Saturday, December 5, 2009

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” W. Shakespeare

4 November 2009, Krakow

Sorry that I’ve become so lax in keeping you up on things. The last week of October was spent in Warsaw, lunching with various friends I haven’t seen in ages and helping Assia unpack her kitchen boxes; her shipment from Serbia had arrived. “Gina’s lunch,” as we all tend to call the RNWW luncheon that Gina has been organizing for years, meant a chance to touch base with that international group of business women and to introduce Assia and Marta to the group, since they joined us. Years ago I asked Gina what the initials stood for; I’d been trying to put words to the letters. But she said it stands for “Really Neat Women in Warsaw,” which is what the group encompasses.

Kim, a Peace Corps friend, was in town, and we spent a long, rainy lunch catching up. He’s working for a consulting firm in NYC now. And Anna, one of my few Polish friends who’s “my age,” at last found time for lunch. We went to Radio Cafe, which pays homage to Radio Free Europe. Anna teaches at a hotel/hospitality industry university and asked me to speak to her class before I leave Poland. I’ve worked in tourism in every project except Ethiopia and need to think about what to cover in the talk.

Bob arrived on 1 Nov., All Saint’s Day. Bob’s a friend from my days in Macedonia; he divides his time between overseas consulting assignments and living in Reno or Buenos Aires. He made a stop-over between Afghanistan and Kosovo gigs.

That evening he, Marta, her roommate and I went to Powazki Cemetery so Bob could experience this important Polish holiday. We went to that cemetery because many famous Poles are buried there as well as a great uncle and aunt of Marta’s. Despite the frigid temps and harsh winds, the cemetery was mobbed with people looking for the grave sites of relatives and friends where they would leave lighted candles. Some graves had scores of candles, others only a few and some none. We never found Marta’s relatives so left the candles on an unlighted grave, as is protocol. Bob took video during the evening, which is available at this You Tube link.

On Monday Bob and I hopped the morning bus to Sandomierz, armed with sandwiches that I made from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. (Yes, I am turning into my mother.) We relaxed that night, then on Tuesday, I borrowed a car and took him to my favorite tourist/historic site in the region -- Krzysztopor Castle, about 45 minutes drive away in Ujazd. Those of you who’ve followed my travels over the years have heard me wax poetic about this ruins of a 17th Century castle with its interesting architecture -- 365 windows for the days of the year (plus one that was only open during leap years), four major towers for the four seasons, 52 rooms for the weeks in a year and 12 ballrooms for the 12 months. The tower where the dining hall was located is said to have had an aquarium of exotic fish on the top floor that was visible from below. And the castle had amenities that were quite advanced for the times -- a ventilation and heating system as well as a system that provided fresh water throughout the castle.

Krzysztopor was among the real castles that author James Michener included in his book Poland. So when I moved to Sandomierz the first time in 1994, it was a “ must see,” and I did ... several times. Everyone who visited was taken to see the place and climb all over the grounds; there were no restrictions and still are very few. This was my first trip back there in years, and I’m glad I went. The ministry has started to take action to preserve and protect what remains of the castle and to protect visitors from untimely falls into holes or from unstable walls.

As we braved the trip (it was another bitter cold, windy day), I thought of a Shakespearean quote that was always on the door of a college friend, an English major who didn’t like Chicago winters and I’m sure would equally dislike those in Poland. I have no recollection of which play, sonnet or whatever it’s from, but the quote always comes to mind when winter sets in for real. Hence, the headline on this post.

7 November, Warsaw

Midday Wednesday Bob and I took the express bus to Krakow (with sandwiches from home this time). It was raining again, so thankfully we located a helpful ticket seller in the new bus terminal; he drew a simple map to our hotel, which wasn’t too far away. After settling in and checking email (of course), we went to the Old Town Square to a restaurant that offered the traditional Polish food that Bob wanted to try. Then we walked over to see Inga and Tosia, almost 7. Frankie, 11, was in Egypt with school friends, and David was in Africa on business. We spent a lovely time talking, then arranged to get together again on Friday before we left for Warsaw ... and I agreed to stay with the girls next week. I’ll share babysitting honors with Basia, their regular sitter.

Although we’d planned to rent a car and drive to Oswiecim (Auschwitz) on Thursday, the rental car company rep didn’t have time to bring it to our hotel. The hotel receptionist was very apologetic; this was the hotel’s first experience with the company and perhaps the last. We took a mini-van instead. That worked out quite well in both directions.

I’ve been through both camps three times in the past with other visitors. The experience was/is overwhelming -- Bob described it as ‘numbing,’ and I agree. And it is not one that I can endure again. So I have accompanied several friends who want to visit because I think it’s important that they have someone along for afterwards. I wait over coffee and a book for as long as they need. The restaurant has expanded and improved over the years, making the wait more comfortable.

The original concentration camp is jarring to see with its “Work Frees You” sign over the entrance and neat rows of well built brick buildings; it was previously a military camp. When the Germans set up the concentration camp, it was for Polish political prisoners who were a majority of the occupants in the early years. Birkenau (Auschwitz II), on the other hand, was specifically built to efficiently exterminate Jews. Before leaving, the Germans burned down most of the wood structures and destroyed the ovens in this camp, but you can still be overpowered by the enormity of this tragedy just walking through the ruins that remain.

While waiting for Bob, I sat on a bench along side an older woman from the UK. She and her son had decided on a return trip to Poland after many years, to see what had changed, and she said that her granddaughter insisted on coming along. Like me, she wasn’t up to a repeat walk through of the extermination camp. She said that after her first trip to Birkenau, she stopped believing in God and hasn’t seen a reason to change her mind since. I understand.

Bob took some video of the Birkenau camp.

We had taken a taxis to Birkenau and since the bad weather improved during the day, we walked the 3 km from back to the mini-van’s stop.

9 November, Krakow

Bob is now on ‘my list.’ He taught Tosia a new card game. She has taken to it like the proverbial fish to water. To play is her first request in the morning and her last at night. In Bob’s game the idea is to get all of the cards. And when a pair is shown, the first person to slap it gets all the cards in the pile. A tentative slapper when she was playing with Bob, Tosia has begun to play with her usual seriousness. And she is a pretty consistent winner.

Bob and Tosia played cards for quite some time Friday morning, then the three of us went across the street to Wawel Castle. It was a beautiful day -- sunny, clear and not too cold -- so we wandered around outside and took photos. Too nice to go indoors until required. The InterCity train ride back to Warsaw was smooth and easy. On Saturday I went with Bob to the airport, and everything went so smoothly that I was back in Warsaw much quicker than I’d expected. Thought I’d see if I could exchange my return ticket to Krakow for an earlier train ... and I did so with no argument from the ticket clerk. Amazing. I remember how virtually impossible that would have been a few years ago.

Got another surprise today in an email from a friend in DC. Leigh, a mutual friend of ours, is in Poland and wanted to get together. Leigh was the education officer for USAID in Macedonia. She, the PR person at USAID and I bonded over several bottles of marginal Macedonian white wine one night. So tonight I had dinner with her and her friend Christie; they’re en route to a leadership conference in Prague.

14 November, Krakow

The sun is shining. Hurray. The first time in more than a week. Would’ve been nice to have that when Violane and I were walking to/from Kazimierz and around the Old Town on the 10th or when Frankie and I walked up to the square to meet Leigh and her friend while they shopped in the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall, which has a series of stalls of local crafters of all sorts -- great place for shopping; reasonable prices even). We saw the Independent Day (11 November) parade go by -- in a downpour, so only a few stalwarts were lining the streets.

15 November, Sandomierz

Back home and back to raining. Good day to download and organize photos -- check out to see photos of my various visitors, our first snowfall in Sandomierz and some of my favorite sites to see in Poland.

Also a good day for ironing and making soup, catching up on emails and getting holiday gifts packaged for the kids that I write to, all of which I did. I’m feeling productive, although I still feel like a slug. I haven’t had any real exercise in two weeks. Walking is good but it doesn’t replace swimming or aerobics in my head as exercise. Tomorrow ...

17 November, Sandomierz

Yes, I went to the pool on Monday and swam for 30 minutes.

On Sunday I talked to my sister for the first time in a few weeks, and I was happy to learn that Mia, her 11-year-old tabby who had been the runt of my late cat’s litter and her spitting image, is responding well to the treatment she’s getting for a bowel cancer. That led to a discussion of how much we have come to dread, even hate, the year-end holidays. Why you ask? Because something terrible always happens in our extended family. Our mother dropped dead on 22 December, my ex died a month later. Peter was diagnosed on 2 January. Barbara’s estranged husband died last December. And in between too many dear friends been diagnosed with cancer or died during the extended holiday period. We had hoped that Mia’s cancer would be the ‘terrible thing’ of 2009. But today I learned that one of my best friends from college has a lung disease that still isn’t diagnosed but isn’t cancer. @#$%^&*

19 November, somewhere between Warsaw and Sandomierz

I’m in love ... with a store and its staff. The fellows at the iSpot store in Warsaw are fantastic. I told you last month about how they fixed my laptop after it crashed, even recovering a lot of the files. Well, this could be titled “Crash Redux.” My computer froze up on Tuesday, right after I installed a bunch of software updates and a new episode of “House.” I had been looking forward to watching that episode over a glass of wine and some pretzels.

