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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mom's House.

Driving a car, freshly cut hair. It's a whole new me!

A visit to New Jersey to mom's house lightened my mood. Away from the harshness of the city into the snow covered suburbs, I felt a sense of calm as the train rolled into the Morristown station. Mom picked me up, looking like same Mom. Only difference? She spoke to me in Polish! We were able to talk for about 20 minutes or so, but when it came time to sit by the kitchen table and really tell her about my trip, we switched to English. Otherwise, the only things I would be able to say was that my trip was "fine," "good," "fantastic" and "pretty." She prodded through the box of family treasures I received and we both agreed that the whole thing looked like something my grandma would conceive. (We can imagine her thinking, "This is a nice box. Why don't I put some random documents in here...")

I learned that what I thought was my mom's report card was actually a health examination. My grandfather's old union identification card had a very young picture of him but was actually from the 1960s. We found out that when my grandfather was a prisoner of war in Germany, after the war, he received a free train ride home to Lipno. But if the war ended in May, why did he not come home until Fall? The answer to that, we did not know.

I went about town, getting a much needed haircut (feels amazing!), stamps from the post office (an easy breezy three people ahead of me in line), and new sheets for the bed (no pushing people!). My brother Pete joined us for roast beef dinner and I barely recognized the guy! After three months, he has gotten very thin, grown long hair and a scruffy goatee that made him look downright grizzly. It was so great to talk to them about my trip and after dinner, munch on some delicious brownies Mom made. I was never able to find brownies in Europe that tasted as good as these.

Going back to New York felt much better this time around, despite the homeless man who tried talking to me in the subway ("Hey! You should look at someone when they are talking to you!") I blissfully ignored him, turning my ipod way up, like everyone else around me.

I thought about why I am having such a struggle with New York now. I think because it represents to me the unhappiness that I felt before this trip: this work centric mentality, the idea of going through life in a rush and not stopping to enjoy anything. This trip really gave me everything that I was looking for: time for myself, the chance to meet new people, explore the world, gain perspective and enjoy the little things. I am nervous being in this environment that I will slide right back to my unhappy self, and that's why I think that I am in some ways, fighting with all might against it, in being back. I do not want to let this city infiltrate everything that I have gotten from this experience.

But I will have to come to some kind of reconciliation quite soon. It is official: Dan and I are moving to a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. We received approval on our credit (with no help from me but much support from Dan's parents-THANK YOU). We move December 31, and apparently our moving crew will consist of all of Dan's workmates. If you are in the New York City area and interested in spending your last day of the year lifting heavy boxes and furniture, please let me know. Free food and champagne for all!

Pete: Grizzly man.

Mom and Ted. Mom: "That picture is not going to be on the blog, right?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is this it?

My local Duane Reade.

Like most New Yorkers I know, I have always had a love-hate relationship with this city. Since my arrival, my feelings have been less than amorous.

I opened my wardrobe, eager for something different to wear. I found only my summer clothes hanging there I left in September. My winter clothes still packed away.

Not winter ready.

I needed to refill a prescription. I have always used mail order through my health insurance, but the problem is that I have no insurance now. My insurance told me to get the prescription transferred to a local pharmacy. I tried my local Duane Reade. I went there THREE times in one day, each time explaining what to do and they did not get it. Finally, they just called my doctor for a refill. The last visit, standing in a crawling line of five people deep, I breathed deeply in and out, annoyed with the banality of real life, and trying to settle myself down. Finally when I got to the front of the line, a elderly woman came out of nowhere asking if her pills were ready. She turned to me, "Sorry, but I have a cab waiting outside." Lady, I have been living in this place all day! The infuriating entitlement complex of New Yorkers! I almost strangled her. Luckily, the cashier rang me up first.

I ran my errands at odds with this city. I got pushed around in the too-small card store, everyone frantically buying their holidays cards at the last minute. Walking down the street, I was accousted by homeless men asking for money and random crazies talking to themselves. The post office had a line of about fifty people snaking around at a snail's pace. Not even worth trying to buy a book of stamps. At the grocery store, however, I made an exciting a discovery: whole-milk yogurt--but only available in a big tub--one I eagerly placed in my cart, alongside some museli and corn flakes. (After tasting it, I think that the low-fat will do. This yogurt is almost too rich). I was dismayed to find the selection of fresh rolls looking not so fresh. Dejected, I dropped in bread in a bag into the cart. This would have to do for now.

Exciting breakfast finds.

