Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm up and running!

Hey Polish Hamsters,

If you are looking to read new material, come visit my new site

Friday, December 28, 2007

A new beginning.

O Christmas Tree...

I have a yearly tradition that on Christmas Day, I sit by the tree and write down in my journal the year in review and my goals for the year ahead. Usually I will look back at the previous year's goals to see if I made them happen. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Some goals make it on the list year after year.

Sitting down to write down everything felt different this year. The past few times doing this, I have looked at the year behind me with a tinge of sadness and regret, mostly because my problems always seemed to remain the same, a year come and gone with no progress. I am always hopeful that the year ahead will make everything better.

But this year, it was a joy to write everything down for a change. I am proud of how far I have come, the achievements that I have made, the things I did. And my resolutions for the new year do not seem so urgent. Sure, I would like to lose a few pounds, but I know this is not the answer to my happiness. For once in a really long time, I feel content with my life, and I only wish that I continue living in a way that satisfies me. My biggest fear is that I will forget all that and next year, sitting next to the tree, I will be thinking, what happened to that girl who was in Europe?

In some ways, Europe already feels like a long time ago. I found a receipt for the chocolates I bought in KaDeWe in Berlin yesterday and was amazed to discover that was less than a month ago. The novelty of being home has worn off, the move is pending, the job search becoming more real and I am starting to feel stress under my skin.

In Europe, I always felt like I was accomplishing a lot because I was always moving forward, always going ahead, trying something new, seeing the next new place. This past week, I feel like I am standing still. In order to be happy and find my heart's fulfillment, I will need to keep moving ahead. I can't be still anymore and wait for my life to happen to me. I saw my dad this week and while he has all kinds of ideas of what I should do with my life that aren't necessarily my own, he did have this main message for me. "You have to be active."

While I would love to spend the next year of my life traveling, I have no choice for now but to spend it one place, earning and saving money just like everyone else. The trick of the next year is to live my life in a way that excites me, where everyday (okay, maybe many days) feels like an adventure, where I don't fall into a mundane routine that bores me silly and makes me feel trapped and depressed.

So that is what I wrote about in my journal for what I want in the upcoming year:

My life should focus on people, not work. Believe it or not, this used to be hard for me. I need to work on this.

Find a job that interests me, pays the bills, but doesn't take over my life. I think that means finding some freelance marketing work to fund my life while exploring some other opportunities--like writing--to fulfill my passions.

Keep on traveling. A three-month long trip is unlikely, but I do want to go places this year. Argentina with Dan's family is on the horizon. If I cannot afford anything else, I do have New York City as my playground to search and explore new things.

Practice my Polish. How am I going to get better if I don't practice?

Nurture my artistic spirit. I realized that my artsy side has been hibernating for the last ten years and I remembered it during this trip. I am loving photography right now. I want to keep writing. I want to take out my sketch pad again. I want to create something.

Don't forget to be FUN.

This is a sketch of my goals. They are vague, they need definition to become real. I need to think some more, maybe do another self-test to get my life in focus. It's a journey, not a destination.

On that note, I am sad to announce that this will be the last entry of Polish Ham. This blog was just an idea at first and it turned into so much more than I expected. Not only was it a way to keep track of my thoughts and feelings during this life-changing trip, I was able to stay in touch with my family and friends, and I think in some ways, it brought us closer together. People started talking about the Ham. It became a topic of conversation. My mother's brother started calling my mom to discuss it. Family members reached out to me saying that they wanted to become closer. People got to know me in a way that they never did before. I would find out about people reading that I never thought would read it. It made me write everyday (something I always say I want to do but never do) and while I may have degrees and promotions and achievements and marathons under my belt, this blog is probably the most special to me for all the reasons noted. It was bigger and better than I ever imagined.

