Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I will...

This year I plan to be kinder. I will give people the benefit of the doubt. I will chill in traffic jams. I will let people go in front of me at the grocery store. I will be kinder to my children. I will remember that they are just children. I will set a kind example for them. They already got their lesson on assertiveness. 

I'm not only going to be kinder. I'm going to say kind things. Recently someone said to me, "The sight of you is the first thing to put a smile on my face today." That was amazing because well it was just amazing and knowing this person, I knew it was sincere. 

I will continue in my slow process of getting my shit together. I started that a few years ago and discovered that it's not something you just do and it's done. It's something that has to be kept up lest your shit, so to speak, get away from you.

I will meet with people I like more often. I've made this resolution every year for the last few years. I'm by no means a party animal, but year after year I get out there more.

I will continue everything I do to keep my body and mind fit and functioning. I reduced my cholesterol by 25 points in 2015, and I hope to reduce it another 25 points in 2016 bringing me to an overall 250. I know that's still high, but it's my dream. I will increase my kilometers per bike ride hopefully doubling my current distance by the end of the year. I would say that in addition to all that, I will quit drinking and smoking, but I don't drink or smoke. I won't be losing any weight either

I'm thinking about a career change, and this year I will collect more information on the topic. I will read the books waiting in my Kindle or even on my shelf. I will get that mammogram I have been putting off. 

But all of that doesn't start until tomorrow, so I will do my best to enjoy this last day of 2015. I wish you to do the same. 

Till next year...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas without a TV

Christmas without a TV - no, it's not some unplugged family bonding ploy. It's the normal state of things in our house in the Village.

We have an actual television set, come on, we're not barbarians, but we have no cable or satellite service and have decided not to hook up the TV to the Internet. No Netflix for us. 

We do have a DVD player and a very modest collection of DVDs. We choose what to watch, watch it, and then turn the television off, however tempting it is to stay on the couch.

There are so many other things to do here in the Village. The kids have lots of toys, books, and games. We adults can read too or actually speak to one another. We all have bikes with gorgeous bike paths almost right outside our door. There's a new public pool nearby. There's an ice skating rink too. We can visit friends and neighbors. We can just be.

I am a bit sentimental at this time of the year. I do miss all the holiday movies. My kids have never seen any Kevin or Griswald movies (and off topic, I've never seen any "Star Wars" movies ever). I'd really like to watch "It's a Wonderful Life"* with them. What we don't miss is the incessant advertising for electronics stores. Last year there was such an annoying one, the poor pop star that sang the jingle was almost ruined. 

As we slowly wake up this Boxing Day, we are filled with possibilities of what we can do today. Yes, I'm planning to watch a couple of episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" on DVD, but I'm also planning to tackle some books, and make some cookies with the kids. Rosie will probably do something in her fashion design book, while Lizzie has plans to start in on her book of 500 brain teasers. I can already see that it's going to be a beautiful sunny day. I might go for bike ride or the kids might hit the pool. We don't have to do it all, but it's better to have too many fun options than too few.

*Remember "when you hear a bell ring an angel gets his wings" from "It's a Wonderful Life"? My father had a different take on that. He told us every time we ate a piece of candy from the tree, an angel died. We never touched the candy on the tree. Never ever.

How are you spending the holiday season?

Monday, December 21, 2015

One year ago today...

One year ago today, my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, so that would make today our 16th and still going. After our celebration last year my father called, not to wish us "Happy Anniversary", but to remind me to call my mother the next day for her birthday. People often forget birthdays around Christmas. We spoke briefly, ended our conversation with our usual "I love you" and with me vowing not to forget to wish my mother a happy birthday. His call was unnecessary. I have forgotten my own anniversary a few times, but I have never forgotten to call my mother on her birthday. 

The next morning when the phone rang at 6 a.m. I knew it couldn't be a good thing.

I love you Dad. I miss you. I think of you every day. In your absence, we feel your presence this second Christmas without you.