Weary and tired from my day out, when I came home, I opened the mail box to find this:

Dan came home late and I cooked dinner for the first time in months. Salmon with vegetables. We talked about our moving plans and while I was excited about the prospect when I was abroad (I have always disliked our little apartment), suddenly it all seemed very scary and intimidating leaving this home. Since I have been back, this is the one place in this crazy town that I feel myself.

Besides my mom, I have avoided calling everyone and announcing my arrival. (Don't worry I will get to you all). It's just that making those calls mean that it is official: I am back in New York. My trip is over. I don't want to let go.
Finally, I broke down and called my friend Katie at work. Happy to hear from me, but said she couldn't talk. She had a meeting. I get it. Life has to go on.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Honey, I'm home!

My going away party, in Warsaw.

My flight back is nothing to write home about. I read, I listened to music, I picked at the lasagna, I ate the two ham sandwiches Basia prepared for me (that's right! two! always two!), I stared out the window. I kept waiting for some big revelation to take place, some clever phrase or deep feeling that would sum up this experience and satisfy me. I had no such revelations.

Usually landing into a New York City airport, in this case JFK, its neighboring terrain a grid of copper and white lights at night, I feel a sense of excitement. This time I just felt nervous as the pilot tried to navigate the plane in the gusty wind.

I navigated my way back home using public transportation: the JFK air train, Long Island railroad, New York City subway. I looked out the window into the black night at Jamaica, Queens and again tried to feel something. I just felt tired. My watch said it was 3 am, Poland time.

Penn Station was filled with more sketchy characters than usual. The cold outside have brought the homeless in. The subway came right away, and the amount of minorities on the train initially startled me. Eastern Europe is white man's land.

Finally when I got to the 72nd Street station and began walking on 71st to my home, my mood lifted and I was eager to see Dan who I knew was waiting for me. Even living here everyday, it always makes me happy to see the light on the second floor lit. It means he is home.

Dan greeted me with kisses and hugs. He is the same old Dan but with a little more hair. Christmas music was playing, and he had smartly decorated the apartment for the holidays. A string of white lights framing the window and greenery and more lights on the mantle. Stockings hung, mine already half full, but I am not allowed to look inside. And then a beautiful winter flower arrangement just for me. He also welcomed me with a completely empty refrigerator--nothing except condiments and a half bottle of water I left in there in September! He mentioned in emails that the bed sheet had a little tear, but I was not expecting it to look like Edward Scissorhands had tried to sleep in my bed.

We talked into the night until I could barely keep my eyes open anymore. This morning, Dan left for work, and I went out to get my favorite New York City breakfast: an everything bagel with cream cheese. Walking back to the apartment, the city busy and blustery, kids going to school, adults to work, I felt somewhat strange being here. It's kind of the feeling when you step inside a pool with cold water and it is uncomfortable but you know if you wait a while, it will feel better. In terms of New York City, I just stuck my toe in the water and I am not sure I want to go in yet.

First view of New York: 72nd Street Station near my home.

Dan, waiting for me midst Christmas decorations galore.

Together at last!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Someone likes me.

Little Tomek.

As I write my last post on foreign soil, little Tomek is sitting here in the computer room. I know he is here because I am in here. Somehow he is always near me. When I am sitting and watching television, so is he. When we are eating, he makes faces and gestures and is checking to see if I am noticing them. When I went upstairs to pack, he was sitting outside of my door, playing on the top of the stairs. Usually I find him looking at me curiously, but sometimes he will try to say something to me, but he speaks so fast that I can barely understand a word he says.

Oh, Tomek. He badly needs a haircut. He has constant bedhead. These hairs on the top on his head stick up an inch taller than the rest. He is constantly being yelled at by his parents. He cannot sit still, always shifting chairs, touching things he isn't supposed to, crawling around the floor under furniture. Today, his dad Roman, brother Slawek, Tomek and I drove to this lake to go on a walk, and the kid forgot his jacket. He said it was in the trunk, but it wasn't. He had to wait in the car.

Yesterday, his parents took out of his homework assignments, which was to write who Paul and Peter were. He wrote "Paul and Peter is a deli near my house. They sell good bread and gowamki." He got a bad grade, but his parents thought it was hysterical.

I thought he was 9 or 10. He is 12.

He is so endearing and funny, but I look at him and think, "You're hopeless Charlie Brown. Completely hopeless."

I am sure that the next time I will see him, he will be tall and all grown up, all the spunk and childishness gone away. Probably more like his older brother, Slawek, who tells jokes and rolls his eyes at his parents. So I am glad that I got to capture this snapshot of him. Little Tomek.