I made an emergency bus trip to Warsaw on Wednesday, going directly to iSpot. When I walked in, Tomasz recognized me and just shook his head and smiled ruefully when I said I’d crashed again. After I explained what happened, he tried booting the computer to no avail -- he got the same blue screen that I had. A quick call to Piotrek resulted in an explanation and a solution. One of the updates I’d downloaded has been causing quite a few problems for people ... and the only way to fix it was to erase and re-install. Thankfully I invested in a large back-up drive and had been using Time Machine, a Mac system that periodically backs up everything AND preserves the previous back up (it doesn’t overwrite like most). I left the laptop and back-up drive in Tomasz’s capable hands with his promise to try to have it done so I could catch the early bus back to Sandomierz today.

And he made it. At 10 am I got a call that Mac was ready and by 11:15, I was at the bus station. In between I picked up and tested Mac -- everything was as it had been, minus House, which downloaded after I disconnected the back-up drive. Well worth the cost; my AppleCare isn’t valid in Poland. In addition, Tomasz upgraded my Snow Leopard, which gives me faster speed and additional space on the hard drive, for free. I left Tomasz and his colleagues a box of breakfast sweets as a ‘thank you’ and a promise to not crash again and to stop by to say ‘good bye’ before I leave Poland.The day outside may be gloomy again, but I am feeling sunny.

20 November, Sandomierz

I had an email from my sister this morning. It’s about Christmas. Barbara noted that despite our ups and downs, our family has been fortunate to always have had enough food to eat and a roof over our heads. Others have been less fortunate, many more than usual at this point in time. So instead of buying gifts for my brother, his wife and me, she’s adopting three people through a Volunteers of America/Minnesota program and will shop for gifts for them. VOA also requests a gift certificate for purchase of a holiday meal from either of two large local supermarket chains. Barbara received some information about her adoptees -- an elderly man, an elderly woman and a teenage boy -- including things they would like to receive. The requests are incredibly practical -- no ties or perfume or designer togs, but rather a warm winter coat, bed sheets, dishes and such. The teenage boy asked for a blow dryer for his sisters.

This is such a wonderful way to honor the spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. If any of my Minnesota readers are interested in adopting a family, you can contact Kristin Cook at If you’re somewhere else, I’m sure you can find VOA in your state on line and would bet there is a similar program. The needs this year are too great.

25 November, Warsaw

Another era has ended. Yesterday I walked up Marszalkowska street intending to stop at the Centrum Galleria to check out leather gloves. I managed to lose one of mine in the rush to get a bottle of water before I got onto the Sandomierz-Warsaw bus on Monday morning. My friend Halinka, who drove me to the bus, lent me hers.

What a surprise to find the Centrum Galleria closed. I had seen a ‘likwidacja’ sign on my last trip here but had assumed it was a store-wide sale. Not. As for 2 November, the store is no more. Inside were workers disassembling display equipment.

Centrum Galleria was the post-Communist incarnation of an old state-owned department store, Centrum. Easily a city block long and actually three stores, Wars, Sawa and Junior, each battling to be more 1950s dime store the other. Think Murphy’s, Green’s or whatever your local incarnation of that 1950s staple was: exposed wood floors, “Evening in Paris” cologne, 45s of Patty Page and Perry Como, barely disguised floor walkers, a cafeteria upstairs that made great grilled cheese sandwiches. As the ‘90s slipped into the new millennium and I was in the US and the Balkans, the Centrum morphed into Centrum Galleria. Think JC Penney’s at its best -- modern displays full of bright lights and chrome, solid merchandise at reasonable prices. I shopped there frequently when I traveled to Poland for board meetings. Even outfitted myself there once at the expense of Austrian Airlines, which had lost my luggage. Got a beautiful all wool, fully lined pants suit for $100.

Several of the buildings were sold or leased to other big retailers that moved into Poland as Poland moved toward EU membership -- C&A and H&M apparel stores, Sephora cosmetics -- and some large local stores like EMPIK (music, books, software). And the central building became Centrum Galleria. No indication of what it’s next life will be.

30 November, Einsiedeln, Switzerland

It’s snowing! I am a happy camper. Some/many of you have heard me wax poetic about snow, so I won’t repeat that. I’ll just say that since early childhood, I have loved the stuff. I was the first one into a snowsuit and the last one back home at night -- in between, sledding, snow forts, snowball fights, snow angels. As a ‘middle-aged’ adult, I took up downhill skiing and loved it. And there’s something magic for me in just sitting quietly -- and warmly -- indoors and watching big fluffy snowflakes fall onto statuesque evergreens.

I arrived in Switzerland for Thanksgiving week with Maura, Fed and Oscar, who’s now 4 1/2. Maura’s from the Boston area, and we met when we were both working in Warsaw; she met Fed, who’s Swiss-Italian, when both were on vacation at a resort in Mexico.

On Thanksgiving, Maura, Oscar and I went into Zurich for a traditional turkey meal at the Zurich International Women’s Club. But yesterday (Sunday) we did the deed at home -- a fat juicy turkey with sage and porcini stuffing, roasted potatoes and carrots, sweet potatoes smashed with Oscar’s excellent assistance, fresh cranberry sauce, and dessert: apple pie by me and chocolatey brownies by Maura, both served with ice cream.

Maura and I went shopping and to lunch on Saturday afternoon while Fed and Oscar played at home. Shopping with Maura is always fun -- and expensive. On my last trip to Zurich, I blew about $1000 but still wear most of those clothes. This time, despite my best efforts to buy anything, I couldn’t resist a pair of dressy slacks that I actually need and an interesting purple sweater that goes well with the slacks. It’s only money, right? That evening I stayed with Oscar while his parents had a night out. We all feared that he might be upset, but au contraire. He was an angel, even went to bed without so much as a peep. However, Maura and I forgot we’d planned to make the pies on Saturday, resulting in a small panic on Sunday as we considered the logistics of baking the turkey, veggies, two pies and brownies ... in her single oven. Thankfully it’s a convection oven, which speeds up cooking, and made it possible for everything to be ready on time. We and our guests (friends of Maura and Fed with two sons) were appropriately stuffed at the end of the day.

Today Oscar bundled up in his waterproof snow gear to attend his activity group. Regardless of the weather, the group goes outdoors and does outdoor-related activities. With the darkening sky, falling snow and accumulated fallen snow, the line of pre-schoolers was barely visible as they trudged toward us at the end of the day.

Last time I visited Einsiedeln, Oscar was still a toddler. Now he’s a boy whose favorite word is “no.” Maura says when he tells you that, it means he likes you. So I’ve decided he loves me. He’s very curious, has boundless energy and flirts a lot; he reminds me of Peter at that age. And like Peter, he has his favorite films. Peter’s were first Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and later The Blues Brothers. He watched them so often that I could quote most of the dialogue. Oscar loves Polar Express, an animated Christmas film ... and after a few days with him, I now know a lot of that film’s dialogue. I’d never seen the film before and did enjoy it. Tom Hanks is the key voice in the story, and the detail and cleverness of the animation reminded me of Dr. Seuss. I’m off to another viewing. More another day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


15 October 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as alone as I did last weekend. No Skype to make my weekend calls to my sister and friends at random, no Minnesota Public Radio to keep me informed, no Mark Harmon (NCIS) or even any House to take my mind off the dreary days and earlier and earlier sunsets. My hard drive crashed and it was all Ally McBeal’s fault.

A week ago I was browsing my Podcast downloads to sync my iPod when I decide to troll through the iTunes Store to see what was new, perhaps download a funny movie for a dreary weekend. The weather forecast said snow this week, which meant ever lower temps during the intervening days and nights. And Thursday is aerobics evening, not swimming morning, so I had more time to linger over my coffee. And what did I find under ‘new items’ -- Season 1 of Ally McBeal, an old favorite guaranteed to lighten a wintry night. With a click, click, click, I bought the season and downloading, slow as it is here, started.

One Ally episode was, according to the pop-up message, corrupted, and despite my following instructions, would not download. Others continued. However, from thence, virtually every time I tried to do something on the laptop, the little rainbow ball signaling ‘computer not responding’ popped up and spun and spun and spun. Eventually I’d have to use the on/off button to re-boot; Force Quit didn’t work. In a sudden fit of something rational, I burned CDs of the most important folders, put an auto message on my online account to alert writers of my plight and prayed that my online Mobile Me back up was working.

Three different Skype calls to Apple Tech Support got me helpful people who were cut off after a couple of minutes when the spinning rainbow ball appeared and the calls were disconnected. When I re-booted after the third, only a partial desk top appeared. Terror and panic are too mild to describe how I felt. A quick call to the Center assured me that Hala would be there, so I could use a landline to call Apple. Diana at ATS was fantastic, leading me through a series of re-boot exercises, none of which worked. Since I didn’t have my install disk, we couldn’t try the final two -- archive/install and the ultimate, erase and re-install. In my utter terror at what was happening with the laptop, I hadn’t thought to take the start-up disks along. Never thought my panic would be useful.

The weekend was as forecast -- overcast, windy, cold and occasionally drizzly -- and it’s only early October! I shopped for a gift for a friend’s wife and had lunch at a new cafe (hurray!) with Halinka from the Center, did some laundry and ironed a long-sitting pile of summer things to be stored, tried to call the iSpot in Warsaw (no answer) and packed for a day or two in Warsaw. I took the 9:45 am bus on Sunday.

I’d arranged to stay with Assia, a colleague that I met when we were both working in Belgrade. Newly moved to Warsaw, she lives in the center on the same street as my old office. We’d gotten together with another Belgrade friend the weekend before, and she offered me use of her spare bedroom for coming trips to the capital.