So I want to thank my readers for the awesome experience. Sure, it was me writing it every day but it was you who made it all worthwhile. Reading your comments made me feel like I was never alone. And in celebration of my new goals for the New Year (and because some people told me that they might die without reading my blog), I am starting a new blog about my everyday life called Everyday Ham ( My goal is to live a life that is worth writing about. It probably won't be as interesting as a whirlwind of travels and I cannot promise that I will write everyday, but it is my goal to translate what I learned on this experience to my everyday life. It won't be easy, there will be mishaps and twists and turns and good, bad and fun times to be had. I will write about it along the way.

I hope you join me for the ride.

Me and my dad.

Home for the holidays.

As usual, I spent Christmas this year with my family in New Jersey. Usually it is hard for me to differentiate one Christmas from the next.

We always go to my mom's house for Christmas Eve. The same people always show up (Mom and Ted, my siblings--spouses and families in tow, and family friends Kasia and Andrej with their peeps). My mom spends days preparing and my sister always makes the fried shrimp. I always snap a picture of my sister making the fried shrimp. Kasia always has an apron on, helping my mom, as soon as she walks through the door.

Around 7 at night, we start dinner with a prayer and then we walk around the table breaking holy bread and wishing each other a Merry Christmas. For dinner, we start with red borscht with mushroom dumplings. Then a feast of every fish my mom could buy, pierogies, the shrimp, Polish salads and sides. After dinner, we open presents, one at a time to make it last. I always play Santa. We wind down the evening with some dessert (usually torte and a cheese cake and some other goodies that Kasia devised--this year, a poppy seed cake). Then everyone goes home, and I spend the next few days with mom and Ted, sleeping lots, doing nothing and eating leftovers.

My sister Annette fries the shrimp--again!

Kasia, the best helper a Polish mom could ask for.

This Christmas was no different than any other year, only that I was home after months abroad, and it felt all more special for me to see everyone and share this time together.

Some highlights:

We have a new addition to our family. I was excited to meet my niece Tiffany's husband Greg. He impressed us all by eating his portion of the borscht. We usually let the new people slide if they do not want to eat the blood red beet soup (more for us!) but he downed his like a true Pole. We love Greg!

Serious borscht eaters: my brother Pete, grand-nephew Dillon, new hubby Greg and niece Tiffany.

Kids make Christmas so much more fun. After years and years of adults-only holidays, we finally have little ones to entertain us. We were all charmed by Tiffany's son Dillon. He has sprouted dark brown hair since I last saw him but he is just as lovable and full of personality. He spent the first half of the evening taking pictures of himself and laughing and dancing with excitement after he saw the flash. Then he sat patiently at the table, dunking his bread in my brother's borscht and later helped everyone open presents.

Martina, who you may remember as the Queen of Poland, was just as cute, but in her own stubborn way. She pushed Dillon away when he tried to hug her. He kept trying, she kept pushing. She refused to sit at the table or take part in Christmas at all. I am sure that will change next year. She is sure to be more like her older brother Maxim (the King), who could barely sit still all night. "Are we opening the presents now?" he would ask, over and over. And when the presents were opened, he was so tired from all the excitement, he nearly fell asleep on the couch. Remember when Christmas was that fun and tiring?

Dillon: He shoots!

He scores!

Martina plays hard to get.

Maxim opens a present as his dad Andrej looks on.

As usual, my mom outdid herself with all the food she prepared and as usual she said the food wasn't that good. (She's wrong!) But I had an a-ha moment when I watched her force food onto her guests. "What, Greg? No more food? Have some fish. Eat some more!" The ultimate food-pusher, my mom is just like her relatives back in Poland. I forgot how Polish my mom really is.

And kudos goes to Kasia, a big-time fan of Polish Ham, who got my favorite gift of the evening. She knows exactly what a Polish girl wants:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Scenes from Cookie Bonanza.

Hungover, with little sleep, I set off to conquer the third annual Cookie Bonanza, where I baked six kinds of cookies to give as gifts to my family. I baked two recipes from my new Magnolia Bakery Cookbook I got from Dan's mom. Some highlights:

Queen of the mixer.

