Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Like Halloween, Only at Christmas

I come from a culture in which  people spread Christmas cheer by gathering in groups and going door to door on a cold and frosty evening to sing Christmas carols, usually in harmony.  Sometimes they even bring treats for the inhabitants of the homes who's doors they knock on.

As a lover of singing and spreading Christmas cheer I have always enjoyed Christmas caroling. And, really, as a lover of donuts and hot apple cider after caroling I have always enjoyed Christmas caroling.

I have missed it in the years we've lived here.  Christmas caroling is, um, different in Poland.  And by different I mean that it's basically the opposite of what it is in the States.  Beginning with the fact that it is done after Christmas instead of before.

Young or teenage boys dress up as shepherds or wise men (and we once had a grim reaper?) and knock on doors after Christmas.  When the door is opened they begin singing.  Badly.  And in most cases very badly.  It is hard not to laugh, but a blast of icy air is usually freezing your face stiff before the laughing comes (when it's just a pleasant smile), assisting you in your efforts to be kind..

Although these young carolers don't come bearing any Christmas goodies  there IS an element of giving involved.  Those being sung to are expected to cough up something valuable to give to each of the (usually 3-5) boys.  Money, of course, is the most acceptable but we've given treats before, too.  That was only because we didn't have any coal on hand.  At our house "gifts" are only ever handed over after Greg has given the boys a proper  teasing and made them all giggle (if they're elementary aged) or slug each other in the arms (if they're a little older).  Usually something about how bad their singing was, or remarks about their costumes (the grim reaper that one year really got an earful!).

They take their loot and are off to terrorize the next neighbor.  It's really very festive.

Who'll bet I reach crabby old-ladihood before Melanie?  Who bets I'm already there?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Not Very Merry Story (but with a happy ending)

The flight to London, though delayed by an hour, was quite good, right up until the landing, at which point Spencer vomited all over both of us.  A lot.  This was the first time he has ever thrown up and, luckily for us, happened to coincide with the first flight for which I have ever forgotten to include a change of clothes for all travelers in my carry on (usually done in case of delayed baggage).  

We had the distinkt pleasure of running through one of the busiest (and hugest!) airports in the world looking like I had just drunk a Big Gulp and then peed my pants and smelling like I had just climbed out of a dumpster full of rotten everything, while racing to catch our connecting flight.  It was 2am California time and Spencer was in no mood to run alongside me so I had the other privilege of carrying him in one arm while dragging my carryon with the other, stopping every few minutes to switch arms, and then, after awhile, every 10 seconds or so because my arms were done and let me know by offering me approximately zero strength.

When we finally arrived at our gate I was sticky, sweaty, sleepy, smelly and physically exhausted--in its true sense, not just the "very tired" we often mean when we use the word-- only to find that the plane (departing at 12:15) had already departed (before 12:10), even though they knew to expect us.  The heavily made-up woman who gave me this news told me to head back to the ticket counter where I should make new flight plans, whereupon I said, "You're kidding.", dropped into the nearest seat and began to cry. So, after a minor breakdown (I've always loved me a good cry in public) we went all the way back to the customer service desk and waited in line to make new plans.  Our new flight would leave six hours later.  Six glorious hours of hanging out with a cranky, sleepy toddler in, again, one of the busiest airports, trying to keep as far as possible away from anything with a sense of smell. 

We did meet another family in the exact same situation (minus the throw up and the single parent and the sleepy toddler -- well, mostly they were on our previous flight and missed the connection to Warsaw, too) who helped us out and walked with us part of the way (and their five year old only mentioned our smell like twice).  Also, Spencer wasn't at all sick, it had just been a motion/air pressure thing.  Trust me, I counted every blessing I could.

In our last flight (2 1/2 hours) I requested seats situated as far as possible from other passengers, but learned that the flight was booked.  I prepared to apologize profusely for the odor to everyone who glanced in our general direction.  As it happened, nobody did.  And even the young lady sitting right next to us didn't say anything and I just hope she heard me when I hurriedly mentioned and apologized for it half under my breath early on in the flight.

But what joy to finally arrive in Warsaw!  Only one of our two checked bags didn't show up, and seeing Greg, Evie, David and Aaron was pure bliss.  