Add down-pouring rain to the weather mix. I dropped my suitcase at the Marriott and walked to an Internet cafe to check emails while Assia had brunch with other friends. As promised, there was Diana’s email with instructions for the final two procedures -- ‘major surgery’ and ‘life-giving surgery.’ Now I just had to endure the time until 10 am Monday when iSpot opened. Gabbing with Assia for hours and dinner in a small but lovely Italian restaurant around the corner filled the time nicely. Sleep was non-existent.

The staff at iSpot have helped me several times before. Their English and customer service skills rate excellent, and they never make me feel dumb. After my recitation of what had happened, been done and was prescribed, I turned my laptop over to Tomek. He attempted to save files through various methods, some recommended by Piotrek who came in later in the day and took over. I browsed external hard drives and decided on one that has 1 terabyte of space, way more than I need but then I won’t ever have to worry about space. I’d been considering an upgrade to Snow Leopard and decided to go ahead. I went off to buy long-sleeved dressy tee-shirts for Hala, trashing mysteries for me and eat something. At day’s end, we re-convened. No success. On Tuesday they would try transferring files to another laptop before erasing and re-installing. I identified the key folders to try to transfer. Another sleepless night.

Tuesday morning I checked in with Piotrek who said he’d be done by 8 pm. So I had lunch and returned to Assia’s where her shipment from Serbia had finally arrived. Helping her unpack boxes was great therapy and kept the panic at bay. After dinner, I returned to iSpot bearing bakery cookies. Mac was like new ... and the files I requested had been transferred, everything was backed up on the external drive, the upgrade was installed. Back at Assia’s, I arranged to stop at Marta’s before the Wednesday morning bus; I wanted to download a file I needed to run Quick Time. (I sometimes watch a movie on the laptop on the bus.)

On Wednesday morning what to my wondering eyes should appear than snow, lots of big fluffy flakes blowing in the wind down Hoza Street and all over Warsaw. In the taxi to Marta’s, I could tell it had been snowing for some time ... accumulated slush on sidewalks and street sides. And it looked to continue.

I was able to re-connect with Marta’s secure wi-fi easily and set up my email to download 65 messages from Earthlink, and google and start the Flash Player download. Then, another panic -- to save the download required a password to my hard drive, and neither of the two I had given Tomek and Piotrek worked. Left a message on Piotrek’s voice mail, got a cab and returned to iSpot through ever-worsening snowfall. Tomek made a call, then tried ‘aaa’ as the password and it worked.

Having missed the early bus, I alerted everyone that I’d catch the 4:45 and Halinka offered to pick me up. Yes, it was snowing in Sandomierz too ... and when I arrived at 9:45, several inches had piled onto lawns and sidewalks and puddles in the streets were inches deep in cold melted snow. But I had watched a couple of House episodes en route and slept the night in my own bed like the proverbial baby.

This weekend I’ll fill you in on the start of the month and provide previews of coming attractions.

21 October, Warsaw

One of my less endearing traits has kicked in -- procrastination. Every day I think about adding to this journal, draft a few ‘grafs in my head and put off the actual typing. Well, tonight I’ll at least get started. The remainder of the month will be hectic.

The snow is gone but not the blowing cold. It rained last weekend and that obliterated all remnants of our first snowfall. And it’s drizzled off and on almost every day.

My first weekend after the laptop crash I hunkered down at home and started the tedious chore of resurrecting my lost address book, ensuring my external back up was working and monitoring 150+ iTunes downloads. Yes, that’s right. I was able to get all of the television programs that I’d bought and needed to re-download them. The process finally was completed early this morning. It can take three to six hours to download one 45 minutes episode because the Internet is so slow. Mostly I let the laptop download overnight; it goes faster. Thanks to Ed, another Mac user, I was able to access my address book on MobileMe, Apple’s online storage back up. It has limitd capacity at my basic level, so I wasn’t sure if I had included the address book in my back ups nor how to retrieve it. But I had and with Ed’s easy instructions, I did.

My cleaning lady is still on sick leave with her sprained foot. So I also changed the bed, did piles of laundry and ironing, and swept and scrubbed and dusted. I wanted to get a head start of sprucing up the place as I have several guests over the next three weeks. So, after four or so months of basically getting up in the morning and deciding what I want to do that day, I actually have to pay attention. As I said to Hala yesterday, I’m not used to having a schedule. I feel a little like that old Ann-Margaret movie, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Paris.”

I am not complaining. Few people are willing to venture to the parts of the world where I live/work. The locations are “exotic” or “primitive” or just too far off the beaten tourist trail. So I’m always incredibly happy when someone says she or he wants to visit. It was just a freak of timing that everyone is arriving one after the other. Sue, a friend form my corporate days, arrives for a long weekend that begins tomorrow. She came from St. Paul to a board meeting today in Dublin. Wonderful person that she is, she’‘s not only making the trek to Warsaw but bringing my winter coat, boots and a few other items that my sister packed for me. We’re going to celebrate my birthday at my favorite restaurant in Warsaw the night before she leaves.

I’ll stay in Warsaw all next week and plan to see Kim, a Peace Corps friend who’s back for a visit; catch up with my former business partner Lynn, who’s back here with her family; and attend a business women’s luncheon that Gina is organizing.

All Saint’s Day -- 1 November -- is a big holiday here. People prepare their family cemetery plots for weeks in advance, cleaning up the sites, adding numerous candles and flowers. Lots of travel at this time because they return to where their family members are buried. When I was in Nowy Sacz as a PCV, my Polish counterpart Krzysztof took several of us to the cemetery 1 Nov. evening. From blocks away we could see an orange glow that halo’d the cemetery location. And instead of the staid quietness of a funeral, we encountered a quietly lively gathering of people meeting and greeting. Some even had refreshments.

Bob arrives from Afghanistan on 1 Nov., and I’m thinking that we’ll find a cemetery to visit if he hasn’t had this experience. Bob is a friend from my Macedonia project days and is en route to an assignment with my former project in Kosovo. We’ll stay overnight in Warsaw to miss some of the travel traffic (I’ve already bought the tickets), then go to Sandomierz and Krakow where I’ll play tour guide for a few days in each. After seeing Bob off to Pristina at the Warsaw airport, I’ll take the train back to Krakow to visit friends and see Violane and her husband Stephen who are coming in from Pristina. See what I mean? Not my typical weekly schedule!

27 October Warsaw

Well, it’s been a great birthday so far (I celebrate for about a month). I got a great “birthday present” -- my housekeeper is back at work. She cleaned last Friday for the first time in a couple of months. And while I’ve stayed ahead of the big stuff, it’s nice to know the wood and floors have been properly cleaned and not just haphazardly dusted.

I picked Sue up at the airport as planned on Thursday, and although she was pretty exhausted from her many travels, I got to play tour guide in Warsaw and then Sandomierz. We had dinner with Hala and her family at the farm on Saturday, followed after dark by an ognisko (bonfire) where we roasted kielbasa (Polish sausages). Hala made a beautiful and delicious birthday dessert, and I was given two boxes of Polish candies and a bottle from Michal’s latest batch of wisniowka (cherry cordial).

On my big day, Sunday, Sue and I drove back to Warsaw through the morning drizzle. While we still had the car, I showed her the Warsaw Ghetto memorials and other sights that we could drive to. That evening Hala’s daughter Marta joined us for dinner at my favorite restaurant, Restauracja Polska Tradycja. I had something I love but rarely eat and never cook -- calves’ liver and onions. I know, I know. It sounds awful and most of you probably don’t like liver of any kind. But for whatever reason, I do ... I just can’t cook it and I’m picky about where I’ll order. This restaurant is one of them. This restaurant also has a dessert to diet for -- an awesome pavlova, which I also enjoyed on my birthday.

Aside on the restaurant. Years ago when I lived in Warsaw, a tourism promo magazine had an article about two women, both named Katarzyna (Kathryn), who had opened a charming restaurant in the same building as an art gallery. Also being women in business, Lynn (my partner in Fiesta Consultants) and I decided to try this Restauracja Polska. Although it wasn’t easy to find, once there we found the atmosphere, food, service all to be tops. The dining room was decorated like a home with jars of home-canned fruits and utensils on breakfronts. The tables were assorted dining room sets complete with starched Polish linen cloths and napkins, and the ladies’ room was exquisitely decorated with antiques. The food was elegant Polish emphasizing game as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables. We and our friend Maura celebrated a joint birthday (our birthdays are just a few weeks apart) and took important clients there. Later the two Katarzynas opened another restaurant ... and apparently some time after I left for the US, opened two more ... later yet, they split, each taking two restaurants.

Located in a large house, Restauracja Polska Tradycja continues the charm and quality of the first. And gauging by the need for a reservation, I’d say others agree.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Autumn in my life


6 September, Belgrade, Serbia

Can’t recall what more I wanted to add on the 28th, so will launch into a new area of discussion. I’m in Belgrade, arrived last Thursday night to attend a Serbian friend’s wedding yesterday. I was a little hesitant about going to the wedding -- it took place on Peter’s birthday. I had the options of a week on a Greek isle with MN friends, but the airfare was prohibitive, or just staying in Warsaw or going somewhere on my own. I decided I’d go to the wedding. Natasa was so excited when she invited me and when I said I’d try to come. And I’m glad I went.

My flight to Belgrade was event-full -- Because we left Warsaw 30 minutes late, I landed at the intermediary airport, Munich, as my Belgrade flight started to board. I literally ran through the airport and was grateful that at passport control, only one or two people waited in each line.