Don't worry. I will remember to call Mom for her birthday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

To the parents who think it is unfair

I was not a competitive student as a child. That metamorphosis didn't take place until college, and it wasn't pretty - just ask any classmate who ever asked to borrow my notes and got his or her head bitten off. I don't recall any serious exams or competitions that we had in elementary or even high school - excluding my driving exam at 16 which was pretty memorable. Kids in Polish schools today have the opportunity to take part in a lot of academic competitions, really, a lot. There are notices on the bulletin boards outside the classrooms. Posters for various competitions, often called Olympics, are taped to the glass doors. Kids bring home flyers from their teachers and sometimes from the organizers of the competitions. Announcements are made on the school webpage and on the electronic gradebook. We get direct e-mails from the teachers requesting our children's participation.

Participation is voluntary. There are those children who cannot wait to show off their skills and knowledge and are glad to have the opportunity to do so. Other children could not care less. They are not interested in sitting a test or preparing with the "team". Some kids do it to get a higher grade out of their teacher at the end of the semester or at the insistence of a parent. Some kids cannot be persuaded by any form of force or bribery, not even as practice for the "real" exams they will take in the future. That's all good. I don't have any problem with that.

I just have something to say to the parents who think it is unfair that my child competed in the English Olympics grades 1-3.

Firstly, this particular English Olympics is run by a company, not the Department of Education. It is a crap test given for a fee intended to justify all those Helen Doron courses parents spend money on.

Secondly, my kids are Polish. They were born in Poland. They go to a Polish school. They had a Polish nanny when they were little. Yes, they have American passports as well, but they have been to America twice for short trips. Maybe you parents have been on vacation to America or Great Britain or Australia for a week or two. Did your kids manage to learn enough English to give them an "unfair advantage"? No? Neither did mine.

Thirdly, the fact that my children speak English at all is a miracle. Well, it is not really miraculous at all. It is pure work. My children speak Polish all day long. They learn in Polish. They read in Polish. They watch TV in Polish. They fight in Polish. They dream in Polish. How many hours a day do you spend with your children? I, as many parents unfortunately, spend very few as I work evenings. Of those hours you spend with your children, how many of them are actual meaningful engagement between you. One? Two? Less than that?

My kids have English at school, the same as your children 2x45 minutes per week. Last year Lizzie had 6 different teachers - 6. Rosie's teacher pronounced birthday as bearzday. They were not covering any material that they should. I had a lot of calls from parents wanting me to teach their children privately - parents who on the most part could speak English and definitely on a level high enough to teach their own 8-year-old. 

I force my children to read in English, to watch TV in English, to learn new words in English. This is what I recommend to all parents when they ask me what they should do and to all my students who are parents. It is not something you have to be American to do. Yes, I speak to them in English. They answer me in Polish. When they speak English, they say things like "drinked", "goed", "don't can", "sanged". Not to mention saying a sentence in English with all nouns in Polish - Today Pani gived us karteczka to take do domu. We have to kolorować the karteczka and give it back to Pani jutro. If we don't gived it jutro, we gets jedynka in the książka. Very English, wouldn't you agree?

Believe me parents, if you put as much effort into your child's English as I do, your child would speak English almost as well as mine. I do it for them, but I do it for me too. Can you imagine not sharing a language with your children? As a mother, not speaking to your baby in your own language? I don't do it to spite you. I don't do it so my kids will come out on top in the English exams. Lizzie has never participated in those exams because she is not interested at all. Her philosophy is that she is awesome, no need to prove it. Rosie participated last year at the insistence of her teacher, and this year declared she's not interested. Again at the insistence of her teacher, she signed up, and we paid the fees. Last year Rosie didn't even catch on that is was an English exam. The first question, read aloud by the instructor, was - "What color is a hippo?" with choices of pink, green, grey, and purple. Rosie said, "Who doesn't know what color a hippo is?" "It was an English exam, Rosie." "Ooooohhhh," says Rosie.

So parents, zip it. When my child doesn't want to sing Silent Night at the school show, it's because she doesn't know it, not any more than your child. And when my child gets a good score on the English exam, congratulate her - a lot of hard work stands behind that success.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Christmas card from Wroclaw, Poland

We wanted to get ourselves in the Christmas mood last week before Saint Nicholas Day (December 6). There's no snow. It's too early for the tree. We decided to hit the Christmas Market in Wroclaw.

All around the Market Square you can find stalls with lots of Christmas creations, to eat, to decorate, and to give as a present.

