Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Chocolate and Charity Have in Common

Almost two years ago Annette Lyon* sent me a recipe for brownies which I made and loved. She knows her chocolate. To the point that she now has her own chocolate cookbook.

The book itself isn't chocolate, as I'm sure you probably thought, but it's filled with chocolate recipes. A couple of days ago she posted two of them on her blog. I made them today. They made big, beautiful cupcakes with rich chocolate frosting. Mmmmmm. I made Greg choose one and take a picture of it (in terrible lighting) and let him try to fix it however he liked. Here is the result.
Needless to say I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this cookbook. And I love its title: Chocolate Never Faileth. Amen!

(I think I'll go eat another.)
*This isn't the first of her books I've been enthused about. Remember this one? Loved it, and that one wasn't even about chocolate!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You Might Be A Mother

IF: argue with a three year old over whether or not his eyes are blue and then pull out your phone and take a picture, on the spot, to prove you're right. (then look on the computer and realize that the picture is lot more grainy than it was on your phone)

...while combing a girl's hair you ask if she knows why you came into the world. When she responds, without missing a beat, "To be our mom" you tear up a little and scold yourself for ever, ever complaining about this gig. can't sit down to eat a sandwich for three minutes without being tugged at, pulled on and stared at with eyes that say "hold me, mommy!" sometimes grab a nine year-old boy and sit him on your lap and talk to him, the whole time wondering how on earth he got to be SO BIG. realize that nearly everything you write as your status update on facebook includes something certain kids have said or done. You want to stop boring people but you kind of can't. laugh and cry both with and about the same kids pretty much every day. love to read, write and talk about children and parenting, even with people you have never met before, on a regular basis.

Now, I'm not saying any of these criteria apply to me, I'm just saying that I'm pretty sure I'm a mother.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cold Turkey

I just scraped out a pumpkin and it's baking in the oven to be pureed (no canned stuff in Poland) and made into delicious fall food so, under the circumstances, just writing that title makes me think of delicious turkey and cranberry sandwiches on dinner rolls the day after Thanksgiving. But that's not the kind of cold turkey I'm talking about.

I'm talking about a muuuuuuuch less pleasant cold turkey, but one that brings significantly longer-lasting satisfaction. Tonight we're letting Spencer cry it out.

Now I know I probably-too-often get on my soapbox about sleep, but it's something I love and need. I know my kids need it, too and I want them to love it. That's why our philosophy and evening/night time routine is what it is. It works for us so we do it.

Spencer has been a good little sleeper. He was waking twice for feedings around 1 and 5 a.m. from the time he was six weeks old. Since he turned maybe two or three months old he only wakes around 5. Until recently.

Lately he wakes up at 10ish, 1ish, 3ish and 5ish. I end up feeding him two or three of those times. He is nine months old. He does not need to eat two or three times during the night. So instead of letting him outgrow his 5 a.m. feeding I'm sort of forced to force him to learn to fall back to sleep when he wakes at night. By force.

Just kidding. I'm just trying to make it sound as evil as possible for those reading who already think it is terrible and torturous. I want this to be a controversial post. I need to be much more controversial on this here blog of mine.

But I guess that's pretty much what it is (cry-it-out is force, not blog is controversial). Still, I've done it enough to know that it's a quick and easy thing that allows us both to get better quality sleep. And also that he won't think I don't love him because of it. I'm pretty sure jumping out of bed to nurse him whenever he called for nine months showed clearly enough that I love him. Letting him cry for two or three nights shouldn't overshadow that.

Still, it's sort of hard on me (us). So I'm asking for sympathetic vibes sent our direction tonight. And if you only have outrage, don't send those vibes, please (just leave them in a comment).

Anyway, I could go on (and on) about sleep and why we train our kids in that area etc. but instead I'll just leave you with an anecdote that illustrates how ingrained it all is in the heads of our children:

Aaron loves The Aristocats and watches it regularly. A lot happens in that movie, sad, happy, funny, crazy etc. Still, the one part of the show that moves Aaron more than any others is not any of these.

After the "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" scene, Duchess tucks her kittens sweetly into bed. During this part Aaron starts getting noticeably worried. When mama cat walks away the kittens get up out of bed one by one. As soon as Marie, the first one, gets up Aaron starts calling to me, "Oh NO! Mommy! She can't get out of bed! She has to go night-night!" And watches the darling scene that follows with a look of disappointment directed at those kittens.

