’ve been picking the last few weeks and the unscientific research I have done (i.e. ask the drunks at the shop), we are the only people who pick berries. Apparently picking berries is for biedaki and/or hipsters. At any given time, I fall into either or both of those categories, so I guess that evaluation is spot on.
Here is how this poor hipster made some delicious jam.
Blackberry jam – Konfitura z jeżyn
We picked about a kilogram of ripe berries. We ate another half a kilo on the walk. We spotted an eagle catching a fish and then a frog jumped into my berry container. Don’t worry, I didn’t preserve it. At home, I cleaned the berries and removed all extra material such as leaves, a snail, a worm of some kind and the frog. Next, I started cooking the kilo of berries in a big pot. I added a teaspoon of citric acid to keep the color vibrant. Next, I added the seeds of one vanilla bean. Finally, I added cukier żelujący – gelling sugar and cooked for 3-5 minutes. After that I transferred the hot berries to clean jars, put the lid on, and let stand upside down for 5-10 minutes. I then checked that the jar top sealed and that’s it.
That’s all there is to it. Easy, isn’t it? We also found some big, fat mushrooms I thought would be perfect for pickling. I know nothing about wild mushrooms so when Misiu declared, “I think you can eat them.” I decided that pickled mushrooms can wait for another day.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Żona Radosława Sikorskiego Anne Applebaum otrzymała polskie obywatelstwo,zona-radoslawa-sikorskiego-anne-applebaum-otrzymala-polskie-obywatelstwo

The writer Anne Applebaum, wife of the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radosław Sikorski, has received Polish citizenship.

I’m next!

I’ve decided to follow the example of Mary who hasn’t quite got all her shit together at 54 (Hello Mary!!!) and just relax. I’ll be 40 in a couple of months and I’m planning to give myself the whole year to get organized and to also apply for citizenship. Maybe I’ll make the headlines Puszczam oczko

I’ve started small with making a hair appointment for my first ever coloring…ever! Oh, I already said ever, but c’mon, ever! I’m nervous about it. Can ya tell?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Co za walec!

- Fala pogaństwa jak walec idzie przez naszą ojczyznę i Europę - stwierdził abp Józef Michalik w Kalwarii Pacławskiej k. Przemyśla. Przewodniczący Konferencji Episkopatu Polski przewodniczył tam Mszy św. w Wigilię Wniebowzięcia Matki Bożej podczas trwającego od niedzieli Wielkiego Odpustu Kalwaryjskiego.

Read the rest here:,114871,14444719,Abp_Michalik__fala_poganstwa_idzie_przez_Polske_jak.html

I get the idea that this archbishop doesn’t quite understand what the word “pagan” actually means nor does he understand the history of his own religion. While I am at it – Christianity is not a “naród” and the removal of the crucifix from the police station in Radom is no threat to Poland or the church and is in fact an example of the holy walec of the Catholic church I am hit on the head with in all public institutions including the public school my children attend. Oh and by the way, stop saying “we Poles”. You don’t speak for all of ‘us’ (he, he I’m not Polish yet, but my children are).

So my new favorite word today is walec. I plan to replace all derogatory words in my Polish vocabulary with walec as in "co za walec".

Co za walec!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What it means to get your shit together…

In search of a place to start my “getting my shit together” plan, I actually googled the phrase “get your shit together”. What I found is that the phrase “get your shit together” has a lot of meanings in the modern consciousness.

First of all, it means planning of your life and within that, your death. I’m definitely not a “wing it” (jakoś to będzie) kind of a person, so I am all over this and will be filling in the missing blanks in the next couple of months. Yes, I think it will take me a couple of months. I mean, I haven’t done it in the last 39 years and 10 months so I’ll need a little bit of time.

It involves many things such as (some of which I have already done, the bulk of which I have not):

Money: budgeting, reserves, debt, insurance

Will, living will, power of attorney, care of children

Info: insurance and bank documents, passwords, etc.

Personal: resolving conflicts, lose ends

Secondly, some sites define having your shit together as having an organized home and desk, having routines, getting things done. Included in that is having a plan of things you need to get done and a list of things you want to get done..and then getting them done. Easy peasy, isn’t it?

Thirdly, other sites define having your shit together as taking care of yourself and looking “together”. That includes a good diet, exercise and sleep regiment as well as all kinds of grooming and dressing and smiling and stuff. This may be the hardest for me to achieve. I mean I know how to tackle a pile of laundry, but not what to do with my hair.

I’d also like to add at this point some less “planny” kind of reflections about where I’ve been and where I’m going. We should always take time to count our blessings.