I chose a hand sewn fanny pack, called kidney (nerka) in Polish, as a Christmas present. I left my family at the stall and walked away, giving them time (hopefully) to buy my present. I won't know till Christmas morning. I hope it's there under the tree.

The kids had a harder time deciding. They wanted cotton candy, gummy bears, licorice, chocolate IPhones, roasted nuts, pajda (a lard and pickle sandwich), and much, much more. We settled on licorice, roasted nuts, and gingerbread cookies for later (pierniczki). They also took a ride on the Christmas train, a loud and fast roller coaster set up near the whipping post. All aboard!

I almost forgot the most important part! We had guests from America -my cousin and her husband. It was wonderful to have a visit from home and talk about old times. We're the same age so we were in school together from kindergarten through high school graduation. There was a lot to talk about. It was also a pleasure to show off Poland and what it's got to offer. Besides sightseeing, we took them with us to a charity auction we go to each year.

When in the Market Square we decided to go to "Lwowska" for lunch. We had our wedding reception in "Lwowska" 16 years ago this month, and I think we haven't been back since then. I was excited to go there again, and it's a great restaurant to choose if your guests are interested in pierogi, gołąbki, meats, and sausage. It must be a great place to work as well because one of the waiters from our wedding still works there! It was great fun to talk to the waiters in Polish, but of course their English is excellent, and reminisce about the old accordion player who used to play there. 

Flash forward a week, and we were heading out for our first company Christmas party in a restaurant in the Market Square. We just so happened to arrive as they were lighting the tree. For the kids (and not only), it was a magical moment.

Saturday we headed off to the village, where Misiu was set to play Santa Claus again this year. He did a great job of course.

Now we are thoroughly in the Christmas mood. It's time to get the tree!

Check out this Christmas card from Kraków, Poland

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hej Lala

I'm a walker. Through some combination of public transportation and huffing it on foot, I get where I'm going. You'd know I'm a walker just by checking out my gear - flat, comfy shoes, courier bag, umbrella, pack of tissues (my nose runs in cold weather). Heels? Those are car shoes. I haven't worn them for years. I'm an experienced pedestrian. I always keep right. I look out for doggie bombs. I look both ways before I cross the street.

As a pedestrian there is something that I really cannot avoid. Doggie bombs? I do my best. Cars? They're bigger, so they always win. No, they're not what I had in mind. It's catcalling, yes, catcalling. It happens to me occasionally here in Poland...still...even at my age. The catcaller is usually in a group of men, often road workers or construction workers, sometimes students. The catcalling consists of anything from a light comment that would be considered a compliment if it weren't shouted at me on the street (hey, you look nice today) all the way to the most vulgar commentary on me, my body, what the catcaller would like to do to me.

I can take a compliment. I have no trouble recognizing the difference between someone chatting me up and someone crossing the line. Years ago a very nice road worker gave me a very polite shout of "good morning" from across the street and told me that he had wanted to ask me out for a coffee for a month. I spoke to him for awhile and thanked him for his invitation, but declined. He said it was a pity. No catcalling there. All in all a nice interaction. Another gentleman invited me for coffee on the street after witnessing my amazing parking skills. I declined. He said it was a pity. No harm, no foul.

The roofers working on my building were catcalling me from the roof and were mortified when I went inside to the top floor where I live, opened the window, and called them out on it. A guy on the tram years ago invited me to his place, but in much more impolite words. Two guys on the bus made oral sex gestures to me. There was the time... Ok, you get the picture.

All of those people were strangers. Never to be seen again. But I have some neighbors that catcall me on a regular basis. I'm not sure if there are two or three of them. They spend their evenings on the balcony having a drink and a smoke. When the weather was better, a catcall from them was guaranteed - some kissy noises, some commentary on your ass, you know, standard. Now that the weather has changed, it's getting harder to catcall. They cannot spend endless hours drinking and smoking on the balcony, and the ladies walking by are all bundled up. Plus, most of the foot traffic on my street is from people who live here. No fresh meat.

A new tactic is needed and has been duly implemented. It goes something like this...

Almost 8 p.m. on a dimly lit street..

Smoking, drinking catcaller from his balcony: Hey Babe!

I don't know why, but this time I stop in my tracks and look up with an inquiring look.

