Friday, January 15, 2016

You think you know somebody

Can you be friends with someone who thinks you're simple? That's what I'm asking myself today.

Conversation with a teacher friend, the short version:

Friend: You're wrong, but I forgive you because you're not Polish. Chriiiisss, you couldn't possibly understand the situation. You know nothing of European history, recent politics, the Polish education system, the situation for real people in Poland.

Me: Kochana, I studied history.

Friend: But in America. It doesn't count. (Gee, thanks my friend.)

Me: Yes, yes. On my exams I only wrote "America good. Rest of world bad." And I got an A+. Anyhow, I read a lot and not only from sources sympathetic to my opinions. 

Friend: But you read English papers. You cannot get the whole picture that way.

Me: I read the Polish papers too, dear friend. 

Friend: But as an American you cannot understand the Polish reality of people who work and live in Poland. People who have to find a job, a place to live, find a place in the hospital, pay a mortgage.

Me: Absolutely, since I came to Poland 16 years ago, I have never had a job interview, never been hired or fired from a job. My home was given to me by angels. Mortgage? What's that? Hospitals welcome me with open arms, especially that time I almost gave birth in the waiting room because the hospital refused to admit me. 

Friend: But you can't imagine how it is to be a public school teacher here. The abuse we have to take, the peanuts we earn.

Me: As a former school teacher I assure you, I understand your struggles.

Friend: But you taught in a nice school in America. I work over 40 hours in two different schools.

Me: I worked 50 hours in one school. Nice? Our metal detectors were certainly top-of-the line.

Friend: Ok, but at least you got paid a reasonable salary.

Me: I earned less than the per hour pay of a fast food cashier.

Friend: Well, in Polish schools it's just worse.

Me: I worked in high school in Poland and while it wasn't all fun and games, nobody got shot. 

Friend: Please. You're exaggerating. You didn't get shot at school in America.

Me: Not me. One of the kids. That's why I'm not a public school teacher anymore, that and the money.

Friend: Well, anyhow. You're not fully immersed in Polish culture, so you've been misled by the leftist media. If you really understood life in Poland, your (political) opinions would be different.

Me: Well, at least you didn't say it's because I'm a cycling atheist.


I know plenty of foreigners who live in Poland and don't give a rat's ass about Polish politics. They don't know who the President is, are unaware that there's also a Prime Minister, and probably won't take an interest as long as they live in Poland...unless the exchange rate continues its plunge right into the toilet.

But someone who knows me, has known me for years? I thought they'd put me in a different category than the random expat passers through. I know that I wasn't born in Poland, and I'm not Polish, but jasna cholera I take an interest in the country I call home. Yes, I have a different perspective. I'm an immigrant after all. I'm not asking her to agree with me. I'm only asking for respect of my intelligence as an adult member of society. 

My friend? Please ask her what's wrong with Obama, why Americans are overweight, or who will be the next US President. She's an expert.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cleaning house czyli dobra zmiana

Things are changing here in Poland after the latest elections, most notably in recent days, journalists of public television and radio are losing their jobs. In a nutshell, the ruling party (called PiS, the Law and Justice party) believes that the role of the public media in a democracy is to support the narrative of the government; criticism is unacceptable. Democracy inaczej.

Regardless of who's in power, unceremonious cleaning house is wasteful in my opinion. Knowlege, know-how, and experience are laid to waste. Hopefully, the free market will scoop up those folks who are worth it.

Believe it or not, even I got house-cleaned once. It was a few years ago while teaching in a large, public company. I was teaching some gentlemen that I had met years before in another company, not public, that had been bankrupted by the tax office. (The tax office was later found to be in the wrong and had to pay compensation, small justice for all the people who lost their jobs including me). Anyhow, I arrived for my first meeting only to discover that my "boys" were board members and now wore suits to work and had assistants and drivers and the like. These guys were educated and qualified. They had strategies and plans. And then there was the election.

I came to work just as any other day. I was invited to talk to the new president. That was a surprise. He informed me that my "boys" didn't work there anymore and that my services were no longer needed. I explained that we had a contract. They promised to fulfill their obligations under the contract, but we were finished. I've been hired and fired many times. It's part of the job. I suggested the new board continue the contract, you know if that Prezes needed English so does this one. The new president explained that I had to go because of the elections. I finally got it and blurted out, "Grzegorz was in PiS!?" So very diplomatic of me, nie? I reminded him that I'm American and not involved in Polish politics, but he apologized once again explaining that their policy is to end all contracts signed by the old guard. Bad for me. I guess I should give that Grzegorz a call now, nie?

On a side note, with all that is going on in politics I decided to give my Twitter account a look. If you use Twitter, Kielbasa Stories is there :) I'm not very active there. Instagram is more my thing. Anyhow, Twitter informed me that controversial Polish politician Krystyna Pawłowicz had recently opened an account. I decided to follow her as her 8th follower only to unfollow her two days later. I gave a look through her posts and although they were rude and abrasive just as the real lady is, I suspected the profile was fake. Even as her popularity on Twitter rose, I still felt the profile couldn't be hers. Why? The person behind the Krystyna Pawłowicz Twitter profile did their best to mimic the notorious MP. Insults and accusations flew, but this faker could in no way match the amount of poison which spills each day from the original source, her real Facebook page serves as an amazing record of her creativity and stamina in attacking her opponents, real and imagined. I don't follow her, and I don't recommend following her either. 

Kielbasa Stories, on the other hand, I recommend following. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter :)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What is my motivation?

have always achieved my goals through motivation and a strong will. Okay, okay, there are plenty of goals I have made in my life and not achieved, but lack of will and motivation wasn't the cause. Now I am at the point where I think neither motivation nor a strong will can help me.

Goal: Reduce cholesterol to normal human levels. 

I am extremely motivated to do this. My marathon running father had a quadruple bypass at age 52, just months after running a race. Many of my cousins from my father's side of the family have had heart attacks under the age of 50. I don't want to end up like that. When another cousin had a heart attack at age 40 last year, I decided to get my cholesterol tested. It was 300. I was shocked and paralyzed with fear. I didn't eat for several days not knowing what was safe to put in my body. Motivation kicked in when my father died soon after that and my cardiologist tried to reassure me by saying, "Don't worry. I've operated on people younger than you." He also said "wdzianko" my least favorite word in Polish thus losing his Hot Doctor title once and for all.

I do not want to leave my children motherless. You'd think that would translate into "I don't want to die", but it really is about sticking around for my kids. It's especially important as we have no extended family to depend on. If it was just me, I'd eat all the bacon and get fat and die. It's my birthright.

Sure, I want to be slim. I absolutely want to be fit. I am quite slim and relatively fit. I don't eat what a heart patient shouldn't. I exercise vigorously, not moderately, my allotted times per week. I don't drink. I don't smoke. So what's up with my cholesterol?

After one year of hard work, my cholesterol is down 25 points to 275. That's great, right? I should be happy with my achievement, and I am. The thing is, my bad cholesterol hasn't budged, not even one point. I'm still motivated, still wanting to stay alive and all that. I am able to just not eat all that stuff I shouldn't. It's not a big deal really. But Jeezuz, what if it isn't enough? I'm going into Year 2 of my cholesterol lowering plan. Let's hope it's enough.

Me on a chilly bike ride :)

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.