"Surprise" cookies.

Filling the buckets. The little blue one is for Dan.

Cookie Bonanza always makes the kitchen a mess.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reunited at last.

Deciding what to wear to my high school reunion: This...

...or this. I went with the dress.

It was a complete blessing to have my 10-year high school reunion the week I got back from Europe. I have not stayed in touch with most of my classmates and with any reunion, you want to make a good impression about who you are and where you have been.

I think that if I had stayed in the States, working my same job, I would have been a little nervous about the whole thing. I could see myself maybe trying to get in shape and look my best to cover up how unhappy I really felt. Because I would know everyone would be into my job and not really about me, and that would just make me feel horrible.

Here I walk into this reunion, unemployed with flabby thighs that have not seen the gym in over three months, but I felt the most confident I have ever felt in my life. Okay, I did go out and buy a new dress. But more importantly, I just knew who I was. And that made all the difference.

I saw my good old friend Stacy, whom I vowed to stay in touch with this time around. We have tried a few times--our lives are different--but it was so easy to talk to her that what is stopping us? There was Becky, who cracked the same kinds of jokes, who reminded me of the notes we used to pass in class in a little notebook that she's still got.


Lauren, Becky and me.

There were so many familiar faces, people who I have wondered about, people who haven't even crossed my mind, people who I didn't even recognize until I was told who they are. The guys who I thought were cute in high school did not suit me anymore. Then there were some who I never noticed before that got a second look. Friendships have changed. Everyone was married. This kid Paul's girlfriend, who was not in our class, took a liking to me. "Why weren't you friends with her in high school? I love her." she asked her boyfriend. Paul and I kind of looked at each other and shrugged.

More than one person asked me if I ended up in fashion, or at least something creative. I was such a clotheshorse in high school, and it was nice to be remembered for that. It shows how I have suppressed that side of me over the years because I don't think anyone in my current life would say that about me now. But maybe now that will arise once again. Who knows?

A lot of people who I wished to see did not make the event. And when the bar finally kicked us out after midnight, I bumped into two of them: my childhood friends Tania and Anna. Tania and I have stayed in touch and is a loyal reader of the Ham. Anna, I haven't seen in ten years. She looked so good. I kept telling her how pretty she looks. She has a 7-year-old daughter. She showed me a picture of a Anna look-alike playing tennis. So cute. They had completely missed the reunion and were pumping me for details and then we, alongside with some of their friends, drove crosstown to this little Ukrainian bar, where we met up with Anna's sister Adriana. (The highlight was Tania parallel parking Anna's car in a tiny spot, where she proceeded to turn on all the wipers and lights in the process. We were dying of laughter. She made it work though).

We drank and laughed into the morning. I took a cab home and got back at 4 in the morning. Threw my new frock on the couch and jumped into my empty bed. It was a real good night. It couldn't have gone better.

The after party: Sisters Anna and Adriana.

Me, Adriana, and Tania.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas with Dan.

Dan with his stocking.

Me with my stocking.

American children have stockings lined up on their fireplace at Christmas. Polish-American children do not. I have always wanted a stocking (because I always want any excuse for more presents) but I never got one. That is, until last year. Dan, an American child, did have a sock o' gifts during his childhood and recommended that we continue the tradition in our own home. We even have our own (non-working) fireplace for them to hang. Last year, we did stockings and presents. This year, because I am broke, we only did stockings with a $100 limit.

Dan leaving for California on Saturday, we planned our Christmas night on Friday--although Dan said he had to work late. I prepared by baking some American-style (not German-style) chocolate chip cookies because he's been asking for cookies all week.

Cookie dough ready to bake.