Catcaller: (exhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke, leans over the rail, totally relaxed and in fact looking quite tired) Why don't you come up here and give me a blow job?

Me: Do you propose that to everyone who walks by?

Catcaller: Nope. Just the women.

Me: Any takers?

Catcaller: Not a one.

Me: Well, you're disappointed again because I won't take you up on your offer. 

And the catcaller waves me on with his cigaretted hand, looking down the street for his next victim ;)

The most surprising thing about that interaction for me was not his proposition, nor his calm demeanor. It was the fact that I called him Pan. Why Chris, why?

Monday, November 9, 2015

So I bought this...

So I bought this at a flea market thinking it was a makatka for the wall. Now I see that it isn't quite right for a makatka - the pattern and shape aren't good for hanging over the stove so what should I do with it? Any ideas? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Można? Można! Czyli Halloween in Poland 2015

Our Halloween in the village turned out to be a great success. We braved the cold, and hit about half the houses in the village before it got dark. We left the after dark trick-or-treating to the "big kids". And we had lots of trick-or-treaters or Halloweeners as the girls call them. There were skeletons and vampires and scary Dziady-inspired girls with flowers in their hair and "blood" running down their faces. For me, Amerykanka, it was fantastic, a taste of home, of my own childhood. 

I asked the drunks at the shop if they had anything for me, and I got some spare change and an offer of a kiss. I mean I was wearing a costume after all. I was a not very scary scarecrow. Lizzie was a rock star. Rosie was a purple witch. Misiu wore a Scream mask. We represented well. And did I send all the kids out with Starbucks and Costa Coffee bags? Yes I did. I was saving them up for ages.

And now the calm after the storm. Till next year!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

You immigrant

This week there was an interview with a Muslim lady in Wroclaw and her recent experiences. She said in the interview that in recent weeks as anti-immigrant sentiments have grown, the environment around her has become more hostile. They have been verbally abused. Her husband has been attacked, and she has been spit on.

An article today tells the story of a boy beaten at school. They chanted, "you immigrant".

People accuse me of refusing to acknowlege the bigger picture of the "immigrant problem". My acquaintainces say that is life, I am naive, she should get over it, what did she expect parading around in her head scarf, they do worse things in Muslim countries than spit on you, she is a representative of the barbaric acts carried out in the name of her god around the world and as such shares responsibility. 

So it's okay to spit on her? 

I am not willfully ignorant of the world around me. I am not ignoring the bigger picture, but I am asking people to see the smaller picture. The smaller picture of a lady walking home from the store who was spit on. The smaller picture of her fear, her fury, her shame and humiliation, her paralysis as she wavered between wiping the spit from her face and picking up her shopping from the sidewalk. If we lose the ability to see the individual in the group and the human in the individual, I fear for us. Nobody's god will help us then.

Poland is not for everybody as one acquaintaince pointed out to me yesterday. It is true. Poland is not for everybody, but it should be for banal reasons like the weather or taxes. It should not be because we threaten people on the street.

I have been spit on. It was by accident. The spitter didn't hear me walk up beside him. He apologized profusely, tried to clean me up, and offered me 50 złoty compensation which I didn't accept and somehow made me feel worse. It feels terrible being spit on.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Orchard Festival

As it turns out we missed the Harvest Festival (Dożynki) last week because we were visiting a friend. We go to Dożynki every year, so we could stand to skip it this year. What we could not skip was a visit to Bolesławiec on the way to our friends. We have just about everything you can buy from the Polish pottery Mecca, but I did find a few things our collection was missing.

They have a whole basket, if anyone is interested.

We started our Orchard Festival Sunday with a bike ride. I've just returned to cycling after years, so the plan is to build up my distance each week. Because we go on bike paths through the forest, we get a whole body workout - or at least that's how it feels this morning. I could definitely see the signs of autumn on our ride. The morning breeze was crisp, and some leaves have already fallen. 

After that we headed off by car to the festival. We started from a musical performance by the local school kids. Na Straganie is really funny when each vegetable is acted out by another kid.

Then we hit the stands to buy some apples and grab something to eat. There were so many people buying fruit I couldn't even get a picture.

Autumn is everywhere even at home.

I love autumn in Poland so be prepared for more unnecessary and repetitive autumn posts.