Enjoying the fire.

Slawek and Roman, on our walk. Tomek waits in the car.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Coming full circle.

For my last night in Kikol, Tomek arranged for a party just for me at Kayman's pub.

"Who is coming to your party?" my mom asked, when we phoned her. I had no idea.

My party ended up having five guests: Tomek, Ala, Kayman, his girlfriend and me. I barely said a word throughout the evening, and with Tomek chugging down beers and snorting some of Kayman's tobacco he got from Amsterdam (I never knew you could do such a thing, but it's true. Makes your eyes water apparently), I think it was more a party for him. But it was still nice anyway.

When we walked home from the pub, Tomek pointed out the stars which shone almost as bright and brilliant as they did that evening in Lake Tahoe where I had my moment of What am I doing with my life? I looked up and tried to be introspective, considering how much my life has changed since that moment, but then Tomek interrupted me by pointing out the North Star and babbling about other constellations that I could not understand.

This morning when Tomek and Ala dropped me off at the station, I thought Ala would burst into tears. I, too, have grown quite accustomed to them this past week, with their twice-daily ham enriched meals, watching "Jaka to melodia?" (Name that song) and Ala's "serial" (soap opera) on television, speaking to all of their family members on Skype on a daily basis and playing Suduku with Ala on the computer.

One of the Polish serials I watched this week.

"Are you sure one sandwich is enough for you?" Ala asked, as I made myself a ham sandwich for the road. It was a three-hour journey after a big breakfast. I was sure.

I was sad to go but I did breath a sigh of relief when I boarded the train. It was the first time I have been alone in a week.

I met Jurek at the bus station, and from there, we went to his home, the place I started this trip. When I arrived, it was a disaster area. Construction workers were installing cabinets and there was non-stop hammering, the smell of paint, men yelling, Jurek and Basia running around, acting stressed. I felt completely in the way. Of course they fed me, and we spoke a little about my trip, but for most of the day, I was off on my own. I took a long nap, read my book, watched Polish tv, frantically looking for Jaka to melodia? with no luck. Home-sickness washed over me, which was slightly relieved by the visit of Jurek's brother, wife and two sons. Tomek, the youngest son, kept looking at me with interest (Who is this strange American person?) while the eldest son was baffled that I put milk in my tea.

"I never knew you could do that!" he said, stunned.

I wanted to buy a cd of Polish Christmas music and Jurek's brother picked two up for me, and when we played it, I nearly started crying listening the familiar music, almost hearing my grandmother singing along in the background like she used to.

Can you tell I am ready to go home?

Slowek, Roman, Tomek and Ola.

Jurek, me, Tomek, Slawek, Roman and Basia. The leaf in front of Jurek's face was intentional.

New cabinets.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blast from the past.

Tomek and Ala took me to Sierpc, an outdoor museum of an old Polish villiage. Think of it as Colonial Polandburg. Tomek suggested that I show these pictures to Dan and tell him that this is how modern-day Poland looks like.

For the first time in what feels like weeks, the sky was blue, the sun was shining. It was a lovely day to spend outside. Afterwards, we went to the house where my grandfather was born. Here are some pictures of the day:

One of the old homes. "Tell Dan this is our house," Tomek said.

Where ever we go, Tomek always walks ahead.

My favorite shot of the day: The wind mill.

What pretty teeth you have!

Grandfather's old house.

In addition to a big shopping bag filled with presents, I am also bringing home some family treasure. Wojtek has found some old family documents in the attic of Tomek and Hania's father's home. They are in enclosed in a box of chocolates, which in itself is interesting because it looks like something you would buy in an antique store, and inside are some documents and photographs of my grandfather and grandmother. I cannot really tell what all of them are, but there is one of my grandmother's identification cards from the 1930's that shows her looking younger than I have ever seen her, and another picture of my grandfather where he looks just like my Uncle Kaz. There is some document about my grandfather being a prisoner of war and some other things. It should be fun exploring it with my mom and my family when I come back home to the States.

Treasure chest of old stuff.

Lastly, given that this is the last week of my trip, it has been a marathon session of Polish Ham. I am talking the real thing, not the blog. I have eaten ham every day in the last week, usually twice a day, for breakfast and for dinner. Any notion that I might have lost weight on this trip have been lost. My pants actually felt snug today. It's good food, but I cannot wait to go home to cereal and fruits and the gym.