I can't imagine anything making me happier than I was to see them, but I have to say, putting on clean clothes was a really close second.

For the reconrd, this was the least offensive vomit I have ever smelled.  But it was still stomach contents and wasn't very fantastic.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Happy Years

Two years ago today our family was given the best early Christmas present ever.  We will never be the same and are so grateful for all the joy Spencer has brought into our home.

This isn't our home, but it is our family after a long day of District Conference, which is kind of the same thing.
 The following picture shows how Spencer approaches the world

With a smile that says, "I bet we could be friends, you and me!"  With an implied "especially if you like to follow me around wherever I go and do just as I say!"

In airports he waved and gave a cheery, "Hello!" to every single person we passed.  While we waited he counted people's feet (one guy had 5, apparently) and pointed out every person who was using a cell phone.

The most exciting thing he experienced in America was seeing cars.  We would drive while he gazed out the window for long periods of time and then he would suddenly proclaim, pointing with great excitement, "AUTO!!"  A car!  He spotted a car!!  That's another thing about him.  He can find a car where you'd least expect to, like on the freeway in southern California, or in a parking lot.  And he told us every time he did (fortunately he seemed to miss most of them and just randomly caught one here or there).  Which is probably why his super cute cousin once gave him a bossy little push and said, "Don't say 'auto' anymore!!"  (I was glad someone was brave enough to finally say it!)

William has the shiniest red hair and he and Spence looked so cute bouncing around the park together, while Spencer pointed out all the cars in the distant parking lot.

I'm so glad I got to share him with my family.  And that he saved about 95% of his fits for the last two days (and even then it could have been worse).  He was a sweet little traveling cousin/nephew/grandson and even the events of the way home couldn't turn me against him!!  :)  (Just kidding.  And that story really is coming...)

And the best part of coming home was his reunion with his best friend.

Aaron and Spence
We all love our boy and are so grateful that he IS ours!  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Home Sweet Home Away from Home Sweet Home

What a vacation!  Spencer and I bounced around from Micah's to Dad's to Anne's, to Jon's to Ben's then back to Anne's and then Dad's in the space of 2 1/2 weeks in California.  I realized a lot of things while we were there.

I realized/learned/decided:
  • that I love America as much as, or maybe even more than I remembered.  
  • that I love my brothers and sisters very, very much and am grateful that they married such awesome people and gave birth to such lovely (seriously gorgeous), intelligent and fun children.
  • that family gossip will never affect me much again.  I feel like I "get" everyone in the family.  And love each of them a ton*.  Oh, I already said that. (*that's 2,000 pounds of love each.)
  • how people can live without cooking.  This has always been a mystery to me.
  • that minute rice bears virtually no resemblance to actual rice.
  • that it was a very, very good idea to take Spencer with me.  
  • how different every family is.  I loved spending time in so many different homes.  
  • that I am not a good conversationalist, but decided it's okay because silences were never awkward.
  • that I am lucky to have the parents I do.
  • that I have it in me to forgive a sister for having a cupboard full of bags of chocolate, vanilla and peanut butter chips which have EXPIRED.  It took me about a week, but behold, I did forgive.
  • that, as a guest, I am terrible at helping with dinner prep/cleaning.  This bothered me, but not enough for me to overcome my insecurity and get my rear up and give it a try.
  • (or rather confirmed) that for me, sitting around at home with people I love is usually as fun or enjoyable as going out to do something with them, and often it's more enjoyable.
  • more about what kind of person I want to become from being with so many people I admire.
  • that everybody makes stupid mistakes or bad choices that cause crisis in their lives.  And that it's okay to just learn from them and move on.  And that it helps to get sympathy from those around you.
  • that arms do not actually fall off from carrying a toddler for long periods of time.  Even if you keep expecting them to.  And pretty much wish they would.

Plus a billion other things that kind of made me a little bit of a new person.

And the fact that I would go through what it took to get us home all over again* -- twice, even, if necessary! -- says everything about the trip.  It really was one of the best experiences of my life.  And I'm still happy to be back home.  Home away from home.  Together with my family, away from my family.  Actually, those last four words are the not-so-happy part ...
*story to come