Thanks to friends Jim and Irina, I have an apartment next to theirs where I’m staying, and it’s in the same neighborhood where I used to live. So it’s easy to find places to shop, eat, meet old friends, which is what I’ve been doing.

Yesterday I drove through chilly rain from Belgrade to Ljig, the village where the bridegroom’s parents live, with friends of Natasa. We arrived at a small picturesque Orthodox church on a hillside just as another wedding party entered. We hovered under the overhang outside a small chapel and waited. Our uncertainty over whether we were at the right church was reduced each time more friends, and finally Natasa and Zoran, arrived.

Natasa wore a strapless bustier over a floor-length skirt with small self train. Her long blonde hair was enhanced with extensions, curled and hung with flowers down her back. I hadn’t met Zoran yet, and his serious expression made him look a bit fierce.

For those who haven’t been in a Serbian Orthodox church, there are no pews. So we all stood while the priest chanted the entire service for 30 minutes or so. That included tying the knot (knotting a long ceremonial scarf around the couple’s clasped hands), placing crowns on their heads and walking them in a circle. Of course, I didn’t understand many of the words but like everyone, I did realize he’d asked Zoran, “Do you take Marijana ...” Zoran politely corrected him with “Natasa,” and everyone laughed as the priest apologized (or I think that’s what he did).

Someone had literally slaughtered the fatted lamb along with a pig or two to feed us. Platters of pork in every form possible, assorted cheeses, pate, pickled red and yellow sweet peppers and mushrooms, warm home-style breads -- those were the starters. Then came platters laden with roasted lamb and some fresh tomatoes and cabbage salad. Several hundred people ate, drank and danced for four-plus hours before the lights went out and the wedding cake was wheeled in. Three chocolate walnut tortes each on a separate tier of the cart and each with a humongous sparkler lighting the scene. After the ceremonial cutting and first bites, these cakes and several others became part of a dessert buffet. A small band with two singers belted Serbian and American songs throughout.

The Balkan countries all seem to do the same dance that reminds me of the Jewish hora, and during the early eating, that was a favorite. Men and women holding hands and winding their way through the tables with the pace increasing with each new song. They also do another dance step that has Turkish overtones and movements, one that I joined to work off the starters. As I was exhausted and ready to leave the floor, the band announced a song dedicated to me. I doubt that anyone understood the irony of the song being “I Will Survive,” followed by a second one, “Hot Stuff.”

The wedding was perfect and made a perfect tribute to Peter, who would have loved it. I remember the fun he had as my escort to Susie Frisch’s wedding, where he learned that vegetarian good can be very tasty.

September 18, Sandomierz

Well, I got the blog up and running in a very rudimentary way and sent off emails to alert family and friends. Now to follow up on the returned mail ... only five. Not sure if their ISPs don’t like mine or if I have incorrect addresses. Finding out will be my next chore. The ISP that covers the blok where I live is owned by someone who makes most of his money by pirating videos, so it doesn’t surprise me when my mail is rejected. But it does annoy me that no one does anything about pirating; Poland’s in the EU now ... but then, I’m out on the “fringes,” 200 km from Warsaw. Enough.

This week I added two aerobics classes in the evenings to my exercise regime. I swim at least three mornings a week, which made starting the aerobics easier than I thought. The instructor is nice, keeps things simple, paces the class well. I had hoped to do water aerobics, but the instructor is pregnant so won’t teach.

20 September, Hala and Michal’s farm in Czermin

Having heard too many tales of people eating toadstools by mistake, I am not a big fan of wild mushrooms. I was always surprised when my parents took up this hobby in their later years since my dad was one of those who had been poisoned by a bad mushroom. So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go wild mushroom hunting yesterday morning. Mostly I wanted the fresh air and walk since I always eat too much and rest too well at the farm. Michal’s degree, original career and first love is forestry. So he knows mushrooms well. He shared a comprehensive book complete with photos and showed me which ones to pick and avoid. Spongy underside good; membrane bad.

So, we drove off promptly at 7 am for a nearby forest known for good wild mushrooms. Armed with our plastic ice cream buckets and small sharp knives, our little group (the three of us plus Adam, their neighbor) tramped the damp forest floor of dead pine needles and some kind of green ground cover. (As you can tell, I am not a forester, not even a gardener. ) Unfortunately for us, others had been there even earlier -- probably during the week -- and picked the forest clean. Ditto the second forest we tried. Among us we got less than a third of a bucket, but we did get a lovely walk in the fresh air for a couple of hours.

Back home in the kitchen, Michal got the trays from the food dryer while Hala gently cleaned up our small cache with a crushed paper towel. She prefers to do this before drying although Michal says any sand will fall to the bottom of the soup pot. I took pictures and will post in the gallery (

This afternoon, following a particularly large Sunday dinner, Hala and I walked in the forest near their house ... and I took pictures of the farm. We had planned to get up early and go out, but last night Hala learned that her sister and two nieces had picked wild mushrooms in that forest on Saturday, picked it clean. We couldn’t even find any bad mushrooms! But we did get in an hour-long tramp in the fresh air.

Yesterday evening and tonight we watched “Ojciec Mateus” (Father Matthew), a very popular Polish TV series about a mystery-solving priest who lives in Sandomierz. The cast and crew have been here several times to film scenes and background. I was at the hotel the last time in August and saw some of it. The lead actor, who is way too good looking to be a priest, likes to stay at our hotel. He has a favorite room that he books, and it was used in the episode we watched tonight as the room of the killer tourist. It’s fun seeing places that I know and recognize. The program has brought significant recognition to the town and is great publicity for the hotel. The front entry, complete with the big Hotel Basztowy sign over the doors, was prominent in several scenes. The only downside was two “guests” complaining that their room was cold.

21 September, Sandomierz

Photos from the weekend have been captioned and posted to the web site, and I’ve had my morning swim, got to the green market and nearest “supermarket” and done two loads of laundry. I’m on a roll! Okay, not exactly. I decided to sit down for a while before walking to the Center. I will meet my landlady there and pay my monthly bills for utilities and administration (like a condo fee only you get less service for the money -- the domophone that allows guests to call from the front stoop when they arrive still hasn’t been repaired and the request went in before I moved in)

Price check. I bought a kilo of beautiful red apples for 95 cents, and for a total of $5, I filled my tote with two large peppers (one red, one yellow), five large tomatoes, seven baking-sized potatoes, a bunch of radishes, 5 nice-sized mushrooms, 1/4 kilo of raspberries and three lemons. I am so out of touch with prices of any kind in the US. Can I do this well at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market or Thursday farmer’s market on Nicollet Mall?

Now, after all that shopping, I should clean out my refrigerator and defrost the freezer before re-loading it. I probably should have done that first ... but I was hungry. And after a weekend at the farm, I had nothing to eat. I never have been particularly organized about house stuff (I’m sure there’s some deep Freudian meaning there).

23 September

Yesterday and today have been spent playing Suzi Homemaker: defrosting the freezer, cleaning the bathroom, scrubbing floors, washing rugs, etc. The apartment almost sparkles. I also cooked a pork roast with sauerkraut, which I love. It will be served tonight with mashed potatoes, peas and made-from-scratch apple sauce. For some reason, I’ve been hungry for this traditional Jean Kanyr (my mother) meal, maybe because it feels like fall. Hala and Michal will join me for dinner, a way to say “thank you” for all the meals I’ve had at the farm.

Suzi Homemaker is a side of me that many of you have never seen, especially those I met while working internationally. Because ten-hour work days are pretty much the norm when you’re overseas, post Peace Corps I’ve always had someone to do housework, a necessity more than a luxury. And it’s not expensive unless you get a “breaker,” like the woman I hired in Warsaw years ago. Because she worked full time as a housekeeper at the Marriott Hotel, I thought she’d be a good choice. Not. Hardly a week went by without something being broken. I give her credit: She never tried to hide the breakages -- they were always on the kitchen counter with an apology. But after a while, I began to wonder if I’d have anything to eat off or drink from ... and out she went.

Some housekeepers also ironed ... everything, including dish cloths and underwear. This was a requirement in Africa because ironing kills the eggs laid in the wet clothes by some itch-creating insect. But in Eastern Europe? Trust me, while as I’ve said before, I actually enjoy ironing, my undies and dish cloths stay wrinkled.

As for cooking, I can enjoy cooking but I need a crowd of eaters. After all, I learned much that I know in the kitchen from my mother. Mom cooked for a minimum of five people daily but always prepared enough “just in case.” Someone might drop in, and God forbid that we not be able to feed them. Dropping in was actually okay in my neighborhood back in the olden days, probably because telephones were rare during my childhood. And people did drop in unannounced, individually and as families. So my favorite meals and any family recipes feed an army, way too much food for one or two.

When Peter was in high school and I was single, I started the tradition of cooking a big Sunday dinner never knowing for sure how many of his friends would join us. But we always had enough food, thanks to my mother’s dictum. After Peter died, I fixed comfort food like this pork roast dinner for “the guys” (Peter’s friends), my late friend John and others. John offered to host the next dinner, and until I left for Uganda in April 2002, we took turns hosting these family dinners, then John took over until he died last year. He was a great cook as well as a great friend.

25 September

Suzi Homemaker continues. Okay, off the floor. I have to do something with my spare time besides play on the laptop. Michal tried to fix my oven after dinner yesterday but could not, so he arranged for someone to come on today to do that. I was anxious to get the oven fixed because so much that I cook requires an oven. I love a whole baked chicken, for example. Simple, easy, tasty and can feed me for several days. And I have been thinking of my mother’s “cur’n’ cake,” what most people would probably call raisin squares, that unlike her pork roast, cannot be adapted to stove top cooking.