All of these tasks are difficult in different ways. It all breaks down to being organized. I need to make myself a master list, prioritize and get started.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Getting my shit together

I’m going to be 40 in a couple of months. I used to say that if you don’t get your shit together by the time you’re 40, you’re never going to get your shit together. So approaching 40, I thought it was the highest time to actually get my shit together. Now that I have embarked on my genius plan to get to get my shit together, I am stuck on where to start.

What does it actually mean to have it all together?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Test na Polaka

Have you ever been mistaken for someone, someone famous even? No? Me either. Misiu was once mistaken for a Russian hockey player by a customs agent at the airport. Misiu showed his teeth (all still there) and we moved on.

Polish Journalist Andrzej Borowiak had to do a little more that show his teeth. No, no, it’s nothing like that. He didn’t have to show anything…he just had to prove that he’s Polish. You see, Mr Borowiak was at the Szeremietiewo airport in Moscow on his way to Hong Kong, the same airport where Edward Snowden was reportedly hiding out. Apparently Mr Borowiak bears a resemblance to Mr Snowden. But what about that pesky Polish passport? The authorities decided to test Mr Borowiak’s Polishness? Polishacity? Polakość? Polskość? They decided to check if he’s a real, live Polak.

He was asked to translate some phrases from Polish, something about Polish geography and finally to sing the Polish national anthem (remember it’s “kiedy my żyjemy” not “póki”).

Jeez Louise, I could have passed the test na Polaka. Maybe they should have asked him who the first king of Poland was as the anesthesiologist asked me while administering gas. I replied, “Jakiś Bolesław” and for good measure added that the first president of the USA was George Washington. Not long after that, I was out..

I know!

They should have asked him this…

Kto ty jesteś?

— Kto ty jesteś?
— Polak mały.
— Jaki znak twój?
— Orzeł biały.
— Gdzie ty mieszkasz?
— Między swemi.
— W jakim kraju?
— W polskiej ziemi.
— Czem ta ziemia?
— Mą Ojczyzną.
— Czem zdobyta?
— Krwią i blizną.
— Czy ją kochasz?
— Kocham szczerze.
— A w co wierzysz?
— W Polskę wierzę!
— Coś ty dla niej?
— Wdzięczne dziécię.
— Coś jej winien?
— Oddać życie.

Misiu had me convinced (a few years ago) that I would have to recite it in order to get my residence card. He also told me it was “Jaki znak twój? Osioł mały”, but whatever.

Here’s an article describing the situation of Mr Borowiak if you’d like to read more.

In case you didn’t know that you have been neglecting your responsibilities as a Polak…

You may be surprised to learn that I have been asked to prove my Americanism (or maybe my Americanostwość) on two occasions. The most recent was while applying for US passports for my children. It’s not enough that I am American to secure passports for my children. I have to have lived a stated number of years in the US under a certain age. The clerk was having some difficulty understanding what was written on my application and declared that I had not lived a sufficient amount of time in the US. I asked if from birth to my 20’s wasn’t long enough? He agreed that it was and then sent out the big guns. The big guns would be a very nice young man wearing an ill-fitting suit quite possibly in his first job not to mention his first job abroad. I gathered that he was not trained in stealth interrogation techniques because at some point in his “casual” conversation I just blurted out, “Are you checking us?!” I’m sure he’s unaware that he blushed at that moment and our papers were promptly processed and payment was quickly made at an exchange rate that even a mafia boss would be embarrassed to charge, but anyhow it’s all done and dusted. No harm. No foul.

The second occasion was a police officer who questioned my lost, foreign sierota act. Combine that with speaking English only and the police usually let you go. (I add in defense of my character that I have not had any run ins with the law for years) Seeing from my driver’s license that I’m from the great state of Pennsylvania, he demanded to know the capital city of PA which everyone knows is Harrisburg, so fortunately located near the great Hershey Park. The police officer declared that I failed my test na Amerykanka as everybody knows the capital of PA is Philadelphia. Apparently everybody also knows that when you give a police officer cash in the middle of the night, he takes it, walks away, and never returns with a ticket. Who knew? 

And now, just for fun…


Go on. Test me. Na Polaka or na Amerykanka. I’m ready.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I have finally done something that I have been recommending to my students for years. I have read a whole book in the language I am trying to learn - Polish. Twice. I wanted to be sure it was good and read. Now, I must admit that I read in Polish every day. I read Onet, Na Temat, the local newspaper and some of my favorite blogs. I had never read an entire book. Until now.

What does reading in Polish give me? I feel more connected to Poland when I read in Polish. I get to know what is going on in Poland and how Polish people view what is going on in the world. What else does reading in Polish give me? Something my doctor students already know – access to things that are difficult to access in my language. Want an example? See how many good herring recipes you get if you google “herring recipes”. Now try śledź przepisy. It’s a whole new world. Not life or death, but sometimes you’d just like to make a really good herring salad.