See? He knows we need sleep. (And he also loves to enforce rules.) And I'm pretty sure he knows I love him, even though I taught him to sleep through the night when he was Spencer's age.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fences Are Greener Over Here

One thing I love about Poland is how ecological people are. There's not so much of the "Save the World" craze, but people just do things that make sense.

This is especially true of the older generations, part of which surely has to do with having learned to conserve during the dark years of communism. Greg's parents still have baby food jars that they use as containers from when David was a baby. That's over eight years ago. The jars are fine, so why not use them? People bring their old plastic bags to the grocery store when they shop. Plastic bottles are made into spinning scarecrow thingies for gardens. The same clothes are worn around the house until they literally fall apart.

And packaging makes sense here. There is a lot of plastic, but it is thin. I am regularly outraged (though mildly) when I visit the states and see how things are packaged with plastic thick enough that it can only be meant to protect the food item from being repeatedly whacked with a hammer. Which could happen, of course, so maybe I shouldn't complain. . .

Reusing is economical and ecological, of course. Take, for example, fences in our neighborhood. There are all kinds of fences; wrought iron, chain-link, wood etc. but there are an alarming number of fences that look like these:



Can you guess what they are? Well I'll tell you.

Our town has what is now a huge "economic zone" of factories belonging to various companies that get some tax breaks or something. It is also where Greg works. On the map below you can see "the Zone". It's the white blob.

Here it is closer up.

Back in the day (the same "day" that caused people to become so conservative, conservatory and conservationalizing with their things) they made airplanes there. For the commies. Where's your nearest communist airplane factory? (In the factory Greg works they no longer make MiG fighter jets but now make these, which I personally would take over a fighter jet any day of the week. Especially Friday. Preferably this coming Friday.)

So around here there was a lot of metalwork going on. Airplane parts were cut out of large sheets of metal. What was left over was put in the scrap pile. Or. . . it wasn't. See where I'm going with this?

So those sheets of metal made for lovely, decorative and original fences. Sheets of all sizes were welded together, often with metal rings or circles to connect them. Stick them in a frame made of pipe, paint them white, green or brown and you have yourself a fence. A free one.

It's pretty crazy to walk down the street around here and realize that the pieces cut out from all those fences are lying in airplane graveyards all over the former communist block.

So yay for being ecological and hooray for being surrounded by history. It may be a dark history, but I still love how rich this country is in it and how much of that history surrounds me*.
*remember this?
Also, please note how lovely our town is, on the banks of a river and flanked by forest.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Some Teachers Just Need To Retire: A Rant

I know that teachers in Poland have different background and theories than those I grew up with. They don't seem to understand the basics of positive reinforcement and the self-fulfilling prophecy etc. I also remember that when David chose to go to a costume party in Kindergarten dressed as a bum (thought of it on his own) his teacher told him it was an ugly costume and she didn't like it (can't really blame her but she didn't have to say it in front of the class - or at all). So I really should not be surprised by his current teacher (that he has grades 1-3 with).

Last year before an evening costume party/dance the school was holding he agonized forever about what to go as. People would make fun of the "muscles" in his Spiderman costume, the Batman costume was too small etc. He came up with the idea of going as a spy. He dressed in a suit and made himself a badge to tuck into his shirt pocket and an ID card to flash from his wallet. He wore his "spy glasses" (with mirrors on the sides to see what's behind you) and I thought he took a motion detector or some other McDonald's spy toy we have kicking around.

But maybe he didn't because the next Monday he came home from school and told me that his teacher had told him that he didn't do a very good job with his costume. He should have made some gadgets or something to make it more interesting.

This year on one of the first days of school she had the kids write what their dream school would be like. One girl said that there would be a robot that would go around and if you got lost it would take you to your classroom. Cute, huh? Shows the little girl's fears and her solution for dealing with them.

The teacher didn't think so. She said, "That is a very strange idea. Why would you need someone to show you where your class is? Don't you know where it is!?! A better idea would be if you could fly to school. . . " and proceeded to explain how to use your imagination properly to create a TRULY interesting school.

A few days ago she asked David what his mom does for work. He told her that I write. She was intrigued and grilled him with questions. All he could tell her was that I write articles, send them to a man and he sends me money. When he couldn't explain better who the man was (name, please!) she said, "David! Don't you know anything about your own mother!?!"

The other day a girl needed a tissue and didn't have one. The teacher asked David if he had one he would give her. He didn't. She asked why not. He said because he doesn't have a stuffy nose. The teacher told him he has no culture, coming to class without tissues in his bag.