Immediately after the repair man left with my 40 zlotys (about $15, no receipt), I went to the outdoor market and bought fresh apples for apple crisp, which I made tonight. Looked good but I didn’t taste it because it’s for Hala. She will be feeding scores of family and friends this weekend for Michal’s name day. My contribution to the cause.

26 September

Yesterday, in lieu of the ironing that I’d plan to do, I decided to bake something easy to help me learn the oven and also how to convert US measures into metrics. Since I don’t have a muffin tin, I needed a muffin recipe that I could bake in a bread pan. I spent a ridiculous amount of time wending my way through recipes on I love all the information that’s available from sources like this, but it is hard work to sort through. I was appalled at the number of recipes that called for a box of cake mix or something similar. Does no American cook from scratch any more?

Aside -- years ago when we were PCVs, my late friend Ellen invited a new teacher volunteer to tea and baked chocolate chip cookies for the occasion, having chopped up Wedel chocolate bars as a Nestle’s substitute. Seeing the freshly baked cookies, the young woman cried out, “Chocolate chip cookies. Where did you find the mix?” As Ellen noted in re-telling the story, now there’s a real example of the generation gap.

Well, I found a usable blueberry muffin recipe that I turned into cranberry orange bread. It turned out nicely, if I do say so myself. One loaf for me, the second for Marzena, the hotel manager, who is at home sick today. I am encouraged and will probably bake some more quick breads next week with other dried fruits. And I’ll go back online to find a recipe for pie crust that uses cooking oil (no Crisco here) and make cur’n’ cake.

28 September

This is turning out to be a great month. I’m having another interview with the Dutch this week about a possible assignment back in the Balkans next year. This has moved very slowly because of the major changes they’re undertaking -- my kind of place to work. Early taste tests of my attempts at baking indicate success. Michal said the apple crisp was “pyszny” (delicious), and Marzena was delighted with the cranberry-orange bread. Friends are committed to visits: Sue from St. Paul will be here to celebrate my birthday in late October; Bob will spent a week between assignments in Afghanistan and Kosovo the first of November. And I made reservations to join friend Jean in my favorite big city, London, for Christmas week. ‘God’s in heaven and all’s right with the world.’

As I was writing this, I literally watched the fog roll by. I noticed it had gotten windy and a bit overcast looking and at first, thought it was smoke from something burning or a misty rain being blown by. But when I got up, I saw it was definitely fog being blown between my building and the next. What an eerie sensation. By the time I was dressed for the pool, it had all gone and the sun was shining ... as it still is.

Later: I wrote a while back about my hero Walter Cronkite. Since then, I’ve had an email from a friend in Kosovo who actually met him back in the early ‘90s ... and she had dinner with him. She said he was as warm and charming as he appeared. Nice to hear of an untarnished hero. Thanks for sharing this, Marilyn. I am green!

30 September

It is not my plan nor purpose to make this blog in any way political ... I have friends and family of all political persuasions. However, the dysfunction that I see in the country of my birth makes me sad and also fearful. So, I am digressing to share two columns who express my concerns with more eloquent voices than mine. David Brooks may be more conservative than I, but overall I agree with what he says. Thomas Friedman takes it a bit further.

The Next Culture War


The United States needs a revival of economic

self-restraint to restore its financial values and make it

a producer economy again, not a consumer economy.

Where Did 'We' Go?


There is no more "we" in American politics at a time when

"we" can only manage, let alone fix, our huge problems if

there is a collective "we" at work.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Here we go again ...

JUNE 2009

June 16 in Sandomierz, Poland

Select the right answers to complete this phrase: Suzi must be back in Poland because:

  • She can buy bath towels and socks at the post office when I mail letters or buy stamps;
  • A vegetarian pizza comes with peas, corn, carrots and an offer of ketchup;
  • If it weren’t for photos, she wouldn’t understand more than 10 percent of my daily newspaper;
  • Her flat is on the 4th floor and requires 8 flights of steps to reach on foot, no elevator;
  • She can get lost in the forest in the city park and not worry about being mugged;
  • Carrefours Express is an anchor store in Galleria Sandomierz;
  • There are at least four mobile phone operators to choose from and no requirement that I sign a contract;
  • Hala, Halinka, Ania and Piotr still work at the Center for Promotion of Entrepreneurship;
  • “Truskawkowa Niedziela” (Strawberry Sunday) will be celebrated on 21 June this year;
  • She's turning plastic baggies inside out and washing them for re-use.

Of course the answer is all of the above. Because while many things have changed in Sandomierz since I last lived here (1995), some haven’t. My oral Polish often gets mixed up with Macedonian, Albanian and Spanish; reading is about the same as before. Four of the original staff who helped lead the Center to become the completely sustainable NGO in our plans continue to work there. New shops and shopping plazas have sprung up everywhere around the town, including a Galleria, which must be the Polish equivalent of “mall,” since I see it on virtually every mall in the country. And the strawberry festival that we started in 1994, continues to draw locals and tourists; this will be the 16th annual event! FYI -- ever since I saw the inside out plastic baggies drying on a clothes line at a male Peace Corps colleague’s flat, I’ve followed his lead and kill a few less plastics wherever I am, including Minnesota.

For those who don’t know for sure what this new adventure is, I’m testing out retirement for the next six months. After spending the month of May traveling (more on that shortly), I have settled into a closet, uh, small apartment in Sandomierz, where I managed my first USAID project in ’94-95 and return twice a year to serve on the board of the Center. My apartment may be small, but it does have a sofa bed for guests in case anyone wants to come visit. Hint, hint.

Okay, May. The first week was in Minneapolis getting ready for a 10th anniversary memorial for my son Peter. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long; I still want to call him about things that only he can appreciate. (The same is true of my mother who died 11 years ago.) The picnic I planned was more than I could have dreamed -- a so-so day turned into perfect picnic weather. Kanyr and Hagen family were there as well as friends from all phases of Peter’s and my lives -- our homes in Crystal, St. Louis Park and NE Minneapolis, from Minda PR, The St. Paul Companies and Peace Corps, from Breck School and Roseville High, from my running and his snowboarding days. A bunch of Peter’s friends that I haven’t seen in years all looked the same; I swear, they haven’t aged one day. A few folks brought their kids -- a whole new generation got to know each other and tried out croquet, made available in memory of Peter’s infamous 4th of July “Gatsby Party” where everyone wore white and the toilets backed up (also held at the Fosters’ where this picnic took place). We had enough leftovers to send to a shelter, so my mom would’ve been proud. And Peter would have loved this day as much as I did.

The second week was in Jackson MI, “birthplace of the Republican Party,” and thankfully home to at least one locally owned and operated coffee shop with wi-fi. Our aunt turned 90 earlier in May, and her nephew, his wife and I planned a big open house to celebrate. About 50 or so friends and relatives attended, including some she and our uncle hadn’t seen in 20 or more years. Aunt Betty was overwhelmed with the outpouring of people and cards and gifts. Someone gave her a bunch of lottery tickets -- haven’t heard yet if she won anything.

Third week found me in Nicaragua with a friend from Booz Allen. We stayed in Managua and in San Juan del Sur with a high school friend of hers. The hospitality was incredible, the temps sometimes unbearable and the R&R much needed. We led a slow, relaxed life all week -- sleeping late, reading trashy books, napping in a hammock, leisurely shopping an old outdoor market and a modern mall, visiting the oldest cathedral in the contiguous Americas in Leon and a few other sites. It is easy to understand why our hostess and her family decided to move back from Florida to Managua.

I ended the month at the semi-annual board meeting of the Center, where I met my new landlady, then left for Pristina and Skopje. I had a PRN-WAW round trip ticket to use or lose and was able to change it to originate in Warsaw, thanks to a very dogged travel agent. I was able to visit with a few expat and Albanian friends in Pristina, then drove to Skopje with friends Violane and Stephen who were en route to Greece.

In Skopje it was obvious to me that I was winding down and enjoying it. I awoke around 6 am every morning as usual, then fell back to sleep until 8 or so. That is not usual for me; I rarely fall back to sleep, and now it’s become the norm. Hmm, retirement may not be so bad. Because Iva and Dona (Macedonian friends) and I had planned a few days in the mountains, I didn’t get to see many folks in Skopje. But the mountains at Mavrovo, as always, were spiritually and otherwise renewing despite the lousy service we got during our spa afternoon. Some people need the sea, others to dig in a garden but for me, it’s the mountains. I’m at my best when I can get to the mountains every few months. I need to remember that and act on it more often than I have in the last five years.

Now it’s mid-June and my ‘retirement test’ is in full swing. A typical day -- awake at 6, back to sleep and out of bed around 8:30; fill the kettle to heat water and the French press with Peet’s House Blend to make my morning brew; fix muesli, fresh strawberries and yoghurt for breakfast. Turn on laptop to listen to Minnesota Public Radio which broadcasts BBC at that hour. Check overnight emails and Skype SMS messages while having breakfast. Wash dishes and clean up kitchen. More computer stuff. Shower and dress for the day. Pack tote bag with the day’s necessities and errands. Between 11 and noon, out the door with recycling and garbage in hand. Dump those in appropriate containers and walk to either the New Town (my neighborhood) or the Old Town (where the Center is) or both. Visit the Center where sometimes I join the staff for lunch or use the copier or printer. Shop for food or household necessities that I don’t remember as being in my air shipment from Kosovo (it still hasn’t arrived!). Laundry, ironing and other household chores are usually done in the afternoon; don’t want to hurry into these things. (Housekeeper starts in a week, but I’ll do my own laundry and ironing. I actually enjoy ironing, strange as that might seem. I think it’s because something quasi-permanent is accomplished, unlike housecleaning where it’s all a mess five minutes later.) Dinner in early evening may be pasta or omelet with veggies, a sandwich or a salad ... or eating out, which I actually haven’t done too much. Evenings mean a short walk, then a movie on my Mac or reading while I listen to music.