He came home around 8:30. We ordered sushi. And then we exchanged gifts. I got a double-sided fabric belt, cashmere socks, two flannel underwear/shorts, and pretty Asian-themed earrings. After we opened, Dan had to spend an hour discussing why the gifts he gave me were so great. He was feeling insecure that I did not like them, which is not true. It's just that he was really wowed away by my gifts: a German soccer jersey bought in Berlin, two books, socks and a movie package of Whoopers, which he proceeded to eat. (I made cookies! But he ate those too). I just happen to be a good present-giver.

We meant to spend the rest of the evening watching Project Runway reruns and more time together, but in typical Dan fashion, he was procrastinating packing. I know this all too well. He is the worst packer ever. First he will do anything to avoid packing. Go on the computer, eat a cookie, call his parents. Then he will need to play music to get him in the mood for packing. So I have to endure him playing not one, but maybe two or three songs, where he just stands around and rocks out. Finally, he will go in the bedroom in pack, and the process itself takes hours. I went in there after 45 minutes and he had like three things in the suitcase. I ended up falling asleep on the couch. No Project Runway, no quality time, but at least I have a lot of great presents.

He left this morning, leaving me with a kiss, the garbage to take out and a tuperware full of cookies. I have the place to myself for a week.

The earrings I got.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Desperate housewife.

Christmas cards.

I have a to-do list.
Something I haven't written in over three months but a staple of my old life. Sure I have no job to go to, but suddenly life seems so hectic and full. Write Christmas cards, grocery shopping for Cookie Bonanza, last minute shopping, the move looming ahead. I've decided to focus on my job search after the holidays but I can't help gaze over some of the internet job sites. I am finding my eyes glazing over. What the hell do I want to do? What sounds interesting and pays decent and won't work me to death? I found one job that met that description and quickly wrote a cover letter and sent off my resume. It's on!

On top of that, Dan has projects for me to do. Pick up his laundry. Clean up the house. Research moving trucks. On one hand, he is going to work, coming home late at 7 or 8 at night, so I really have no excuse. These things need to get done. But the times slips by quickly and Dan comes home and looks at my clutter and says, "What have you been doing all day?" I am getting some stuff done, but then also find myself watching episode after episode of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. (How can I pull myself away from such bad goodness?) And I have to admit: I am procrastinating the moving stuff. I think I am a little nervous about it.

Dan wants to sell some of our furniture (some of which we just bought two years ago) because he says they won't be right for the new place. Having not seen the new place, I am having trouble letting go. I don't want to sell my furniture. Is it weird to be attached to a closet?

Something I did get done: My computer is fixed! That's right. I am writing this entry on my very own computer. The Dell man came to my apartment. Actually I was initially afraid of the Dell man. He left me three messages when I was in the shower and called many more times than that. It was downright stalker material. But he turned out to be a nice little Dell man who quickly fixed my computer and hummed along to The Rat Pack Christmas cd I had playing. He said today was his first day of the job. Well, at least he is a go-getter.

I ventured to Chelsea for some holiday shopping. The express train was jammed packed with people, so I took the local. It almost felt like I was back in Europe. I have all the time in the world, so why rush to get there? (In addition to Rock of Love, maybe that is where all my time is going.) I usually do my holiday shopping in advance, so it felt strange being with the crowds, everything on the shelves picked through, the good stuff gone.

I felt too busy to cook dinner, so we had pizza delivered from one of our favorite places, Big Nick's, which won't be available in our new neighborhood. In my stifling apartment (who knew this place gets so hot during the day?) I finally talked to my friend Katie on the phone and told her about the move to the Upper East Side.

"You're moving there!" she said, "You're going to be stuck with all the 25-year-olds puking on the side of the roads." (For those who don't know, the Upper East Side is a nice neighborhood but also attracts a younger, apres college crowd due to its low rents).

Thanks Katie. I am feeling much better about the whole thing. Want to take my closet, too?

Holiday shopping at The Container Store.

Mmm...the best pizza on the Upper West Side.

My beloved IKEA closets.