Thursday, August 28, 2014

noticing the normal part 2

After living here and then returning to the States I noticed the difference in what you are exposed to more than anything. On the streets, in the stores, at restaurants. America, the part I am from, is very... sterile, I guess you could say. Very clean, manicured. (In fact you pay money to an association, in your neighborhood, whose sole purpose is to make sure that everyone around you keeps their homes manicured and sterile).

 If someone is drinking, in public, in the middle of the day, the police are immediately called. Inebriation happens in your backyard, your living room, or at a bar. Never out in the open (at least not for long).

Old people. Older, like 10 years past retirement age, walking slowly, white hair. Where are these people in America?  I rarely saw them as I went about my daily life. I certainly wasn't rubbing elbows with them at the checkout line in Target.

People with physical or mental disabilities. Never. Ok, maybe every once in a while, in a group whose sole purpose is to take  people out for an outing and then back to the school or home where they spend most of their time.

It's almost as if, along with our lawns and our appearance, we have manicured who we encounter as we walk out our front door. How? I don't know. Societal pressure. Choice. Money. In a country that prides itself on being diverse and tolerant, America also likes it's special schools, it's special homes, and it's institutions. Visible difference or suffering makes people uncomfortable. A lot of people simply tuck it away or don't deal with it at all. It's easy to do that in America.

So when we had a friend visit us last summer, here in Krakow,  he asked us one evening as we were discussing his trip to Europe (including several countries)...

"Why are there so many "different" people?... have you guys noticed that?... so many people with disabilities, or really old, or looking kind of not all put together," ( he was trying to be does one discuss these things after all?).

Martin and I both kind of chuckled. He had noticed all the "not normal."

Part of raising my kids here is choosing to expose them to all of this I mentioned in my rant against those people in Kazimierz... this WORLD. See, what you get in American suburbs is exactly what American suburbs are serving up... normality. A pre-prescribed normality. An agreed upon normality. A uniformity. A uniformity that money can buy, and one that is increasingly manicured and detailed the more money you have. I grew up in this. Most of my friends grew up in this. Martin, at least in America, grew up in this. And to be able to live in  the American suburbs is the "American dream," white picket fence, and all that. Safety, good schools, neighbors who are similar to you in many ways. It's not very far to the soup kitchen for the homeless or the women's shelter for battered women, but you have to make the effort, you have to seek out the suffering, the different.

There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, nothing morally wrong with that. At least I don't think so. It's a very comforting, restful existence.  You have to be invited into people's homes to see them live. There are the differences, the struggles, the "not normal". But only if you're invited, if you're trusted. Rarely in public.

So sterile. So prepackaged. So predictable.

 Poland, perhaps I should say, Europe, is just so... raw. So real. So unpredictable.

 I like that. It's been good for me. To know that this is what life can be like, all the pretty and ugly, together. Being exposed to, on a daily basis, what I normally would have to seek out. I like that my kids get to see all kinds of people living out their lives. ALL kinds of people, not just the ones that are socially acceptable, even if that means they have to see things that are "unpleasant."

If you have always lived here you probably think I'm crazy to talk about this for so long. For sure, I'm talking about your backyard, and it has always looked like that, all of this is normal for you, regular, every day living in Krakow, Poland.

Little by little it is becoming so for me as well.  It's a good thing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

noticing the normal part 1

See, the thing is, there just ARE more people in your line of vision. Everywhere. More people. Because Europe builds up, not out. People here walk or ride public transportation. Lots of cars too, more every day, but still, bursting at the seams public transport. You see people. All kinds of people, every day. You see people eating and drinking while walking. You see people of all ages and sizes and races and genders (well, just the two really) licking ice cream cones.

This always makes me chuckle. Guys with shaved heads, muscle shirts, iphone to ear, licking an ice cream cone and walking to the bus stop. Imagine it for a second. There is no cool way to eat an ice cream. It's chuckle worthy.

What this means is that you are seeing people living. Not just people "at the store", or "at the mall," or "at the work place,"...but people in the middle of living their lives.

You see a lot. You hear a lot. You smell a lot. Some of it not so pleasant. Some of it not very pretty. All of it VERY human.

I once saw two men who had clearly just been fighting, drunk, make-up their fight for well over 30 minutes. Talking, hugging, and explaining. One of them was wearing nothing but boxer shorts.

 You see many more people with physical and mental disabilities. People with facial or physical dis-figuration. People who have clearly lived very hard lives, care worn and tired.  You see a lot of elderly people.  A lot of elderly people. Everywhere.

If you visit here you aren't going to notice these things as more than just quirks. You see people rifling through trash cans or men drinking on a bench at 10:30am on a Sunday morning and you are a little shocked but in that "oh, look at Europe" kind of way. You see  people who walk funny or look a little weather beaten and assume they must be poor. Or you simply don't see them at all because you're busy looking up at the pretty buildings or booking it to the recommended restaurant or your face is behind the camera. Because you're visiting, and that's what you came for. The fancy European stuff.