June 18, Sandomierz

Found the rec center with the swimming pool today. Finally gave in and asked, and it’s not far from where I live. I’m going to ask someone to go with me so I can understand what’s available when, how much etc.. There’s a very small gym with equipment, swimming pool, masseuse and more. I’m told there is water aerobics, which I’d love, although I am vaguely considering trying to swim laps. I’m not the best swimmer so it’ll be a very slow process, but I know it’s good exercise for someone like me with bad knees.

As I walked today, a crew was cutting grass around a blok along the way. Interestingly they were using weed whackers, not lawn mowers. But the aroma of freshly cut grass was just the same and brought back memories of “lawns i have known and mown” from Pennsylvania to Illinois to Minnesota.

June 21

Truskawkowa Niedziela (Strawberry Sunday) and it’s raining for the third straight day! This reminds me of last summer in Addis Ababa where it started to rain on 1 July and was still raining when I left on 13 September. I’m not exaggerating when I say it rained daily in some way, shape or form ... and I swear the temperature never got above 70F. I froze all summer. If this keeps up, I may have to move to the south of Spain. Then I could combine some Spanish lessons ... hmm, a thought.

Ula, a friend from Krakow since my Peace Corps days, arrived on Friday in time for supper and a long catch-up chat. Saturday we got her fresh strawberries (not many left) at the outdoor market, then raincoats on and umbrellas overhead, walked to the Old Town to see if anything was happening. Not much. We bought some polished flint pendants from a street seller for next to nothing price-wise and played tourist in the castle museum and cathedral. Had coffee in a small coffee shop that’s more in the mold of something in Northeast Minneapolis than Poland -- overstuffed chairs and sofa, piles of magazines, lots of color to brighten a dreary day. And they make great cappuccino. In the afternoon we drove to Baranow Sandomierski, a castle that’s in Michener’s Poland and is a museum, conference center and hotel now. The main restaurant, where we had planned to have dinner, was closed for a wedding ... and the second had okay food but service rivaling the spa in Mavrovo, Macedonia.

Ula’s a great photographer and got some beautiful photos in both Sandomierz and Baranow. I will try to figure out how to upload these to Facebook so you can see them.

We passed the artificial lake in Tarnobrzeg, a large city across the Wisla River from Sandomierz. When I lived here, the “lake” was a gigantic hole, easily three times the size of Lake Harriet for those in the Twin Cities. It was the remnants of a sulfur mine pit, and I used to joke about it becoming a lake. Apparently someone heard me and figured out how to seal the surface well enough to do just that. Despite the bad weather, two sailboats were out, but in general the lake area is pretty desolate except for shrubs, trees and grasses. No multi-million zloty homes like you’d find anywhere in the US. Not sure if it’s due to land ownership issues or what. Didn’t even notice any marinas so I’m not sure how the sailboats accessed the water. Later Hala told me there are still questions over whether the water quality allows use ... and of course, land ownership issues.

Hala and I went to the strawberry festival. I’ve known Hala since my TechnoServe days in Sandomierz. She became executive director just before I joined the project and supported my lunatic idea of a strawberry festival. Now the Center and hotel are sponsors although the third festival was the last one organized by the Center before turning it over to the city tourism department, which is carrying on but not with little apparent vigor. I remember the second festival was a rainy day, off and on all day. We had promoted heavily in Warsaw, hotels, embassies and such. A busload of about 40 British and American embassy and aid types made the three-plus hour journey. They called it their ‘strawberry festival and coffee shop tour’ -- when it rained, they’d just try out a different coffee shop. That’s what I love about people in my business -- they generally roll with the punches, especially in those days.

June 22

Argh! It is raining again. Good day to start working on my taxes. Which is what I did all day. Organizing and trying to interpret all those receipts ... and the ‘tax organizer” sent by my accountant.

June 23

Thought we might have sunshine today; it was sneaking a look from behind the cloud cover for a short while but must’ve given up. It’s raining again. Had a deluge this morning, then after a bit, it got sunny, hot and humid ... just enough to fool us all. I went into the Center to use their printer and have lunch and coming back, to the post office and grocery. Waiting at a zebra crossing (crosswalk), a flash of lightning, the loudest thunder crack I’ve heard in years and another deluge complete with strong winds. My umbrella was useless, then destroyed, and by the time I got home I was soaked to the skin. It’s been some time since I’ve had that experience. Of course, the Internet is down now, and with my luck we’ll lose power too. I have no batteries for my flashlight. I knew there was something that I should’ve added to my shopping list. Ah, life in the fast lane.

June 27

Four rainy days later, I am growing webbed feet. Went for a walk with Marzena, manager of the hotel owned by the Center, the other night. We not only took a longer route than intended but got caught in another gully washer. Thankfully we were out of the gully (literally) by the time the really hard rainfall started or we might’ve been washed away. Today I read on a news crawl that several towns in the far southeastern part of the country are evacuating people because of severe flooding. ( It’s easier for me to read and understand the crawls than to understand the fast-talking news readers.)

Took a heavier-duty cane-style umbrella along today and of course, big black clouds but no rain. Went in search of a battery charger and computer cables for my camera (I seem to have lost, left or packed those somewhere) and a baby gift for my nephew’s new daughter. She’s the first girl child in the Hagen clan in 35+ years.

Lunch at “Pizza & Pasta” was a fresh green salad with chicken that was curry flavored and quite tasty. The salad, of course, included canned corn as well as fresh tomatoes, red peppers and cucumbers. I say “of course” because Poles seem to be fascinated by canned corn. It shows up in the most unlikely (for an American) places -- like fresh salads and pizza.

JULY 2009

July 4, Krakow

We’ve had our share of hot, humid days since I last added to this. I went to Hala’s farm twice and stayed overnight. One balmy Sunday we sat all afternoon near and under the gazebo her husband Michal built a few years ago. The gazebo has a grass floor, fire pit and smoke hole and in winter, plastic panels to keep out the cold air. While Hala read business plans for a grants program that the Center is administering, I read a trashy mystery. Later we walked for an hour over soggy paths and fields. As it got dark, Michal built a great fire, their son Marcin roared in from college on his motorcycle and we all roasted and ate garlicky kielbasa. A heavenly day.

The Center has two Halinas -- Hala and Halinka, to keep them separate -- and last Thursday was their name day, the day of St. Halina. Some of you may remember that in Poland name days are celebrated more commonly than birthdays, and the celebrant brings the treats.

I helped Hala make a torte. She had already made two huge thick sheet cakes that were ready to be assembled, but which about four hours! Hala whipped eggs and sugar by hand on the stove forever, then after cooling, gradually put this into the Polish version of a KitchenAid mixer where soft butter was being whipped. I lost count of the number of quarter kilos of unsalted butter that went in before the brandy was added. This mixture was divided and each half flavored -- one with chocolate, the other with lemon. Then assembly, beginning with the delicate surgery of making two layers out of each sheet by cutting horizontally. While Hala did all of this, I tested and offered suggestions and cleaned up all the utensils and pans and bowls we were using. Some things our mothers tell us to do (clean up as you go along) are actually good ideas! No dirty dishes when we were done just before midnight. The finished torte was about six inches tall, and I sampled the next day at the Center -- delicious as well as lovely, if I do say so.

Yesterday I took a bus to Krakow for a long weekend with friends. First bus trip in Poland in some time, a new bus that only stopped once so we made the trip in record time. Arrival was a bit disconcerting though -- a new bus station. The old one had been replaced by a huge galleria, which I knew from previous visits to Krakow. I just didn’t know where the bus station had moved to. Took a bit of wandering before I saw a tiny sign indicating the direction of the train station, which I took. That was a location from which I could navigate. I walked through throngs of tourists for about half an hour to David & Inga’s apartment across from Wawel Castle and near the Wisla River. Unexpectedly Inga was outside the door when I arrived, so we walked up and up and up to their flat together.

July 6

It was a fun weekend teaching Frankie, 11, and Tosia, 6, how to play their Candyland board game and Go Fish card game. Tosia in particular got very good at cards and eager to play, so that’s how we started and ended each day. Frequently I was trounced. The girls and I took a boat ride on the river, wandered all over the Old Town, had lunch in a new garden restaurant and ate sinful ice cream concoctions on Saturday, and we all went to the “American Dream” exhibit at the National Museum of Art on Sunday. A lot of the exhibit was a walk down memory lane for us Americans, but especially me -- they built a piece of Route 66 down the center of the main room, a highway we drove often when I was a kid; a soda fountain was straight out of the ‘50s; lots of photos, paintings commercials took me back in time. An excellent exhibition overall. We also went into the area that has artifacts from everyday life in Polish history, including some incredible furniture -- intricately inlaid bureaus, beautifully carved chests, gorgeous brocade-covered settees.