Other things she regularly says to students:

"Oh, that's an interesting haircut. I liked it better how it was before." Or she just says she doesn't like it.

"You wear your short sleeves over your long sleeves? Is that some kind of new style? Whatever!" and other comments on the clothes they wear.

"What is that!?! That's supposed to be a dog? That looks like a pig."

These are the only things I can remember right now, but David comes home from time to time and cries about how much he "hates" his teacher, usually when she's embarrassed him or a friend of his with her comments.

I just had to get that all off my chest. She's not always such a troll, and we have actually appreciated her sense of humor and hard work with the difficult class she's been dealing with for 2 full years already. But really, when you start resorting to insulting kids to get back at them for being hard to deal with I think it really is just time to retire. Even if you're only in your early forties. (and even if you praise my baking in front of all the other parents)(which is the main problem, praise and criticism all spoken loudly in front of everyone.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Defining "My People"

So, I miss my people. The people of mine who I miss the most-- sometimes more, sometimes a lot more and sometimes not quite so much more, but whom I always feel the lack of--are my family. Those people really belong to me and should live closer.

But there are other people I feel rather possessive of. Millions of them. I will explain.

As I put my carry-on in the overhead compartment of a plane that will cross the Atlantic to my Patria, I hear numerous loud conversations going on. This guy is telling his neighbor about a show he saw in Las Vegas, that lady is explaining to a man about a rude person she met while on vacation. Over there a man is laughing boisterously as he tells a story about a family member. It's a bit of an overload for me. I didn't really want or need to hear any of that. It almost seems rude to bombard strangers with personal stories, loudly told, and yet I sit down, listen, and smile broadly. I love these people. They are Americans.
As we unload our luggage in a hotel parking lot two young men come walking from the other end of the lot. When they are still quite far away I tell Ev, "those guys are Americans". I can tell because of how they look and. . . seem. They are casually dressed and seem happy and laid back. I cannot fully describe it. Soon we see they are coming toward us, and that they are former missionaries back in Poland for a visit. They are Americans.
Walking down the crowded streets of beautiful Krakow I come face to face with a woman and we do the side-to-side trying-to-get-out-of-each-other's-way dance. She makes eye contact, smiles and then we pass each other, without speaking a word. I lean to Greg and we say at the same time, "that was an American".
I meet people and within the first few sentences I speak to them I, out of habit, utilize verbal irony. They laugh, or smile or keep a straight face and respond with irony as well. They are Americans.
We've had mission presidents' wives from South Africa and then Denmark for the last six years. (I love and admire them both). But now we have a new one and after our first few minutes of conversation I feel like we've been friends for years. She is an American.
I get these people and they get me. That (obviously) makes them mine.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Prince and His, um, Horse

As a young teenager girl I dreamed of my Prince Charming. While I dreamed, this is the noble steed upon which my Knight in Shining Armor galloped:

He's in the passenger seat (it was his friend's car). I would like to say that I have no idea how he even got in there, because it sounds good, but the fact is, this is the exact same model (and color!) of car we drove for a few months while I was all the way pregnant with David, before we got a real car, so I know very well that it is possible to get in and out of one, even when you're Very Large.

It's pretty shocking how different the streets look today when compared with this picture ('91). Well, truthfully, you see the same number of pedestrians and kiosks, but now the streets are busy and full of new cars.

But what's really crazy is that they are also rather full of this same car. Still!

And I'm not sure when they started painting center lines on the streets, but they have them now. (and fine, they probably had them then, too, just not on some streets, such as the one pictured above. I'm glad, because it helps contribute to the sense that the street as wide as the Mississippi compared to this microscopic car)

Two jokes Greg tells about these cars:
1. What's the quietest car in the world? A Fiat Maluch (MAL-oo-h) because when you sit down in one your knees cover your ears.
2. This is the only Vatican endorsed car because, um, for reasons of chastity.

Even though this car looks like something we would have been required to build for our final project in my Beginning Auto class in high school, I love it. Partly because I have memories of my own in one (including trying not to go into labor one time while riding over an extremely bumpy road through the forest), but also because it's part of what got Greg where he is today. It was part of his journey. This picture was taken not too long after he was baptized, and the driver/friend was his branch president.

It's kind of funny that in a world where many people feel that it matters what gets you from A to B, this picture inspires so much more affection from me than if my knight had been driving a shiny BMW. Or riding a glossy-coated, black stallion.