What happens when you live here is a bit different.

You start to notice all these people living, and then you notice the grungy stuff, and the not so pretty stuff. The broken stuff. Because now you live here and instead of noticing the pretty buildings, you start to notice the trash can rifling, and the drunken stumbling, and the graffiti. Except its not quirky, or other's home.

And then it seems as if that's all there is to see. Because you start to really notice it. Because it stands out. It's not "normal." Because after a while, after taking your face away from the camera and looking around, you start to look for the normal. The moms with strollers and dads with kids on shoulders. The ladies out for a coffee together and friends sharing a soda. At first you can't see it. You can't see the normal because there is so much "other." So. much. OTHER. So much that is not clean and neat and fits into, well, into a neat and clean store or restaurant or place of business...where you're used to encountering other people.

It's not cleaned up ship shape for public viewing. It's not polished. It's not predictable.

There are so many reactions I have had to this reality. Sometimes it's disgust. Warranted disgust. For some things are not appropriate or tolerable anywhere. Sometimes it's fatigue. Just tiring of trying to navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly, take in the good, pray for the bad, and hope the ugly goes out of style. But more often than that I have found myself just looking on (or away) with curiosity. It's not every day that you see a man riding a bike with nothing on but mesh underwear. Very intriguing.

Martin says that it's easy to not notice the normal, because when surrounded by so many people on a daily basis, every time you step out of the house, the not normal stands out. In a crowd of people you aren't going to notice all the regular people doing regular things like sitting and looking out the window on the tram, you're going to notice the girl who's brushing her teeth and texting at the same time (true story) standing directly in front of you.

No, you have to look for it. You have to make an effort to notice it, instead of the other. To refocus your eyes...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

speaking of things my children have seen that they could do without seeing

Oh, Finland, you ol' creepy country you.
Givin' Poland a run for it's money.

photo (8)
Thankfully they have that protective rope. 

home bageling, for now

One of Martin's earliest memories of living in America was when he was 3. His parents had just moved to Austin, they were living in an Apartment complex on the second floor. Little 3 year old Martin thought it would be a good idea to ride his tricycle down the flight of (metal) stairs that connected the first and second floors. As he hit the ground his eyebrow, that spot so prone to cuts, popped open and blood started spilling everywhere. His father found him covered in blood, holding his eye. Head injuries bleed like there is no tomorrow, which is to say, a lot. I've been there with my own sons, I know the fear his dad felt. His father assumed he had lost an eye. The story goes, as he was running up the stairs to clean him up and take him to the hospital, that his father's first thoughts were along the lines of ... "why did I bring them to this country?!" Which, after hearing this story told about 8 or 9 times (it never gets old, none of my father-in-law's stories ever get old, I love them, I love them all, especially the one about the nun and the bones...), sounds more and more absurd...

What do mean, "why did I bring them to this country?!" It's not America's fault that your 3 year old made a conscious decision (Martin remembers choosing to do this) to ride his bike down a flight of metal stairs. Why are you blaming America? Hmmm? I seem to remember an incident involving an open window and a toddler that happened in good ol' sunny Nowa Huta...where was America on that one?... stuff happens everywhere... etc. etc.  You know, all said with a hint of seriousness but mostly jollity.

Until this past week.

Now I know exactly how he feels.


 And no, there was no blood involved. No trips to E.R.'s. And no one was the least bit hurt. At least not physically.

My story goes... eating out at one of our favorite quick and delicious eateries in hippie dippie Kazimierz when I look up and see... something. Something that I should not have to see. Something that my children should not have to see. But I saw it. We ALL saw it.

I panicked.

Well, first I informed Martin, quelled my very young and innocent children's curiosity with bold faced lies about what was really going on, and swiftly buckled them all and drove off.

*Then* I panicked.

HOW?! How could I have brought my children to this place?! To have brought my children here, to this place where they can see such things, in public! Not but a few yards away?!! How can we live in this place where people think that's ok to do, in a park, in plain view of everyone, on a Thursday afternoon?! Such boorishness, such crassness! Such a horrible display of...!!!

But really, it doesn't matter what we saw, does it? My kids see things here every day that I wish they didn't have to see. Men dragging themselves into and out of the 24 hour alcohol stores (open every day, rain or shine, Sundays, holidays, and especially Holy Days!) wasted out of their gourd, sobering up just long enough to shoot the finger at the truck that had the audacity to try and drive on the street where they were stumbling (or trying to ride their bike - so sad).Or the graffiti that not only spells out the most horrible words used to describe the co-creative act but then proper anatomy for visual aids, just in case. Mother's yanking their children by the arms, dad's telling their kids they're dumb. Older people, mentally unstable, harassing them, my children, who try and be nice, and then become afraid so that we have to duck into a nearby church to escape. Cursing! Loud, loud cursing, followed by lots of lengthy, drunken,  public urination. Women/Men wearing nothing but underwear (or see-through clothing, looooots of see through clothing), because, you know, it's 30c/86f out!