July 11, back in Sandomierz

Before leaving Krakow on Tuesday, I had lunch with friend Iza at Galleria Krakowska, the huge newer shopping mall that’s in front of the train station. It’s the one I traipsed through on Friday to get out of the bus station -- all three are inter-connected underground. Not long ago Iza quit her job of many years (manager of a successful micro-enterprise fund) to do freelance consulting. We talked about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship as well as caught up our personal lives. Then she showed me The American Bookstore where I spent my monthly “allowance” on novels in English. What a find this store is -- everything from my usual trashy mysteries and detective novels to good literature. Lots of choices and even new releases, something I don’t often get in the English-language section of local bookstores where I encounter a phletora of authors I’ve never seen. I’m sure publishers are unloading all the books they can’t sell in the US to foreign markets.

Yesterday’s adventure started with my first bus trip to Warsaw. I was nervous as the day before I’d had some intestinal issues, and God only knew what kind of bus I’d travel on or how frequently it would stop. Well, it was a quite modern and comfortable bus that made only a few stops, just long enough to allow passengers to get on/off. The trip was completed in record time -- four hours -- but left me at Warszawa Zachodnia, the western bus/train station. I needed to drop off my tax files at FedEx in the Marriott Hotel in the center before heading to my friends’ house in the western suburbs. I was so focused on getting this packet off to the accountant that it didn’t dawn on me to just take a train to Maryla and Stas and ship the packet on Monday morning. But it got done and I arrived in Milanowek at about 4 pm. I was surprised that the train station didn’t look any different from my Peace Corps days 18 years ago, especially considering this was a pretty well-off suburb even then. But others things have changed, like the addition of three large chain markets, including a Tesco from UK.

Oh, almost forgot. Have had inquiries about a couple of jobs. One, ironically, is in the Balkans. The other is a two-week stint in Ethiopia for Booz. Nice to be wanted but if neither comes through, I won’t cry in my chardonnay.

16 July

The short-term Booz job fell through and still waiting word on the Balkans, but something else was added to the mix -- another in the Balkans, or rather three positions that a European organization needs to fill. I’m off to Tirana for an interview next week. Will make for some hectic traveling, so I’m staying in Warsaw between Tirana and London. Not my preference but the idea of riding the bus back/forth within a few days is even less appealing than washing out undies in a hotel sink.

My friend Armine who was born in Armenia, grew up in Pasadena, I met in Serbia and now lives/works in Moscow is doing the London Triathlon. (How’s that for international.) Happy days! I’m off to London at the end of the month to support her and visit assorted friends there.

21 July

What a week. We learn that Walter Cronkite has died and mark the anniversary of the first human to walk on the moon. Years ago when I was in Vienna, I actually saw Walter Cronkite. I was like a kid seeing her hero in real life ... well, I was an adult seeing her hero. He was in a park behind the Hofburg Palace recording promo spots for the annual New Year’s concert. He looked so distinguished in his black top coat, no hat. I restrained my desire to run up and meet him, opting to stand for a few minutes to watch a pro at work.

Walter Cronkite was my hero from his earliest years when I was a mere journalism student focusing on print, not broadcast. He was what we, the journalism students of the 60s, wanted to be ... and I honestly think I can say “we” and not just “I.” He set a standard that few have come close to. I remember when my reporting class had to write and present a five-minute broadcast news segment, and virtually all of us ended with something along the lines of Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it is ...”

An era has truly passed. I worry about the state of journalism today. How did reporters become such reviled figures? And what will happen to the quality of news -- and the state of the world -- as more and more amateurs take over? By amateurs I mean all of those bloggers and tweeters who have become the “new journalists” who have so much to say, so many opinions to share, and yet no underlying understanding that facts, objectivity, clarity are fundamental to good reporting. They have no training that emphasizes and teaches these, no code of conduct to live up to. And the public doesn’t seem to care.

I was leaving my first reporting job when Apollo 11 helped the first human step onto the moon’s surface. Because I was working on my last “big” story -- on unwanted pregnancy and how young women dealt with that in 1969 (Florence Crittendon Home vs illegal abortion) -- I don’t recall having to get local reaction to the historic Apollo event ... although I’m sure someone did. It was de rigeur at the Southern Illinoisan newspaper where I worked.

What I remember about the event was years later in the ‘90s. I was given a film to preview that was made by a human rights group in southern California. It’s a film about making a film -- actor Michael Keaton plays the person hired to prepare a film promoting the hiring of workers who are handicapped, and he does an unconventional film: a beautifully choreographed Broadway-style chorus line of people in wheelchairs is one segment that I will never forget. And also the last segment, an astronaut steps onto the moon, then turns and you notice the person has only one leg while the “One small step ...” line appears on the screen.

23 July

Attention, RPCVs. Polish stores now charge for plastic bags at the store! Remember when we had to bring our own ... and Helen put the frozen liver in her closable tote and forgot it was there for three days ... and the Poland VI who said she could never date a man who carried a plastic bag? And before we IVs left, plastic bags were everywhere. Buy an apple, get a plastic bag. Heaven forbid that you should put your carrots and potatoes in the same plastic bag or do without. The clerks almost seemed insulted when you declined. Well, now they don’t give you one unless you ask and pay ... and they aren’t always those heavy and reusable reklamowkas (bags with advertising on them) either. Ah, the times they are a changin’.

25 July at Hala and Michal’s farm in Czermin

Another rainy weekend but brightened by an overnight at the farm with Hala and her family. Although we couldn’t take our usual walks in the forest or roast kielbasa over a bonfire, it was lovely to again play sous chef to Hala as we made fresh vegetable soup; put up three jars and a crock of dill pickles; and made a raised-dough coffee cake with fresh blueberries. Nothing like the warmth of a home to drive away the “rainy weekend blues of a singlet.” I feel like part of the family.

Hala’s husband Michal is the first to get up (at 5 am) and starts fresh coffee and tea. So if I’m not awake already, my nose starts the process.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed the typewriter on this letter. It seemed appropriate on multiple fronts -- my early training as a reporter, for example -- but more importantly, my continual yearning for the Royal Standard on which I first learned touch typing back in ’62. Now I pound away on my MacBook, still baffled by most of what it can do but glad I don’t have to start all over every time I make a mistake.


6 August

Returned from two weeks in Warsaw, London and Bath to a pile of snail mail. What a novelty.

Warsaw was mainly to get ready for London. But my friend Gina who always organized a monthly women's luncheon set one up so I had a chance to reconnect with a few people I haven't seen in years. And we all made a plea to continue the luncheons.

Enjoyed good times and good meals in London, with friends Tim and Amy from Peace Corps, Vesna from the Macedonia project and Armine from the Serbia project and now in Moscow. Walked my legs off, almost literally. Hours and hours every day. Walked an hour from hotel to the Apple Store for an early morning class I'd signed up for, wandered that area (Regent St.) and did lots of window shopping, keeping my vow -- no buying other than the running shoes I needed. Then eventually walked back. (The entire trip I never got near Harrod’s!)

Met Stuart, a friend of my friend Bob (of Reno and Buenos Aires; we met on the Macedonia project). As Bob predicted, we had an instant rapport. And I hope we can find some project for the three of us. We would have fun as well as get a lot done. That night I met Armine and several of her friends who live in London, for pizza in a new Notting Hill place. The pizza was well worth every calorie.

Tried to take the river boat to Hampton Court Palace; it's the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's coronation. But the cruise wasn't operating, and I didn't want to walk to the bus station. So I took a tube, then walked to the Imperial War Museum. What a place. A typical huge old stone building like so many there and set in a lovely park. A local university’s graduation had ended not long before I arrived as evidenced by all the smiling cap-and-gowned young people and proud parents smiling for cameras of all kinds.

The museum entry is full of cannons and other armaments, a sub, an airplane cockpit etc. on the floor and all kinds of planes hang from the ceiling. The Holocaust exhibit was comprehensive and very well done with photos, copy blocks, artifacts and filmed interviews with people who had survived. The last was one of the features that I think really sets this museum apart. Definitely creates an impact. They did the same in the "Children at War" exhibit, which really brought home how the dislocation during the blitz affected kids. My friend Ted recommended this museum, and I'm glad I made the effort. Next trip it'll be another visit to the British Museum, which has a new central area that I'm told is impressive. I only did a quick run through the Egypt section once years ago (saw the Roseta Stone and lots of mummies).

Armine’s decision to compete in the London Triathlon was my ‘good excuse’ for this trip to my favorite big city in the world. She finished in a good time, and it was fun to see the event itself. Thousands of participants started in waves over two days. We spent several hours on Saturday scoping things out, getting her registration packet, arranging to rack her bike, etc. Then on Sunday we set out at 4:30 am by hired car for the 6:30 start time for women. Because so much of the event was on city streets, detours abounded and confused as we neared the ExCel Center. Our driver stopped to ask two event workers for directions and was told, “I don’t know. I’m with traffic management.” Uh, and traffic management means what?

Monday afternoon I took the train to Bath Spa, 90 minutes from London, but I have no idea in which direction! Got there in time to wander the town in a drizzle and find a nice tapas bar for dinner. Yesterday I did more walking tour on my own and made a reservation for the Thermae Bath Spa in the afternoon -- four hours in the spa (rooftop pool, indoor pool and jacuzzi, steam baths with four different aroma therapies), then my treatment -- body scrub and Pelos wrap (peat mud) -- and finally a light dinner in their restaurant. Great way to spend a very rainy day!

The treatment was interesting. After the body scrub and application of peat mud, I was wrapped in plastic, then an empty water bed mattress was folded around me. When the mattress was filled, I floated surrounded by warm water while I got a foot massage. It definitely soothed the aching muscles from all that walking. Ironically the therapist was from Poland.