Sometimes I feel like someone has opened a door to a secret room that I have access to because I can read in Polish. It’s funny because that’s how I try to get the teens hooked on English. I explain to them that a whole new world will become accessible to them if they learn English because, let’s face it, more of the world is in English than in Polish. And how can you call yourself the middle school rap/hip-hop guru if you’ve never even heard “Rapper’s Delight”? Teens of Poland, rap didn’t start with Eminem. Google it!  But I digress. Back to reading in Polish.

Reading in a foreign language is a great way to learn new words and see grammar structures in use. I want to learn new words, that’s for sure, and I suppose somewhere deep inside I want to improve my grammar. That’s not why I started reading books in Polish though. The real reason is….drum roll…I really wanted to read some books and they are not available in English. I had ants in my pants and I couldn’t stand it that everybody else had read the books and I couldn’t.That’s the truth.

So on the recommendation of a friend I bought the book “Wypędzone”, the stories of 3 German women who were expelled from Poland after WWII. I know that for many people this a controversial topic. In my opinion, the Poles’ expulsion from lost lands doesn’t negate the Germans’ expulsion. The fact that the Germans were the aggressors doesn’t mean they must sacrifice all claims of suffering. The stories of the these 3 women told in their own words remind us that the Germans were people too. (Now I am reading “Sołdat” where maybe I will find that Russian soldiers were people too, but from the description in “Wypędzone” it’s not looking good).

What struck me the most was not the brutality of the Russian soldiers. I’ve heard a lot of stories of such. What struck me the most was the lack of information. I mean, intellectually I was aware of that, but reading the accounts it just shows how little the people knew about what was going on and what they should do or where they should go. Jeez, there was a fire in the next village last weekend. I knew because I could see the fire and I heard the sirens. If I really had wanted to know what was going on, I could have got in the car and driven the 2 km to see for myself or shouted to the neighbor across street. She would have texted her mother to ask her father who is the local volunteer fire chief i po sprawy. Not back then.

The first story is of Helene Pluschke of Striegau, now Strzegom. How she managed to stay in Strzegom so long after the war was almost a miracle, but not without cost. Brutal beatings and rapes from soldiers of the Red Army and later from the new Polish authority along with starvation  and fear for herself, 5 children and missing husband - these were the costs of the war for this woman. Helene describes the plight of German women, “My, kobiety, mamy odpokutować za to, co Niemcy wyrządzili innym.” Despite her many humiliations on Śląsk territory, Helen still considered Śląsk her home and remained hopeful that she and her family would some day return to their rightful home, “Ciągle jeszcze wierzę, że my, Niemcy,będziemy mogli zostać na naszej ojczystej ziemi, że Polacy I Rosjanie wkrótce się wycofają. A Śląsk pozostanie niemiecki! Od tylu pokoleń Śląsk jest moją ojczyzną, ojczyzną mojej rodziny. Nie chcę i nie mogę się poddać.”

(We women have to atone for what the Germans have done to others.)

(I still believe that we, Germans, will be able to stay in our homeland, that the Poles and Russians will retreat. Śląsk shall remain German! For many generations Śląsk has been my homeland, the homeland of my family. I don't want to and I cannot give up.)

The next story is of Esther von Schwerin. Esther was from an aristocratic family and she married into money as well. Esther seemed to understand that her family wasn’t going to make it through the war in one piece. While traveling, she and her husband even traveled separately to reduce the chances of leaving their children orphans. Unfortunately, Esther’s husband did not survive the war and they lost their entire fortune. Not once did Esther bemoan the loss of the family fortune or position. She managed to escape to the west, not without danger but they made it somehow and Esther began to rebuild the network of her family. Unlike Helene who bemoaned the losing of Śląsk to the Poles, Esther took a different view.Quoting her pastor she said, “Pojęcie ojczyzny nie kończy się na ziemi pod nogami.” Later she adds, “Ojczyzna niekiedy prowadzi do całkiem nowego zycia, które dzięki niej możemy zaakceptować. Ojczyzna to człowiek, który pozostaje nam wierny, dzieci, którym nic się nie stało. Ojczyzna to też zaorane pole, pachnące tutaj tak samo jak w domu.” She later quotes Herman Hesse saying, “Ojczyzna jest w tobie – lub nigdzie indziej.”

(The concept of homeland does not end with the ground beneath our feet.)

(Homeland every so often leads us to a whole new life which thanks to that life we can accept. Homeland is the person who stays loyal, the children who remain unharmed. Homeland is the plowed fields which smell the same here as they did at home.)

(Homeland is in you - if no where else.)