Drunken men.
Crazy old women.
Bad parenting.
Mostly naked youths (or not so youth)
Public displays of... you name it.

I just panicked.
Why did I bring them here?!

I missed our little home school community and the safety of the middle class American suburbs more than I ever have before. It's so different there! So normal, so clean, so simple. So NOT all this, this...this WORLD... that is constantly being shoved in our face, without our permission, in spite of our protestations!


It wasn't good that young Martin fell down those stairs and cut his eyebrow. It could have been a lot worse. And he will forever have the scar. But he survived. It was not good that my young children saw something that they cannot un-see. I will never forget it.  But we will survive. My love for Poland has been dented a little, it's true. But over time I'm sure I'll get a good chuckle out of all of this and be reminded time and again that Poland had nothing to do with it (at least not directly, I mean, it has more to do with it than just a flight of stairs that *happen* to be in America, I mean stairs are everywhere, what we saw doesn't just happen everywhere...but I have more reason to be upset with a whole country digress).

I will not however be going back to trendy, hipster, gross Kazimierz for quite some time. At least until my mental image of it is somewhat altered, by a blanket of pure white snow perhaps? Therefore I've been forced to make my own bagels.

And that's just fine with me (and her).

photo (7)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

To Martin, From Olivia : Our Day (aka, Day 3 without you)

Today was much better than yesterday. I got way more sleep and the weather was cooler. It just gets so hot up here! What do people in 4th floor flats do?!

Speaking of Poland and climate, why don't Poles put screens on their windows? Is there some sort of old wives tale about flies in your house/food/hair/drink being good luck or something? Fruit flies, Martin, fruit flies. And I'm pretty sure pregnant flies, giving birth somewhere where I can't see them. At this very moment.

And don't worry, I took out the trash and the recycling... I'm so glad I'm not the man who has to pick up our trash, God bless them.

Speaking of trash, the boys vacuumed the floors today. They pretended I was the master and they were the slaves and they had to do everything I said. Worked great for Kacio. For once he did everything I told him to do with no stalling. They vacuumed and then commenced to suck each others shirts into the vacuum cleaner, but then that's half the fun. They were also supposed to clean their room. I think one of them didn't get the memo...


We went to M1 as promised and looked at games. So expensive!! And Felix still has his heart set on Magia i Miecz so we decided not to buy anything until we talk to your cousins about that. Soon hopefully. I also bought the elastic I needed. I had no idea what the word for elastic was, I meant to look it up before we left but forgot. Hejjo didn't know either, and why would he? But it didn't matter. The woman did not speak a single word to me the entire time she was helping me. She grunted a couple times. But I guess she understood? It was at that creepy Pasmanteria that I swear has the exact same fabric in the exact same amounts as when we moved here. How does that place stay in business? How do any of them stay in business?!! (I'm tellin' launderin' has to be...there is no way there are that many people that need Firanki out there that don't already have them, to keep these places in business...although there are a lot of polyester pant suits out there and someone has to be sewing them...)

I bought 2 yards, for less than 1 American dollar. What a country.

We ate at that same restaurant where we ate that time Felix got lost. The food was worse than I remembered  but the kids liked it and my Zurek was ok. I ordered a Duzy Kotlet and fries for all of them (it was not the healthiest day of eating)... so we also had our evening meal sewn up.



We took the #4 tram to Amiqs. I started to get really worried when it headed towards the Old Town and then I realized that it was just a really long trip... it took us almost 40 minutes to get there. Hejjo was seriously ill from the smell on the tram when we got out. Poor kid. They were not as happy riding the tram as I thought they'd be. 
023 027 015

I bought some yarn, attempted to get the Hobbits boys haircuts, but it didn't work out. 

We got back on the tram, Kacio fell asleep. Hejjo gave up his seat for an older man with a cane, without me even having to tell him. I was proud.

Sound bites once departing the tram:
H: The second tram smelled even worse than the first.
F: Wouldn't it have been faster if we had just taken the car?
K: That wasn't scary, that wasn't scary tram ride, mama, that wasn't scary, right, mama, that wasn't scary, right? (breathe)
Me: Right.

We got the ice cream that was promised. They were so well behaved all day, they really were. We never got flustered, we stopped for lots of drinks and I made sure and take potty breaks so there were no emergencies. It was really nice to just hang out with them. No rushing. Such great kids we have.


Then I pushed my luck and took them into H&M. Gotta love those lines at the checkout.  I bought this... 