Got up early Wednesday morning to catch a train to London, then a van service to the airport and finally my flight back here. I stayed overnight with Hala's daughter Marta in "my" old apartment on Dabrowskiego and took the fast bus home Thursday morning. Unfortunately for traffic management, the annual pilgrimages to Czestochowa have started. It took more than an hour to get out of Warsaw alone Ugh. I'm glad to be "home" for a while!

11 August

Walking into town to mail packages today, I had a bounce in my step, a smile on my face and felt like a ... That’s what I was thinking about. How does a particular age “feel”? I’m nearing 64 -- what is that supposed to feel like? Lots of people tell me I don’t look that old -- probably all the red hair I let my friend and hairdresser Connie talk me into all those years ago. My response is always the same, ‘This is what (fill in age) looks like these days.’

I remember thinking about this when I was in Peace Corps training outside Warsaw. Every morning the housekeeper where I was living would watch me from the kitchen window as I exited house, walked across the yard, closed the gate and disappeared out of her sight. In those moments I felt like a six year old going off to first grade.

When I try to do new things on a computer, I feel ancient. Not sure what particular age, just old. I often describe myself as a Luddite ... my way of explaining why I am so computer-challenged. That’s why I went back to a Mac for my personal computer. Yesterday the challenge was uploading photos to a web site so that others can see them. Thankfully Apple does make things easier, so with a bit of trial and error, I got it done. Check out the photos at

I feel almost as ancient when my knees start acting up, which makes me think of my elderly aunt and uncle. I have acquired the Kanyr family’s propensity for arthritis in the knees.

14 August

Back home after a few days visiting Ewa in Pulawy. Ewa is the translator we use for Center board meetings. We spent two full days playing tourist, mostly in a drizzle or a downpour. Amy, one of the Peace Corps colleagues that I saw in London, did her PC service in Pulawy, so I promised to take lots of pix and post them. Ewa and I took a bicycle ride around town for an hour or so, stopped for coffee and rolls and to take pictures. Although I’d only been in the town once or twice before, it clearly has changed. New sidewalks, bloks that have been painted cheerful colors, a new galleria.

Wednesday we went by city bus to Kazimierz Dolny, a quaint town of Sandomierz vintage that is nearby. It seems everyone has been to Kazimierz, which frankly has less to offer than Sandomierz but has always been more effectively promoted. I was taken aback by the giant King Kazimierz in the town square. It reminded me of the small souvenir dolls I’ve gotten -- cardboard conical bases with round wooden heads, all dressed like Santa or in traditional attire. This thing seemed so out of place. I cannot imagine anyone in Sandomierz doing something like that.

The next day we went to Naleczow, a spa town that produces two of my favorites -- a nice mineral water and those delicious chocolate-covered prunes that I’ve shared with many of you. It poured the entire day, but we were reasonably dry under our cheap orange and blue plastic raincoats that Ewa bought at a kiosk when we arrived. Her friend Agnieszka joined us for a wet wander and some picture taking, then lunch before we returned to Pulawy, which was dry and sunny. Ah, well.

We took a mini-bus to Naleczow which made me think about transportation and how ubiquitous the mini-bus is. While towns here have city bus services, privately owned mini-bus services seem to thrive by taking people between two or three key intra- or inter-city points only. More than one service in Sandomierz makes a circular route between the hospital and town center, another to the glass factory.

15 August, Sandomierz

If I were prone to paranoia, I’d wonder what everyone knew but me. I got up early to get back into the swim of things exercise wise (pun intended), and the pool was closed. So I walked to the bakery where I usually get bread ... closed. So I walked to the bakery next to the farmer’s market ... no vendors in the market and the bakery was closed. It’s 8 am on Saturday for God’s sake. Twilight Zone time? Then I remembered the processionals to Czestochowa. Today must be the holiday. Oh, great. No bread, no matzo for my freshly made bialy ser (literally “white cheese” but also used to identify a spread made with bialy ser, onions, garlic and spices). Home I go to clean up the apartment and myself, then a long walk to Carrefours Express. Surely they’ll be open ... Oh, forgot to mention. My cleaning lady who was on vacation the last two weeks has badly sprained her foot. She won’t be climbing my 8 flights of steps for a few weeks. Back to doing my own cleaning for a while. I am so spoiled.

Aside on matzo -- a fellow Peace Corps volunteer Len and I first found matzo ... maca in Polish ... in a self-service supermarket in Warsaw in 1991. We were astonished since Poland has so few Jews. But I, in particular, was delighted to find maca since at that point Poland also had no decent crackers. The crackers were all Ritz-like and so fatty that they crumbled at the touch of anything. Bialy ser spread on maca was (and still is) my favorite quick meal. So I was delighted later to find maca in a shop in Nowy Sacz where I did my Peace Corps service and bought a couple of packages, thinking I’d buy more when I ran out. Not. I forgot how quickly supplies of anything were bought and how long re-supplying could take. Next time I found maca, I bought 10 packages, much to the astonishment of the check-out clerk.

18 August, Hala and Michal’s farm in Czermin

In the village with Hala and family. We’ve been preparing herbs -- Hala cuts them from the garden. She has heard the story of how I pulled up a large patch of asparagus seed plants because I thought they were weeds. That was during my college job at the CT State Training School for Delinquent Girls. Anyway, we had quite a good assembly line going today. Hala cut and did first wash to remove mud. I took over for rinse two and three, then took the whole wet pile to a table where I made small bouquets, used a gum band (rubber band to non-Pittsburghers) to hold them and hung them from a wire to remove the water. Later they’ll go into a dryer. The herbs are organic though not registered as such, and despite the substantial quantity we’ve prepared, Hala says they’ll consume the whole lot. Perhaps in my next career I should become an organic farmer.

22 August, Sandomierz

Talked Hala into going to Krynica with me for a few days. Marcin, her son, suggested that her husband Michal should go too. I agreed; we all needed a short break. I made reservations in Krynica, my favorite Polish resort town in the mountains south of Nowy Sacz where I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I never tire of visiting Krynica; it’s one of those mountain places that renews me on all levels.

So Wednesday-Friday we hiked and ate and rested and walked and ate and rested. We could smell the outdoor grill of an informal “bufet” near our hotel the first afternoon and decided to give it a try for dinner. Hala and I had excellent fresh trout in garlic butter. And having been so virtuous at lunch, we went to the Pijalnia Czedoladowa (Chocolate Drinking Hall) at the end of the day for some sinfully delicious hot dark chocolate. Mmm mmm. Well worth every calorie.

Neither of them had been to the top of Jaworzyna, the highest peak in the area. So we took a gondola up and hiked down for two hours. The insides of my thighs are still sore and my knees would like to quit. We took a side drive to Milik, about 20 km. away; it’s the village where Michal went to Scout camp almost 50 years ago. But alas, no remnants of the camp remained. Coming home to Sandomierz, we drove the long way around -- leisurely enjoying the Poprad River valley which borders Slovakia, then on to Muszyna, Piwniczna, Rytro, Stary Sacz and Nowy Sacz, whcih were all part of my Peace Corps years, then connected with the route back home.

Today was a day of catching up -- laundry, shopping, a bit of cleaning, and back to the pool. You can tell the harvest has begun. The number of vendors at the Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) has grown considerably since my last visit a couple of weeks ago. Lots of informal vendors -- those with an overturned grate and a few boxes of raspberries or small assortment of veggies. The assortment in the stalls has broadened -- peaches, nectarines, blackberries and plums along with leeks, eggplant, zucchini, colorful peppers, root vegetables galore and tomatoes that smell and taste like tomatoes (although not as good as those I get at Hala’s farm). The cukes are small now, better for pickles than salads. Did I mention that I made a jar of garlic-only pickles at the farm? Michal, who is the pickle jar packer, was a little offended when I asked him not to put dill weed in my jar. Next time I go there my pickles should be ready to try.

23 August

Today would be my father’s 93rd birthday. It’s been almost 20 years since he died, and I still miss him. Daddy worked shifts so I didn’t see much of him sometimes and he was a steelworker with less than a high school education, but I learned a lot of important things from him. I learned that men could cook, wash dishes, run vacuum cleaners, all without being asked and without resentment. I learned how to “stretch” freshly made concrete when you haven’t made quite enough for the sidewalk (insert clean wet stones) and how to change the oil in a 1960s model Plymouth. I learned that girls can do anything because my dad never limited me. There was no question in his mind that I would go to college, have a career, take care of my family, realize my dreams whatever they were.

Daddy taught me how to drive because he was the parent with more patience. He endured my first accident, half a block from home when I still had a learner’s permit. He was helping me to turn onto our street without going off into the mud; no curbs or sidewalks in our neighborhood. I hit the back quarter of a neighbor’s car coming in the opposite direction. My sister, in the car with us, jumped out and ran home to announce that I’d “wrecked the car.” Mom was surprised not to see blood and bruises when we finally arrived.

After his suicide, I learned just how physically debilitating mourning can be. I went from running five miles a day to barely putting one foot in front of the other. Even before Peter was diagnosed with cancer, my father’s death taught me that life was too short to suffer fools and waste time on people and things you don’t enjoy. Maybe I couldn’t eliminate all the “shoulds,” they are so, so engrained. But I sure could cut them down to size. So feeling his blessing inside me, I chucked the corporate job. And I could realize a dream I’d had since high school, joined the Peace Corps and started this grand adventure that you’re sharing with me. My mom always said that I had my bags packed and by the door in case someone suggested a trip.

28 August

Awoke today to a totally overcast sky and some fog, the kind of day Poland is so noted for.