The third and final story is of Ursula Pless-Damm. Hers is the only story written at the time of the war. Ursula was married, but without children at the time of the war. Ursula was no less resilient than the women above. She seemed resigned to her fate at the same time determined to survive. She says, “Zdumiewające, ale od wczoraj nie czuję już strachu. Za sprawą tych okropnych wydarzeń uświadomiłam sobie, że nikt nie uniknie pisanego mu losu. Trzeba go przyjąć, kiedy nadejdzie.” Later she adds as soldiers take quarters in her home, “Mam wrażenie, że staliśmy się aktorami i czekamy już tylko na przydzielenie ról i na wskazówki reżysera.”

(Strangely enough I feel no fear since yesterday. Because of the horrible things that have happened, I realize that no one can escape the fate that is written for them. You have to accept it when it comes.)

(I get the feeling that we've all become actors and are we are just waiting for our roles and direction from the directors.)

Ursula contemplated the sense of the war and the reasons behind the victor’s brutality, “Przywołuje w myślach nasze zwycięstwa pierwszych lat wojny. Jak upokorzeni musieli czuć się ludzie przez nas pokonani? Dlaczego muszą istnieć zwycięzcy i pokonani?” In her thoughts about Poles, she wondered, “Dlaczego nie traktowaliśmy ich lepiej? Dlaczego musieli chodzić oznakowani literą P?” Ursula managed to escape to Berlin with no particular sentiment for the the land she had left behind or the land she was traveling to.

(I recall the first years of the war. What humiliation the people we defeated must have felt? Why do there have to be the victors and the defeated?)

(Why didn't we treat them better? Why did they have to wear the letter P?)

One of the most moving passages comes from a short passage about another woman. Thinking that she and her children were trapped by the Russians and about to be burned alive, she takes the dramatic decision to poison herself and her children only to discover that the poison was too weak and they had to make their escape anyhow. About poisoning her children she says, “Niech sobie inni oceniają to, jak chcą, niech nazywają matki morderczyniami – ja mogę tylko przysiąc, że dla matki to święta chwila.” That passage while sending chills down my spine, also hits home.

(Let other people judge us how they want, call us murdering mothers - I can only attest that for a mother it is a sacred moment.)

And now I cannot find the passage I’ve been looking for and I can’t remember which woman said it, but it was a commentary on why farmers had such a difficult time leaving their land – because it’s something alive not just ground. How many farmers carried a bag of soil with them as they were evacuated?

I’d be lying if I said these stories didn’t move me as I sit here in my post-German house a few kilometers from the former Poland-German border.  I’m sure the German family would recognize their home even today if they could see it. They’d be surprised to see the Linden tree that they planted when they built the house now towers tall over the building. Maybe they’d enjoy knowing that we have some of the original light fixtures, a perfectly functioning tea service and someone’s silver anniversary commemorative plate. I wonder about them sometimes and also about the Polish people who too were uprooted from their home and resettled here. Did everyone have such dramatic and traumatic experiences? I should hardly think it possibly but am deeply convinced it couldn’t have happened any other way.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Etiquette in the age of plastic surgery

I am the first to admit that I am not exactly Miss Manners. I’ve been know to put my foot in my mouth a time or two. For example, while being let into the president’s office, I asked the older owner of the company if he wanted to play “secretary and president” and that I’d even let him be president this time. His burning red face told me that I had gone too far. Ok, ok, I often go too far, but I’m no slurping, slobbering, belching, farting, booger-eater either. Even so, I recently found myself in a situation not sure what to do or say.

If you don’t know what it’s about and it’s not about love or money or soiling the air, then it must have something to do with plastic surgery.

I ran into someone that I hadn’t seen in awhile. She always looks great and I mean great. She’s a couple of years older than I am and due to regular exercise, proper diet and some plastic surgery, she looks killer. Since the last time I saw her, she had some work done on her face. It’s an obvious change as I am sure it was intended to be. I am also sure that she is quite proud of her new look.

Here’s the deal. Should I have complimented her on her new look? If she had drastically changed her hair or style of dress I am sure I would have complimented her with an added comment of “your hair” or “your new style” or something. Is it in bad taste to say, “Oh my god, your new lips are awesome”?

What do you think?

Foot in Mouth czyli Awkward Moments….

I really got the Foot in Mouth Award at the first lesson with a new student. He introduced himself and I asked him to tell me something about himself.

He said, “My name is Adam. I’m from a small town. I’m 26….”

I interrupted, “ttthhhirty-six.” You know, because numbers are hard and this dude is way older than 26, I mean look at his stomach aka the manager’s stomach.

“Twenty-six,” repeats Adam.

Persistent teacher Chris in a ‘say-it-don’t-spray-it moment, “Tttthhhhirty-six.”

Adam, a bit frustrated switches to Polish, “Dwadzieścia sześć jest twenty-six, nie?”

“Oh, yes, yes, so sorry. I must have misheard you.” Red face.

Here are some more of my Awkward Moments. Enjoy!