...except the pants I bought are a different color, a different material, and less tight. And my shirt is longer and doesn't have roses all over it. So, like, the same, but, like, different too.

Then we came back to the car where Felek stopped, basically in the middle of the road, almost getting hit, because he found a "ladybug wrestling an ant and wanted a closer look."  The kid can't find a red pillow on a  white couch but he can spot an ant and a ladybug wrestling?! Dude. Grrbbles.


On the way home I saw a man on a bike, about 65 years old, with ear buds in and in one hand, (the one not steering), a 5 foot long completely rusted rod of metal except in cube form, not cylinder. 

And a 'Smart' car with 4 doors and 5 seats. What's. the point.

We came home and I let the boys watch Episode 6 of Star Wars and this happened.

I hope you had a relatively easy day at work and are enjoying your time there. Thanks for chatting with my dad, I'm sure he appreciated it. Tell Lina I said hi and that I love her!

P.S. On the way to Amiqs I saw an "L" driver almost hit a pedestrian. I'm pretty sure the teacher used his own brake and the pedestrian thought it was hilarious and started laughing. 20 something guy, trendy, Ronaldo type hair, eating ice cream on a stick. It made me laugh.

P.P.S. She was there too. Like this, in the wrap for 4.5 hours. Never once made a peep.


Monday, August 4, 2014

To Martin, from Olivia

I'm going to assume you're alive since your email insinuates that you got to Austin and were missing something that someone there wanted which you could only know if someone there is going through the bags. I really don't like the way Lina was sent off. She had too few underwear, the skirt she was wearing was falling apart and she really only has enough clothes for half the amount of days you are supposed to be there. So please say/do whatever you can to apologize for making your mom do laundry for Lina, but I wanted her to pack lightly. Also, she needs shoes for the wedding. And a dress for the rehearsal dinner. She should have taken her pink dress, I just didn't think about it at the time. Target should have a dress that will do just fine. I wish I was there to pick it out. :(

I made biscuits yesterday. The creme ones. We ate the rest of them for breakfast this morning because without you here, there is so much more food when I cook. And I made potato pancakes last night. With Smietana. I ate way too many, because you weren't here to eat them all. I would be huge if you were not around.

I ordered Tesco. I'll email you after 1 pm to let you know the Tesco guy didn't abduct us. I'm sure it will be fine but he has a big van and I bet no one would hear the screams. Wait, isn't that van air conditioned? Maybe I'll just ask him if I can ride in the back for a few hours.

It is so incredibly quiet here. Yesterday was such a peaceful day and today is already so calm. The kids are so calm when it's just me, they don't have to fight you for my attention and of course, there is no fighting, since Lina is kind of the fulcrum for that teeter totter. And there is no one yelling at me all day... I think Kacio is a little bored though The boys are just reading all day long. Mattimeo came yesterday (thank goodness) and ever since both boys have just been laying around reading. I'm trying to spend more time with Kacio. He helped me cook, he painted, he cleaned dishes in a big sink sing full of soapy water. He pooped about 5 times. He watched Bob the builder. We played two games, read books with Hejjo. Watched Shaun the sheep.

Tomorrow I plan on going to Amiqs on the tram. Parking at M1 and then riding the rest of the way (I checked the jakdojadlgjyfvgf - the 4 goes that way - takes forever). The kids will like that. That is, as long as I'm not in the back of the Tesco van being smuggled to Russia...
We had a huge storm here yesterday and I'm pretty sure that two lightning strikes were actually in the backyard. It's hard to see the backyard from the top story but we stood on our tiptoes and watched the lightning. Twice, when we were in the living room, it was that really loud cracking sound and a blue light, really close, and the thunder was amazing! No hail. And it rained forever, really hard. It's much cooler today, although I know it will warm up. 

Why do the kids wake up so early?

I hope your trip went smoothly. Say hi to everyone there for us. 

Tell Lina I love her and remind her to sit like a lady and brush her hair, please. And her teeth! And say please and thank you...

I love you!


“Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”
Saint Benedict

Friday, August 1, 2014


We have walls! Basement walls, but still... that means, homeschooling room walls, guest room walls and laundry room walls! LAUNDRY ROOM!!! (Laundry = my 6th child that now will have its very own room)





Banks = Elmira Gulch

"county" = money
23 years = 8 months

With all that's going on in the world right now, from our little family to countries we've never visited, I have found it hard to be at peace a good portion of the day. So much to think about. And pray about. Anxiety and restlessness. The house has been a source of much needed focus. Martin wants to visit every day. I have managed to hold him back to every other day (it's almost 40 minutes from where we live right now, gas is expensive, and we do have a life to live). But we both know that this Sunday we will be taking a picnic lunch and eating in one of those rooms with no roof. Just to pretend. And bask in our blessings.